An ancient Judean shekel coin was sold at a New York auction last week for a whole lot more than a shekel: a whopping $1.1 million. That in itself was interesting. But there’s more. Now, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is claiming the shekel from 66 A.D. is a Palestinian relic, even though it’s covered with Hebrew inscriptions including “Shekel of Israel [Year] 1” on the front of the coin, and “Jerusalem the holy” on the back.
The coin is one of only two known Year 1 prototype silver shekels according to the Associated Press, which reports:
It’s the first silver coin struck by Jewish forces revolting against Roman rule in the first century. It features an image of a ritual chalice and three pomegranates.
Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik of the Israeli non-profit Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) uncovered the unusual claim in the Palestinian Authority daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. They report:
The official Palestinian Authority daily in writing about the auction described the Hebrew coin from the Second Temple period as an “ancient Palestinian coin” and as being part of the “Palestinian cultural tradition.” The coin, with the ancient Hebrew lettering, can be seen to the right.
Palestinian Media Watch has documented that the Palestinian Authority regularly publishes denials of Jewish history in the land of Israel. However, this article is different. While claiming that Hebrew coins found in the land of Israel are part of the “Palestinian cultural tradition,” at the same time it implicitly acknowledges the Jewish nation’s history in the land by mentioning the Jewish revolt against the Romans.
The article adds that the Jews’ “political agenda” takes advantage of the sale of ancient Hebrew coins. The PA, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and only at times acknowledges that the state does exist, categorizes any archeological evidence of Israel’s ancient past in the land as a “political agenda”:
“It [the sale] is an opportunity for Jewish and Western scholars to use the Jewish revolt against the Romans in Palestine for a political agenda, and to connect this local revolt with the establishment of the Israeli occupation state.”
Claiming the historical narrative has been a key strategy for both Israel and the Palestinians: for Israel, uncovering archaeological evidence of the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem, Israel, Judea and Samaria and, for the Palestinians, negating that connection. Accusing Israel of “Judaizing” Jerusalem has become an integral part of Palestinian and Muslim political efforts to delegitimize Israel’s connections to the city where its holiest site – the Western Wall – sits.
Recent examples of efforts to contest Jewish ties include last month’s conference to “defend” Jerusalem from Israel; officials identifying Jesus as a Palestinian; labeling Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as “Muslim mosques,” with no explanation that Rachel’s Tomb is the burial site of the wife of Jacob, biblical patriarch of the Jewish people.
An Israeli university launched the “Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation” in 2005 after the Waqf Muslim religious authority removed 300 truckloads of topsoil from the Temple Mount. Israeli archaeologists were stunned when tractors were used on such a holy site and worked tirelessly to sift through the rubble. Ancient Jewish coins, First Temple artifacts and other historically valuable artifacts are among the items found.
Taking on this ancient shekel, however, may unintentionally undercut the Palestinian position. The word shekel is cited numerous times in the Bible and even plays a central role in the land claim debate. In the book of Genesis 23, Abraham purchases from Ephron the Hittite a burial site for his wife Sarah where later he and the other biblical patriarchs are buried. How much did he pay? 400 shekels of silver. That site is today known as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a holy site for both Jews and Palestinians.
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida wrote on March 4th, as translated by PMW:
The announcement that the Shoshana collection – including Palestinian coins which were almost certainly stolen and smuggled overseas from Palestine – is up for auction, is an opportunity for Jewish and Western scholars to use the Jewish revolt against the Romans in Palestine for a political agenda, and to connect this local revolt with the establishment of the Israeli occupation state in the 20th century. Usually, Palestinians and Arabs show no interest in antiquities from this period, for reasons which are unintelligible and not convincing; they are influenced by the Israeli and Zionist propaganda, despite the fact that [the Shekel coins] are part of the Palestinian cultural heritage.”
PMW explains the newspaper’s decision to omit the word “Judea” from its story is significant:
In addition, the PA daily’s claim that the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the years 66 – 70 CE happened in “Palestine” is yet another historical revision. The Jewish revolt happened in the land of “Judea.” The Roman coin minted after the Romans destroyed the Temple in the year 70 CE, in honor of Roman victory was inscribed with the words “Judea Capta,” meaning “[the land of] Judea is defeated.” See the coin to the right.
The Romans changed the name of Judea to “Palestine” 65 years later in the year 135 CE, after the Bar Kochba Rebellion, not because of the existence of a local population that called themselves “Palestinians,” but in an attempt to distance Jews from their own land, as punishment for the Jewish rebellion.
Judea – in Hebrew Yehuda – is the same word (with a different suffix) as “Jewish” or Yehudi.
Watch this video promoting the collection from Heritage Auctions which sold the coin: