Problems with Coins of the Jewish Revolts

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Damien F. Mackey


The City of Jerusalem by Colonel C. R. Conder (1909), stating that “the forgery of Jewish coins is still common in Palestine”, Conder wrote that “the theory according to which [Bar Kochba] struck coins in Jerusalem demands notice, in connection with the history of the city, but it appears to be one of those learned fallacies which are very long in dying”.





Claude Reignier Conder is remembered fondly by the author as one who had, against the academic trend, recognised the story of the Jewish heroine, Judith, as being based on fact, and who had plausibly identified her home town of Bethulia. I wrote of this as follows in my article:

Location of Judith’s Town of “Bethulia”. Part One: C. Conder’s Choice

Bethulia itself, which Simons identifies with sheih shibil, I shall identify, following lieutenant Claude Reignier Conder, with “Mithilia” (or Meselieh), south of Jenin.


Upon Judith’s request (command?), the elders “ordered the young men to open the gate for her” (10:9). Judith and her maid then went out of the town and headed for the camp of the Assyrians. “The men of the town watched her until she had gone down the mountain and passed through the valley, where they lost sight of her” (v.10).


  1. Conder will refer back to this topographical description of Judith’s descent into the valley in his proposed identification of Bethulia with Mithilia (Meselieh). I simply give Conder’s account, which is the one that impresses me most:


?Meselieh? A small village, with a detached portion to the north, and placed on a slope, with a hill to the south, and surrounded by good olive-groves, with an open valley called W鈊y el Melek (“the King’s Valley’) on the north. The water-supply is from wells, some of which have an ancient appearance. They are mainly supplied with rain-water. In 1876 I proposed to identify the village of Meselieh, or Mithilia, south of Jenin, with the Bethulia of the Book of Judith, supposing the substitution of M for B, of which there are occasional instances in Syrian nomenclature. The indications of the site given in the Apocrypha are tolerably distinct. Bethulia stood on a hill, but not apparently on the top, which is mentioned separately (Judith vi. 12) There were springs or wells beneath the town (verse 11), and the houses were above these (verse 13). The city stood in the hill-country not far from the plain (verse 11), and apparently near Dothan (Judith iv. 6). The army of Holofernes was visible when encamped near Dothan (Judith vii. 3, 4), by the spring in the valley near Bethulia (verses 3-7).’The site usually supposed to represent Bethulia – namely, the strong village of Sanur – does not fulfill these various requisites; but the topography of the Book of Judith, as a whole, is so consistent and easily understood, that it seems that Bethulia was an actual site. Visiting Mithilia on our way to Shechem ? we found a small ruinous village on the slope of the hill. Beneath it are ancient wells, and above it a rounded hill-top, commanding a tolerably extensive view. The north-east part of the great plain, Gilboa, Tabor … and Nazareth, are clearly seen. West of these are neighbouring hillsides Jenin and Wady Bel’ameh (the Belmaim, probably of the narrative); but further west Carmel appears behind the ridge of Sheikh Iskander … and part of the plain of ‘Arrabeh, close to Dothan, is seen.

A broad corn-vale, called “The King’s Valley”, extends north-west from Meselieh toward Dothan, a distance of only 3 miles. There is a low shed formed by rising ground between two hills, separating this valley from the Dothain plain; and at the latter site is the spring beside which, probably, the Assyrian army is supposed by the old Jewish novelist [sic] to have encamped. In imagination one might see the stately Judith walking through the down-trodden corn-fields and shady olive-groves, while on the rugged hillside above the men of the city “looked after her until she was gone down the mountain, and till she had passed the valley, and could see her no more'”. (Judith x 10) – C. R. C., ‘Quarterly Statement’, July, 1881.

[End of quote]


So, I would respect what Conder has had to say.

But what to make of these views that he expressed in The City of Jerusalem (1909) about Jewish “coins of the revolts”? Some of this could turn a part of Jewish-Roman history right on its head:



The leaders of the revolt were Bar Cocheba {Kokeba), “the Son of the Star,” and Rabbi ‘Akibah, who believed this pretender to be the true Messiah, in spite of the warning of Rabbi Jehohanan, “‘Akibah, the grass will be growing between thy jaws before the Son of David comes.”- The rabbinical accounts of the Bether war are late and legendary, and the “Son of the Star” is called in the Talmudic allusions “the son of falsehood” — Bar Koziba — probably as a term of contempt. The theory according to which he struck coins in Jerusalem demands notice, in connection with the history of the city, but it appears to be one of those learned fallacies which are very long in dying…..


Certain silver coins of “Eleazar the Priest,” marked (by the alphabetic characters used) as being of the Hasmonaean age, have been rashly attributed to Eleazar, who defended the Temple in 70 a.d. In at least one instance the coin is regarded as a forgery by both de Vogue and de Saulcy, and this appears to apply to all the so-called ” coins of the revolts.”

The copper ones bear blundered imitations of genuine inscriptions from coins of Simon the Hasmonaean.

They have been struck on much defaced Roman coins of Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, and Trajan, but more probably in the nineteenth century than in the second century. One such coin bears the name Simon, and is struck on a silver tetradrachm of Antioch attributed to Vespasian. It does not seem

to have occurred to the scholars who suppose it to have been struck by Simon, son of Gioras, in 70 a.d., that as Vespasian had then only been emperor a few months, and as Jerusalem was besieged, it is quite impossible that an old coin of his reign could have been found in the city in the year of its fall.

The forgery of Jewish coins is still common in Palestine, and the forgers did not foresee that the remains of the original legend on a coin would be read by the trained eye of some European specialist, while they thought that the worn surface of the coin would show its antiquity, but that its value would be much higher if it was regarded as being Jewish. The same observation applies to all the restruck copper coins, which have been variously attributed to Simon son of Gioras, to Simon son of Gamaliel, and to Bar Cocheba, who has been conjectured to have been also named Simon — of which there is no proof at all. The latter assumption was necessitated by the fact that some of the coins used by the forgers were as late as the reigns of Domitian and Trajan. It may, however, be remarked that if the Jews, in 135 a.d., struck any coins at all, the lettering is not likely to have been in the same characters used about 139 b.c, but would have been in those used at the time, that is to say, practically in square Hebrew. We may regard these coins, therefore, as forged imitations of those of Simon the Hasmonaean, and they have no bearing on the question whether Jerusalem had been rebuilt before 135 A.D. Appian was a contemporary historian, but says nothing about any siege of Jerusalem, which city he tells us was “razed to the ground by Vespasian.” ….


And we read in the Jewish Encyclopedia about anomalies associated with the Bar Kochba revolt



It is uncertain whether the insurgents acquired possession of Jerusalem: the Jewish sources contain no mention of it; and the coins bearing the inscription, “In Commemoration of the Liberation of Jerusalem,” are unreliable because they may have originated with Simon the Hasmonean. Among the historians, Graetz is almost the only one that accepts the supposition of a conquest of Jerusalem. But if this had been the case, the insurgents would not have made Bethar, but Jerusalem, their center of operations. Moreover, Bethar, according to Eusebius, was situated in the vicinity of Jerusalem, a statement which may apply equally to a place north or south of the Holy City. However this may be, a city of the size ascribed to Bethar in Jewish sources could never have arisen in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. ….

[End of quote]




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