THE FIRST JEWISH COIN: A BRONZE PRUTAH OF HYRCANUS I
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The Jewish Kingdom was established by King David after the Siege of Jebus, when his armies liberated the Holy Land from foreign rule. The period from about 1010 BCE until the Babylonian conquest of 587 BCE is known as the First Temple Period. The practice of minting coins to use as currency did not emerge until after the Babylonian conquest, so there is no coinage from the First Temple Period.
The first Jewish coin was not minted until 450 years late, around 135 BCE, by John Hyrcanus I, King and High Priest of Judea. John was the first ruler of the legendary Hasmonean dynasty which restored Israel to Jewish power, giving rise to the so-called Second Temple Period.
The son of Simon Maccabaeus, John took part in the uprising against the Seleucid Empire, as described in the Biblical book of Maccabees, assuming command when his father died. Under John's leadership, the Jews completely repelled the hated Seleucids from Judea, doubling the size of their kingdom and granting them the opportunity to mint these, the first Jewish coins.
The Second Temple Period ended when the Roman destroyed the Temple and much of Jerusalem in 70 CE, squashing the disastrous Jewish revolt. In 135 CE, the Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the ruined city, but banished the Jews from living there. It wasn't until the establishment of Israel in 1948—some two thousand years later-- that the Jewish people would issue another coin.
This coin was minted between 135 and 40 BCE. The obverse shows the double cornucopia flanking a pomegranate—a fruit sacred to the early Jews. Pomegranates were embroidered on the hem of the robes of the Hebrew High Priests, the pillars of Solomon's Temple were engraved with pomegranates, and it was the pomegranate that was brought to Moses to demonstrate the bounty of the Promised Land. The cornucopia is also a symbol of abundance, but derives from Rome mythology. It is likely that John Hyrcanus I incorporated this symbol as a nod to the mighty Roman Empire.
The inscription on the reverse of the coin reads Yehohanan (John) the High Priest and the Council of the Jews. Note that here is no imagery of man or animal—as High Priest, John held strictly to the Jewish prohibition on graven images.
Diameter: 12-14.5 mm; Weight: 1.7-2.4 g
Album open measures: 11” x 7.5”
Album folded measures: 5.5” x 7.5”