The Shekels of Tyre and the Crucifixion of Christ

​In 126 B.C., the Phoenician city of Tyre received autonomous status from her ruling power, the Seleukid Empire.  Tyre immediately began to strike a coinage that would be well known throughout the Mediterranean for the ensuing two centuries. The shekel, a silver coin trading on par with the regional tetradrachms, was struck annually, with the years since obtaining autonomous status denoted on the reverse of each piece. Owing to their consistent design and purity, these shekels were easily recognized and readily accepted in commerce. So desired was their high silver content (around 94%) that they quickly became the primary and, eventually, only form of payment accepted by neighboring Jewish authorities for temple dues and taxation.

It was also these shekels that were the likely form of payment for, quite literally, a transaction of biblical proportions. As recounted in Matthew 26:15, Judas Iscariot is said to have struck a deal with Jewish chief priests, whereby he would point out the identity of Jesus Christ who would then be arrested following the Last Supper. In return for this treacherous act, Judas would receive what the Bible lists simply as ἀργύρια, translating to "silver coins." Given the crossroads nature of Jerusalem, numerous currencies would have been in on hand, but the desirability of the Tyrian shekels have made it the favorite among scholars as the form of payment to Judas. These shekels were much purer than the Roman-backed tetradrachm from nearby Antioch, and were vastly superior to any of the remaining tetradrachms from former Ptolemaic Egypt, the denomination of which was mostly base metal at the time of its downfall. Being the strongest silver currency around, the shekels of Tyre remain the most probable coin to make up some or even all of the fabled "thirty pieces of silver."

Adding to the desirability of these coins is their aforementioned dating to the beginning of Tyre’s autonomous status. Though there is now uncertainty relating to it, the most accepted date for the arrest, trial, and subsequent crucifixion of Christ has traditionally been A.D. 33, making the shekels comporting to this date within our calendrical reckoning (Tyrian civic year 158 comporting to years A.D. 32/3 and civic year 159 comporting to A.D. 33/4) immensely popular as they point to a poignant year in Christianity. Not to be overshadowed, however, are the shekels dating to the years leading up to these events, as it is those that could have been among the thirty pieces used in the bargain of Judas.

Our October Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction will have two such shekels of Tyre: one a very rare date just before the betrayal of Jesus, dating to CY 157 (A.D. 31/2), the other issued just a few years following these events, CY 162 (A.D. 36/7). Both are housed in PCGS holders—a rare offering of certified ancients by the firm—and with reference to the "Thirty Pieces of Silver." Though these two are certainly far from perfect condition, one must ask oneself, could the first of the two, given how much circulation and use in transactions it must have seen, have actually been among the legendary thirty?

To view these fascinating windows into a period pivotal to Christianity, along with the rest of our October Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction (scheduled to be online later this month), please visit where you may register and participate in this upcoming sale.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future sales, and will still be accepting consignments for the October Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction until 13 September. Our next sale following that will be our Official Auction of the N.Y.I.N.C. in January 2020. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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