As a medium of exchange, originally precious metals were used, according to fixed weights, suchs as the talent, the mina, and the shekel, which later became units of currency. Minted coinage seems to have begun in Asia Minor by the seventh century BCE, and its use was spread rapidly by the Greeks and the Persians. By the fifth century BCE coins appear more frequently in occupational strata and are commonplace by the fourth. Coins thus become a valuable means of dating for archaeologists. They are also indices of international trade patterns and political control and provide valuable data about scripts and artistic motifs.

Over the centuries, the values of various denominations are fluctuated, so that the figures given are only a sample.

  • as (AV: "farthing"; NRSV: "penny"): Made of bronze, the as (earlier assarius) = 4 quadrans; found only in Matthew 10.29 = Luke 12.6.
  • daric (AV: "dram"): The standard Persian gold coin, equivalent to a Greek stater, first issued by and named after Darius I (Ezra 8.27; 1 Chron. 29.7).
  • denarius (AV: "penny"): Made of silver, the denarius was approximately a day's pay for an unskilled laborer; its value was 16 as = ¼ tetradrachma = 1/100 mina (Matt 18.28; Mark 6.37).
  • didrachma: A coin worth two drachmas, equated by the Septuagint with the Hebrew shekel. In Matthew 17.24-27, it apparently means the half-shekel used to pay the Temple tax and is equated with the stater.
  • drachma: The standard Greek silver coin, equivalent to the Roman denarius, and likewise equivalent to a day's pay (see Tob. 5.15). In the New Testament it is mentioned only in Luke 15.8-9. Larger denominations of the were the didrachma (2 drachmas) and the tetradrachma (4 drachmas).
  • lepton (AV: "mite"; NRSV: "coin, penny"): The smallest unit of currency in the New Testament, the lepton was originally Greek; in the Roman period it had the value of ½ quadrans (Mark 12.42 par.; Luke 12.59).
  • mina (Grk. mna; AV: "pound"): As a weight, the equivalent of 50 shekels. As a coin, a mina is the equivalent of 100 drachmas, used in Nehemiah 7.71-72, and in Luke's version of the parable of the talents (Luke 19.11-27).
  • qesitah (AV: "farthing"; NRSV: "penny"): occurring only in Genesis 33.19: Joshua 24.32; Job 42.11, this is probably a weight of unknown value rather than a coin as such.
  • shekel: The basic unit of weight in Hebrew (from the verb sql, "to weigh"); its monetary value was 1 stater; 30 shekels = 1 mina = 4 denarii.
  • stater: The equivalent of 4 drachmas (tetradrachma), found only in Matthew 17.27.
  • talent: The largest weight, equivalent to 3,600 shekels; as a monetary unit it equalled 6,000 drachmas.

"AV" refers to the Authorized Version; and "NRSV" refers to the New Revised Standard Version.

Source: Campbell, Edward F., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1993.

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