This week we introduced to you David Levine, ancient coin jewelry designer. We'll be seeing some of his amazing designs on the show tonight--August 26, from midnight to 2am. (The next show is on Monday, August 31 from 7pm to 10pm Eastern with another scheduled for Tuesday, September 1, from 10pm to 2am Eastern). Tune in or watch us live online.
David has graciously agreed to share the exciting stories of discovery and history behind the coins and we're bringing it all to you on the JTV blog! Today we'll learn about the jewelry featuring coins from the time of Alexander the Great and the ever popular widow's mite jewelry. I know you'll enjoy the fascinating story behind this important jewelry.
COINS OF THE MACCABEES - THE WIDOW'S MITE
The Widow’s Mite is the most fascinating of the New Testament coins. The "mite" or "pruta" was the smallest of the bronze coins of the Jews. These coins were frequently mentioned in the New Testament manuscripts as we can read, for example in Mark 12:41-44: "And He sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury; and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they are casting into the treasury: for they did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
The smallest bronze coins in circulation at the time were the pruta coins of the Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty. The period of the Hasmoneans extended over some 130 years, from the Maccabean revolt in 167 B.C. until the murder of the last of the dynasty, Mattathias Antigonus, in 37 B.C. After the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 163 B.C., the Seleucid dynasty of Syria began to decline, giving encouragement to the Hasmoneans in their ambition to renew the political independence of the Jewish people following the military successes of Judah Maccabee. It was Antiochus VII Sidites who, according to 1 Maccabees 15: 2-9, sent an epistle to Simeon, last of the Maccabee brothers and the first to achieve actual rule (142-135 B.C.), in which he specifically stated: "...I give thee leave also to coin money for thy country with thine own stamp...."
Thus the small pruta coins, which were to become famous for thousands of years, were struck in Jerusalem from the time of the earliest Maccabees, and by their successor, King Herod the Great.
How were these coins made? Here is a typical coin production process from the ancient world. The only difference between what you see here and the production in Jerusalem was that the molds for the coin blanks, had the coins lined up in a straight line with a shallow canal between them so that they were cast as one piece and then cut off from this cast mold. You can usually see the place where the coins were cut. Try to find the cuts on the coins below. [ Hint:#5 at 11:00 o’clock, #3 at 7:00 o’clock].
coins above show the two main types of Widow’s Mite coins. On the left
is the obverse and reverse for the cornucopia type. This coin had the
double horn of plenty with a pomegranate in the center. These are
symbols from the Temple in Jerusalem. On the reverse you can see in
ancient Hebrew script, “Yonaton the High Priest and the Hever of the
Jews”. The coin on the right is the Hellenistic type. Hellenism at the
time had a great influence over the Holy Land, and this can be seen
even in the coins, where the High Priest, Alexander Yannai, took a
Greek name and called himself king instead of High Priest. The obverse
has an anchor (symbolizing his fleet of ships) and an inscription in
Greek, “Of Alexander the King”. The reverse has an eight-rayed star.
The center coin is probably the most exciting, and definitely most controversial of all the coins of the Maccabees. The debate is still going on why Yannai took thousands of the Hellistic type coins, rubbed them down and had the Temples style coin re-struck on top of the old coin blanks. We will talk more about these coins in a future entry here.
All of these coins were used in Jerusalem until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. What most people first think about when they hold one of these coins in their hand is, “who touched this coin 2000 years ago?” Am I really holding a coin that was in someone’s hand during the time of the Temple, during the time of Jesus and the disciples?”
Coins from the Era of Alexander the Great
Tonight's show, as well as future shows, will feature rare Alexander the Great coins set by hand in 14k gold. I thought you would be interested in joining me on a trip I took to follow Alexander and to learn more about his life. It is truly amazing to see the sights that still exist from his lifetime back in mid-300 B.C. It was exciting for me to be able to find the ancient Greek coins that were actually minted by Alexander the Great and I was overwhelmed by what I found in Greece.
Yes, that’s me standing by the palace where Alexander grew up. When your father is king, you get to grow up in a fancy palace. Let’s take a look at just how fancy it was. Besides the beautiful mosaic floors and marble columns you see here, the palace also had indoor plumbing. I know it’s hard to believe that they had indoor plumbing 2,340 years ago, so I took a photo of one of the hollowed out columns. This isn’t a reconstruction – those are the original clay pipes from the palace.
The palace also had clay roof tiles. Now you or I would probably put plain roof tiles on our house, but Alexander’s father, Philip II, only wanted the best.
All of this may seem unimportant, but Philip also wanted the best education for his son and decided to bring in a special tutor to set up a school for Alexander and the other youths from the palace. If you were king, who would you hire as tutor? Philip decided that Aristotle would be the perfect teacher for his son.
Can you imagine how I felt sitting on the stone seats you see here thinking that Alexander sat on this very stone listening to Aristotle teach him the obligations of a great leader.
It is quite amazing to read about Alexander today and to see how he was affected by those lessons. He firmly believed that it was his role as a king to help not only his subjects, but all the people of the world. He viewed all nations of the world as brothers and went to war, not to plunder and to enslave, but rather to bring peace and higher values to the world.
And today, because of those wars, financed by the great silver mines of Macedonia and Thrace, we are able to find the coins that were used to pay his soldiers and buy supplies. And I get the privilege to set them into jewelry and to share them with you.
I know this has been longer than most people expect to find in a blog, but I always get carried away when I talk about these coins. I still get excited over them, and love getting letters from people who wear these and write me how it affects their lives or how their relatives and friends never stop thanking them for giving them such a meaningful gift.
- David Levine
p.s. Anywhere you see me in a picture, my wife Sari took it. We work side-by-side to discover the coins, create the jewelry and bring them it to you. It's a family affair!