It sometimes happened that a solemn decree of parliament would violate the sanctuary, and reconsign the condemned into the hands of the executioner; but this was of rare occurrence. The parliaments stood in great awe of the bishops, and if it did come to a brush between the two robes, the gown generally had the worst of it against the cassock. Occasionally, however, as in the case of the assassination of Petit-Jean, the executioner of Paris, and in that of Emery Rousseau, the murderer of Jean Valleret, justice would overleap the barriers of the Church, and pass on to the execution of its sentence. But, except armed with a decree of parliament, woe betide him who forcibly violated a place of sanctuary! We know what befell Robert de Clermont, Marshal of France, and Jean de Chalons, Marshal of Champagne; and yet it was only about a certain Perrin Marc, a moneychanger’s assistant and a vile assassin; but the two marshals had forced the doors of the Church of Saint-Méry—therein lay the enormity of the transgression.
-Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885). Humpbacked, One-Eyed, Lame (1917).
Moneychangers are referred to only in the account of Jesus’ assault on merchants in the Temple of Jerusalem which according to the synoptic Gospels occurred shortly before he was apprehended, but is placed by John at the start of Jesus’ ministry. 1 2 Exodus 30 says that every adult male was to pay half a shekel every year to the sanctuary. 3 4 In the period of the Second Temple the tax was paid during Passover to help the pilgrims that had arrived in Jerusalem. Moneychangers seemed to have provided these services surrounded by the big open area known as the Court of Gentiles or in the porticoes that framed the Temple enclosure. They converted the coins from the diverse currencies as well as those that were religiously offensive because of the portraits on coins.
As a medium of exchange, it was precious metals like silver that was initially used, according to fixed weights, such as the talent, the mina, and the shekel, which later became units of currency. Minted coins appeared to have begun in Asia Minor around the 7th century BCE and was spread quickly by the Greeks and Persians. The earliest coins found in Palestine are a Macedonian coin from Shechem and an Athenian coin from Jerusalem, both dated to the 6th century BCE. By the 5th century BCE coins had become more frequently used as payment for various occupations and were in widespread use by the 4th century BCE. Consequently coins have become a very important way of dating for archeologists. Coins are also indicators of international trade patterns and political control. They also offer important information about scripts and artistic motifs.
Units of currency in biblical and nonbiblical sources and coins discovered in the course of excavations are typically foreign, chiefly Persian, Greek, Tyrian, and Roman, although in some periods evidence shows that there may have been local mints in places such as Gaza and Ashkelon in the Persian period. Additionally there were a number of comparatively short phases when individual local money was created.
While Judah was a province of the Persian empire during the 4th century BCE a succession of coins were made with the inscription “Judah” (yehud) in Aramaic script on them. Some of the archeologists say that they appear to have been made in Jerusalem with some giving the title and at times the name of the Persian appointed governor. Some say that they may have been the earliest Jewish coins. Exclusive coins were also minted by the Hasmoneans starting with Alexander Janneus near the end of the 2nd century BCE. Herod the Great and his heirs issued their own coins too, as did Pilate and some of the other Roman procurators.
From 66-70 CE the rebels of the First Jewish Revolt issued their our currency as an expression of political sovereignty. The coins were made in several denominations including shekels and half-shekels. Made of silver they date from the first to the fifth years of the revolt. As an additional expression of national sentiment the words inscribed in them are in Hebrew and contain sayings like “Jerusalem is holy,” “the freedom of Zion,” and “the redemption of Zion.” The coins depict chalices, a triple pomegranate and palm as well as other branches. There is a deliberate absence of animals and human figures in adherence to the commandment prohibiting graven images. These coins are in stark contrast to the Greek and Roman currencies.
Similar coins were issued again in the Second Jewish Revolt from 132-135 CE. Many include the name of the leader of the rebels Simeon. “In poignant contrast to these numismaticaly expressed patriotic hopes,” says theologian Michael D. Coogan, “are the Roman coins issues by Vespasian and Titus to commemorate their defeat of the First Revolt; some show a mourning figure and have the inscription “Judea captured” in Greek or Latin.”
Several rabbinic sources offer some proof for the complaints about profiteering by the moneychangers at the Temple saying that they charged as much as eight percent for their services. “The reaction of Jesus seems exaggerated,” adds Coogan,” especially in its fullest form in Mark 11: 15-19. It’s furthermore unlikely that one person would control all activity within the vast Temple courtyard; the Gospel narratives, written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, are making a theological point about Jesus, depicting him as a prophet in the tradition of Jeremiah and Isaiah, both of whom are quoted directly. 5
Holy Bible (NRSV)
II. Humpbacked, One-Eyed, Lame. Book IX. Hugo, Victor Marie. 1917. Notre Dame de Paris. Vol. XII. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction:
Accessed July 22,2005.
Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller and Bruce Metzger, author; Michael D. Coogan, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p .523-524.