Thursday, March 20, 2008

Found a Shekel: ס'וועט זיי גארניט העלפ'ן

The shriller the denials that Jerusalem is our Holy City and the once and future site of the Holy Temple, the faster that archaeology proves them wrong. The latest, and most exciting, is the discovery of a Half-Shekel coin, that was slated to be changed into Temple currency. As reported by the Post:
Israeli archaeologists have unearthed an ancient coin in Jerusalem's history-rich City of David which was used to pay a head tax in the Second Temple period, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced this week.

The rare silver coin which was discovered in an archaeological excavation in the main drainage channel of Jerusalem from the time of the biblical Second Temple is a shekel denomination that was customarily used to pay a half shekel head-tax during the Second Temple period.

In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. Israeli archaeologist Eli Shukron said that the coin was probably dropped at the 2,000-year-old drainage ditch quite by accident.

"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 shekel which he intended to use for paying the half shekel head-tax found its way into the drainage channel," Shukron said.

At the time of the temple's construction, in the sixth century BCE, every Jew was commanded to make an obligatory donation of a half shekel to the site. This modest sum allowed all Jews, irrespective of their socio-economic position, to participate in the building the Temple. After the construction was completed, they continued to collect the tax from every Jew for the purpose of purchasing the public sacrifices and renewing the furnishings of the Temple.

The shekel that was found in the excavation outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem weighs 13 grams, and bears the head of the chief deity of the city of Tyre on one side, and an eagle upon a ship's prow on the reverse.

Despite the importance of the half-shekel head-tax for the economy of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, only seven other shekel and half shekel coins were heretofore found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem to date.

In a symbolic turn of events, the coin was uncovered just days before the Jewish holiday of Purim, which began on Thursday night, when religious Jews make a donation to the poor, a tradition that took root in the wake of the ancient virtuous deed of paying a tax of one half shekel to the Temple.

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