The oldest coins discovered in Palestine are Greek Macedonian coins: an electrum (natural gold/silver alloy) coin dated circa 500 BC comes from excavations near Shechem, and a silver four-drachma piece struck at Aegaea about 480 BC has been found in a tomb at Atlit. It is obvious that these coins from remote lands were not current in Palestine, and circulated only for their value as ingots, estimated by their weight.

The earliest form of trade in ancient biblical times was bartering merchandise, and payment was made in goods which could be measured or counted — so many measures of barley or oil, so many head of cattle, etc. For the sake of convenience, metal was soon adopted as the means of payment; sometimes it was wrought, sometimes in ingots, the quality and weight of which determined the value in exchange. Metal was used in large quantities for the payment of tribute,[2] in small amounts for individual transactions with foreign countries,[3] and always, it seems, for the purchase of land.[4]

The metals of exchange were copper, gold and, chiefly, silver. The word keseph, silver, thus came to mean both the metal itself and the medium of payment, like kaspu in Akkadian, argent in French and "silver" in Scottish usage. At a very early date in the Eastern Mediterranean, the metal was melted into gigots of different shapes, or into discs, bars, brooches and rings, sometimes bearing signs certifying their weight and purity, but this was not yet coinage. Payments were always made by weight.... This remained the only method of payment among Israelites until the Exile....

The verb shaqal means both "to weigh" and "to pay," and the shekel became the basic unit in Jewish monetary system after first being the basic unit of the Israelite weight system. To pay for the Cave of Machpelah Abraham "weighs" 400 shekel to Ephron;[5] Jeremiah "weighs" 17 shekels to his cousin for the field at Anathot.[6]

Rabbi Yossi says: Let your fellow man's money be as dear to you as your own.
(Ethics of the Fathers 2:17)

Similarly, during the period of the rule of King Jehoash (c.842-798 BCE), to finance the repairing of the Temple, the chief priest Jehoaida placed at the entrance to the sanctuary a chest, prototype of our church alms-boxes, in which the faithful deposited silver of every shape. When the chest contained a large amount of silver, the royal secretary came and the silver found in the Temple was melted down and calculated. Then they sent the silver, after checking it, to the master-builders, who paid it out.[7]

But between the rules of Joash and Darius came the invention of coinage. A coin is a piece of metal stamped with a mark, which guarantees its denomination and weight. In theory, then, it can be accepted at sight, without weighing or checking. It was invented in Asia Minor in the seventh century BC, and the custom spread through the Near East, largely through the influence of the Persians…. Naturally, then, the first references to coinage in the Bible appear in the post-exilic books.[8]


[1] George Chapman, Eastward Ho (1605). [back]
[2] 2 K 15:I9; 18:14 [back]
[3] Genesis 42:25, 35; 43:I2f; I S 13:21; I K 10:29 [back]
[4] Genesis 23:I4f; 2 S 24:24; I K 16:24; 21:2; Jr 32:9 [back]
[5] Genesis 23 :I6 [back]
[6] Jr 32:9, etc [back]
[7] 2 K 12:10-13. [back]
[8] gold and silver coins. [back]

From: Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel:Volume 1: Social Institutions. Copyright © 1961 Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. (published in the United States by New York:MaGraw Hill Book Company), pp. 206-209. Republished in 1997 by Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company

MONEY Table of Contents



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