The value of the “piece(s) of money” (Hebrew, qesi·tahʹ) mentioned at Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32 and Job 42:11 cannot be definitely established. Likewise the value of the pim is uncertain. It may have been about two-thirds of a shekel.—1 Sam. 13:21; see PIM.
COINS IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
It is commonly believed that the first coins were struck about 700 B.C.E. So the Israelites probably first used coins in their homeland after returning from exile in Babylon. Postexilic Bible books refer to the Persian daric (1 Chron. 29:7; Ezra 8:27) and the dar·kemohnʹ (drachma), which is generally equated with the daric. (Ezra 2:69; Neh. 7:70-72) The Persian gold daric weighed about .27 ounce troy (8.4 grams) and is therefore presently evaluated at $9.48.—See DARIC; DRACHMA.
MONEY IN THE CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURE PERIOD
The lepton (Jewish, copper or bronze), quadrans (Roman, copper or bronze), ass or assarion (Greek, copper or bronze), denarius (Roman, silver), drachma (Greek, silver), didrachma (Greek, silver) and the stater (Greek, silver; considered by many to be the tetradrachma of Antioch or Tyre) are coins specifically mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Matt. 5:26; 10:29; 17:24, 27; 20:10; Mark 12:42; Luke 12:6, 59; 15:8; 21:2, Kingdom Interlinear Translation; see DENARIUS; STATER.) The much larger monetary values known as minas and talents were weights, not coins. (Matt. 18:24; Luke 19:13-25) The chart that follows shows the relationship between the various monetary units and converts into modern terms the approximate values current in the Christian Greek Scripture period.
1 lepton = 1⁄2 quadrans $ .00125
1 quadrans = 2 lepta .0025
1 ass (assarion) = 4 quadrans .01
1 denarius = 16 asses .16
1 drachma = c. 1 denarius .14
1 didrachma = 2 drachmas .28
1 tetradrachma = 4 drachmas .56
(stater, thought to be the same as tetradrachma)
1 mina (silver) = 100 drachmas 14.094
1 talent (silver) = 60 minas 845.64
1 talent (gold) 22,965.21
Modern values for ancient money do not give a true picture of its worth. The Bible, however, provides some indication of purchasing power and this is helpful in understanding ancient values. In the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry agricultural laborers commonly received a denarius for a twelve-hour workday. (Matt. 20:2) It may be assumed that in the Hebrew Scripture period wages were about the same. If so, a silver shekel would be the equivalent of three days’ wages.
The price of a slave was thirty silver shekels (ninety days’ wages?). (Ex. 21:32; compare Leviticus 27:2-7.) Hosea the prophet purchased a woman for fifteen silver pieces and one and a half homers (15 ephahs) of barley. Likely this payment constituted the full price for a slave. If so, an ephah (.62 bushel; 22 liters) of barley was then worth one shekel.—Hos. 3:2.
In times of scarcity prices rose sharply. The eighty silver pieces (240 days’ wages?) that at one time might have bought eight homers (49.6 bushels; 1,760 liters) of barley would, in time of siege, only procure the thinly fleshed head of an ass, an animal unfit for food according to the terms of the Mosaic law.—2 Ki. 6:25; compare Hosea 3:2.
In the first century C.E. two sparrows cost an assarion (45 minutes’ wages) and five sparrows could be obtained for double this price. (Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6) The contribution of the needy widow was even less, a mere two lepta (1 quadrans) or a sixty-fourth of a day’s wages. Yet Christ Jesus commended her giving as being greater than that of those who had donated much, as she had contributed, not part of her surplus, but “all of what she had, her whole living.” (Mark 12:42-44; Luke 21:2-4) The annual temple tax paid by the Jews was two drachmas or a didrachma (about two days’ wages). (Matt. 17:24) As a drachma was the equivalent of about a day’s wages, a woman might reasonably sweep her whole house and diligently search for a lost drachma coin.—Luke 15:8, 9.
Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, evidently the price of a slave. (Matt. 26:14-16, 47-50) No doubt these silver pieces were either shekels or other coins similar in value. But the kind of coin is not specified in the account, except for their being silver.
MONEY CAN BE BOTH BENEFICIAL AND HARMFUL
Money provides a defense against poverty and its attendant troubles, enabling persons to procure both necessities and luxuries. (Compare Ecclesiastes 7:12; 10:19.) For this reason the possibility exists of a person’s beginning to trust in money as security and to forget his Creator. (Compare Deuteronomy 8:10-14.) “The love of money [literally, fondness of silver] is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains” (1 Tim. 6:10) For money, persons have perverted justice, prostituted themselves, committed murder, betrayed others and falsified the truth.—Deut. 16:19; 23:18; 27:25; Ezek. 22:12; Matt. 26:14, 15; 28:11-15.
On the other hand, the proper use of money is approved by God. (Luke 16:1-9) This includes contributing toward the advancement of pure worship and giving material assistance to those in need. (Compare 2 Chronicles 24:4-14; Romans 12:13; 1 John 3:17, 18; see CONTRIBUTION; GIFTS OF MERCY.) Although much good can thus be done with money, the most valuable things, spiritual food and drink, eternal life itself, can be obtained without it.—Isa. 55:1, 2; Rev. 22:17.
One whose function included the exchange of one currency for that of another and coins of one value for those of another value. For each such transaction the money changer received a certain fee. Other services mentioned in the Jewish Mishnah as being provided by money changers were the safekeeping of money and the payment of wages upon the presentation of drafts.
In the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry the annual temple tax was two drachmas (a didrachma). (Matt. 17:24) As Jews from widely scattered lands came to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover and paid this tax then, the services of money changers may have been needed to exchange foreign currency for money that would be acceptable for payment of the temple tax, if not also the purchase of sacrificial animals and other items. According to the Mishnah, on the fifteenth of Adar or about a month before Passover the money changers set up for business in the provinces. But on the twenty-fifth of Adar, when Jews and proselytes from many other lands would be arriving at Jerusalem, the money changers established themselves in the temple area.
It was at the temple that Jesus Christ on two occasions overturned the tables of the money changers and condemned them for having made the temple into a “house of merchandise” or a “cave of robbers.” (John 2:13-16; Matt. 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17) This may imply that Jesus regarded the fees of the money changers as exorbitant. In this regard it is noteworthy that there were times when great profits were made on the sale of sacrificial animals. The Mishnah