Washington, March 20 : A rare silver coin that the Jews used to pay the half-shekel head tax to the Temple has been discovered in what was the main drainage channel of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period - a phase in Jewish history that extends from the return of the first of the exiles in 539 BCE following the declaration of Cyrus, or with the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 516 BCE, until the Temple's destruction in 70 CE.
A coin from the Second Temple period has been discovered in excavations in the City of David, just below and east of Jerusalem's Old City.
The ancient silver coin was discovered in an archaeological excavation in the City of David, just below and east of Jerusalem's Old City.
The foreign coin is of the denomination used during the turbulent Second Temple period to pay the Biblical half-shekel head-tax.
The excavations, directed by Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, are being conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Ir David Foundation.
The silver coin is a shekel denomination. In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. The collection began every year on the first day of the month of Adar when the "heralding of the shekelim" took place, and it ended on the first day of the month of Nissan, the beginning of the new fiscal year for the Temple, when the purchase of public sacrifices was renewed.
The shekel that was found in the excavation weighs 13 grams, bears the head of Melqart, the chief deity of the city of Tyre on the obverse (equivalent to the Semitic god Baal) and an eagle upon a ship's prow on the reverse. The coin was minted in the year 22 CE.
"Just like today, when coins sometimes fall from our pockets and roll into drainage openings at the side of the street, that's how it was some two thousand years ago - a man was on his way to the Temple, and the coin which he intended to use for paying the half-shekel head tax found its way into the drainage channel," Shukron said.
The Second Temple was built in the sixth century BC and was standing in the time of Jesus.