A half-shekel silver coin from the first century CE, one of the first coins ever minted in Israel, was recently discovered in the Judean Desert. The coin, which bears the inscription “For the Redemption of Zion”, was intentionally broken in half, possibly as a symbolic act of defiance against the Roman Empire.
The coin was found by a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at a site near the Dead Sea, where they have been conducting a large-scale survey and excavation project since 2017. The project aims to uncover and preserve the cultural heritage of the Judean Desert, which is threatened by looting, erosion, and climate change.
The coin dates back to the year 66 or 67 CE, when the Jews of Judea rose up against the Roman occupation in what is known as the First Jewish Revolt. The revolt lasted for four years, until the Romans crushed the rebellion and destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.
The coin is one of the earliest examples of Jewish coinage, which was minted by the rebels to assert their independence and sovereignty. The coin features a chalice on one side, representing the Temple service, and three pomegranates on the other, symbolizing the land of Israel. The coin also has a paleo-Hebrew inscription that reads “Shekel of Israel” and “Year Two”, indicating the second year of the revolt.
The Mystery of the Broken Coin
What makes the coin even more intriguing is that it was deliberately cut in half, along with another coin of the same type that was found nearby. The archaeologists believe that this was not a random act of vandalism, but a meaningful gesture that had a specific purpose or message.
One possible explanation is that the coin was broken as a sign of loyalty to the revolt. According to Dr. Eitan Klein, the deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, the rebels may have used the broken coins as tokens of identification or membership, similar to how soldiers in modern times exchange dog tags or challenge coins.
Another possibility is that the coin was broken as a symbolic act of resistance against the Romans. Dr. Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the IAA, suggests that the coin may have been cut in half to express the hope that the Roman Empire, which was often represented by an eagle, would be similarly torn apart. Alternatively, the coin may have been broken to demonstrate the willingness of the rebels to sacrifice their lives and possessions for the sake of their cause.
The Coin’s Cultural and Educational Value
The coin is not only a rare and valuable artifact, but also a powerful reminder of the ancient history and identity of the Jewish people. The coin reflects the religious, political, and social aspirations of the rebels, who fought for their freedom and dignity against a mighty empire.
The coin also offers a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of the people who lived in the Judean Desert two millennia ago. The coin was found in a cave that served as a refuge for the rebels, who hid there from the Roman soldiers. The cave also contained pottery, textiles, and other personal items that reveal the daily activities and challenges of the desert dwellers.
The coin is part of a larger collection of artifacts that the IAA plans to display in a traveling exhibition that will tour Israel and abroad. The exhibition, titled “Scrolls of Fire: The Judean Desert in the First Century CE”, will showcase the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the region, as well as the stories and secrets that it still holds.