Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Israeli Museum Receives World’s Oldest Jewish Coin

American donor gives national museum a 1,200-piece coin collection dating back millenia

By: Zak Edwards

Published: December 19th, 2013 in News » Israel

Israeli Museum Receives World's Oldest Jewish Coin

Jonathan Rosen is considered by the New York Times to be “one of the world’s most important private collectors of Mesopotamian art,” and he just gave The Israel Museum an incredible gift: a 1,200 piece coin collection dating mostly from the 4th and 5th century BCE. According to the Times of Israel, the donation was announced in March and just finalized last month and is ranked as one of the greatest museum acquisitions of the year.

The coins all come from an period in history called the Persian Period and, according to the Israel Museum’s chief curator, Haim Gitler, “We barely have any information or texts describing the Persian period in Palestine, so almost all that we know comes from these coins.”

But the prized piece in the collection is a silver drachm, an ancient coin based upon the Greek drachma, which says ‘yehud,’ or Judea, in Aramaic. The coin is the oldest known Jewish coin, now going on over 2500 years old.

The drachm is slightly lighter than a modern day new shekel, was probably minted in the coastal region of Philistia for use in Jerusalem. The coin’s design “is representative of the local fusion of artistic designs,” having a Greek gorgon’s head with the hairstyle of an Egyptian goddess, which is indicative of the region during the period when they were ruled by the Persian Empire.

Found in the hills southwest of Hebron, the coin was sold to Rosen in New York before he decided to donate all of his coins to the Israel Museum, where they are currently on display in the archeology wing. The designs are varied and interesting, according to Gitler, even incorporating optical illusions into their design.

”It shows that the people who were designing these coins weren’t just making the coins because they had to do them, but they enjoyed doing it.”
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