Friday, March 13, 2020

What Was the Value and Nature of the Nephite Monetary System? – Part III

Continued from the previous post, regarding the Nephite monetary system and its meaning in precious metal or weight of grain, such as wheat or barley.
    It should be noted that any discussion of ancient coinage around 600 BC, when Lehi left Jerusalem and, thus, Nephi’s knowledge of coins, is critically important in understanding the Nephite coinage.
    First of all, while there is some debate regarding where the world's first true coin came from, most experts agree that they first appeared in the Ioinan and Lydian regions of Anatolia’s Aegean shore in Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey. Even though there were well established civilizations like Egypt and Mesopotamia long before that, it wasn't until the 7th Century BC that coins made their first appearance.
Ingots of electrum 7th century BC, and was the weight 1/6th of a Stater Milesian Standard

These were actually ingots of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold, that was found in the area. At some point in 650 B.C. a system of standardized weights developed so that the purity and weight could be established with each transaction. These ingots of electrum were stamped by governmental authorities in Lydia and surrounding areas as they began adopting the practice of unifying coins, which flourished in the area and became the standard currency.
    Ancient Anatolia electrum contqine3d 70% to 90% gold, as opposed to Lydian electrum, which contained 45% to 55% electrum. Electrum was used as early as the third millennium BC in the Old Kingdom,  with the first metal coins ever made were of electrum and date back to the end of the 7th century or the beginning of the 6th century BC.
    The earliest coins are mostly associated with Iron Age Anatolia (Asia Minor or Turkey) of the 7th century BC.
    It took some time before ancient coins were used for commerce and trade. Even the smallest-denomination electrum coins, perhaps worth about a day's subsistence, would have been too valuable for buying a loaf of bread. According to Herodotus, the first coins to be used for retailing on a large-scale basis were small silver fractions, Hemiobol, ancient Greek coinage minted by the Ionian Greeks in the last half of the sixth century, about 50 years before Lehi left Jerusalem. Some have claimed Lehi was involved in commerce, trading with the camel caravans along the king’s highway, at the base of the hills where Jerusalem was located, and as such, he would have been quite familiar with these first coins, as would Nephi, Sam and Zoram, the latter in charge of Laban’s treasury (1 Nephi 4:20). No doubt, gold and silver coins made up some of Lehi’s treasure left behind (1 Nephi 2:4; 3:22).
Two coins that had wide exposure and usage before Lehi left Jerusalem. Made of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver with trace amounts of copper and other metals). Note the shape—oblong and hexagonal—neither are round 

As an example: Axe-money refers to bronze coinage found in both the northern Andes and Mesoamerica. Based on ethnohisorical, archaeological, chemical, and metallurgical analyses, the scholars Hosler, Lechtman, and Holm have argued for their use in both regions, though widely separated, through trade. On the other hand, it is possible, and more likely that such appearance denoted an immigration from the northern Andes to Mesoamerica, by a common people that brought their money and its usage with them. There was also a coinage called naipes, a bow-tie- or card-shaped metal which appeared in the archaeological record only in the northern Andean coastal region, More specifically, it is believed that the system of money first arose on the north coast of Peru and Ecuador. In both regions, bronze was smelted and hammered into thin, axe-shaped forms and bundled in multiples of five to twenty. As they are often found in burials, it is likely that in addition to their presumed economic use, they also had ceremonial value (Michael E. Smith, "Axe-Monies and Their Relatives" Ethnohistory, vol.40, no.1, 1993, pp148-149; Susan Wurtzburg, et al., “Axe-Monies and Their Relatives,” American Antiquity, vol.57, no.2, 1992, p378; Karen Olsen Bruhns, Ancient South America. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1994, pp178-179, 297).
The ancient Bronze Prutah was struck in Jerusalem in the latter part of the BC era and the early AD period—over time, it had various images and shapes

The Pruta, (prutah, prutoth), meaning “coin of smaller value,”) is better known as the “Widow’s Mite,” a small and very low value coin was struck in Jerusalem at the time of the Macabees and as late as the first century AD, and was the first coin of Jersalem since the Persion period (536 BC).
    Another early coin, and was first struck in Jerusalem was the shekel, which was based upon weight, as were the first coins of the modern era minted in the U.S. A biblical shekel weighed 11.33 grams of silver, and in order to calculate the weight of these silver pieces they would put them on one side of the scales and on the other side they placed the beka stone, which was a tiny stone weight engraved with ancient Hebrew letters spelling “beka.” Featuring an ancient Hebrew inscription, the beka weight was used to weigh the annual half-shekel donation Jews brought to maintain the Holy Temple, with  the weight used to weigh the half-shekel“one beka per head” of all over the age of 20, which was the cost for each one who went through the counting during the first temple period (1200 to 586 BC), until the temple was plundered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire).
    In the second century BC, Rome, as the ruling power throughout the Middle East, operated two mints in the Mediteranean region, one in Lebanon at Tyre, and the second at Antioch. The mint in Tyre produced Tyrian Shekels and Half-Shekels, of a 95% silver purity. In 19 BC, Rome closed the mint in Tyre and began to import an inferior silver coinage from the Far East consisting of 80% pure silver.
    The Religious leaders in Israel, realizing that the new coinage was not sufficiently pure to fulfill the Commandment of giving the Holy Half-Shekel, appealed to the Emperor for permission to produce a ceremonial coin of sufficient purity to fulfill their religious obligations. The Rabbanim (governing body of 100 rabbis) received special dispensation to produce the requisite coinage on condition that they continue with the motif of the Tyrian Shekel, so as not to arouse objections within the Roman Empire that the Jews were granted "autonomy" to mint their own coinage.
Tetradachm coins

The Tyrian shekels, tetradrachms, or tetradrachmas were coins of Tyre from 510 to 38 BC. In the Roman Empire they took on an unusual role as the medium of payment for the Temple tax in Jerusalem, and subsequently gained notoriety as a likely mode of payment for Judas Iscariot. They were replaced by the First Jewish Revolt coinage in 66 AD. In the latest standard, which was also the one used for the temple tax, the coins bore the likeness of the Phoenician god Melqart (Melkhart) or Baal, accepted as the Olympian Herakles (Hercules) by the Greeks and derided as Beelzebub by Jews in the time of the Seleucids (312 BC), wearing the laurel reflecting his role in the Tyrian games and the ancient Olympic Games of 776 BC. They also bore the Greek inscription "ΤΥΡΟΥ ΙΕΡΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΣΥΛΟΥ" (Tyrou hieras kai asylou, "of Tyre the holy [city] and [city] of refuge”.
    The coins were the size of a modern Israeli half-shekel and were issued by Tyre, in that form, between 126 BC and 56 AD. Earlier Tyrian coins with the value of a tetradrachm, bearing various inscriptions and images, had been issued beginning in the latter half of the fifth century B.C.
    The point is, coins were well known in Jerusalem during Lehi’s time and especially afterward.
(See the next post “What Was the Value and Nature of the Nephite Monetary System? – Part IV” on how Mormon showed us the value of their money)

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