Rare Half-Shekel Silver Coin from First Jewish Revolt Discovered in Judean Desert

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have made an extraordinary discovery—a rare half-shekel silver coin from Year One of the First Jewish Revolt. This significant finding sheds light on the historical events and symbols during the period of Roman-Jewish conflict in Judea.

The seeds of the First Jewish Revolt were sown amidst rising religious tensions and heavy taxation imposed by the Romans, leading to the looting of the Second Temple and the arrest of influential Jewish leaders. In response, the Roman Empire mobilized four legions, supported by Agrippa’s forces, to quell the rebellion and make an example of the Jewish people.

After a series of battles, Jerusalem and the Second Temple were razed to the ground, as described by contemporary historian Titus Flavius Josephus: “Jerusalem… was so thoroughly razed to the ground by those that demolished it to its foundations, that nothing was left that could ever persuade visitors that it had once been a place of habitation.”

The rare half-shekel silver coin was discovered in a cave within the Ein Gedi nature reserve, suggesting it might have been lost by a rebel who sought refuge in the desert during the revolt.

One side of the coin bears an inscription in ancient Hebrew script, possibly representing “Holy Jerusalem.” The other side features a chalice with the letter “Aleph” inscribed above, marking the first year of the revolt and denoting the value of a half-shekel.

The chalice depicted on the coin is a characteristic symbol found on Jewish coins minted toward the end of the Second Temple period. During the First Revolt, which occurred between AD 66 to 70, these coins were minted in denominations of shekel and half-shekel.

Yaniv David Levy, a numismatic scholar at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains, “Coins from the first year of the Revolt, such as this one, are rare. Jewish pilgrims in the Second Temple period used half-shekel coins to pay a Temple Tax, which were previously minted in Tyrian-minted fine silver coins, serving as a status symbol in the region. However, during the revolt, rebels minted alternative coins inscribed with ‘Shekel Israel,’ ‘Half-Shekel,’ and ‘Quarter-Shekel.’ It appears that the temple rituals continued during the revolt, with these coins now being used by the rebels.”

This exceptional discovery of the half-shekel silver coin provides valuable insights into the religious and socio-political climate during the First Jewish Revolt and the resilient spirit of rebellion demonstrated by the Jewish people in the face of adversity.


Header Image Credit : IAA

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