Historic Jesus
Coins: Denarius/Penny/Talent/Farthing/Mite

During the time of Jesus, money from three different sources was in regular circulation in Palestine, as well as other coins brought in by travelers and traders from throughout the known world. These regular currencies were Roman coins minted under official control; provincial coins minted at Antioch and lTyre, which followed the older Greek standards and names for coins; and local Jewish money, probably minted at Caesarea. Silver, bronze, or brass were the most common metals used in coins; gold was seldom used.

The most common silver coin in circulation was the Roman denarius. In some Bible versions, it is called a "penny" though its value was the equivalent of a day's wage for a laborer. It was translated by the word "penny" because the standard Roman abbreviation for a denarius is "d."-the same abbreviation was used centuries later by the British for "penny." Another indication of the value of the denarius is found in the story of the Good Samaritan: The innkeeper was . paid two denarii for caring for the wounded man for several days. Jesus' opponents used a denarius to trap him with their question about t taxation (Matt.22.19). The denarius of that day had the head of the Roman Emperor Tiberius on one side, and on the other side a likeness of his, mother, Livia, shown holding an olive branch and a scepter, personifying Rome.

A copper coin called an "as" was worth one-sixteenth of a denarius. The word occurs in Matthew 10.29 and in Luke 12.6, where it has sometimes been translated as a "farthing" or a "penny." It had the value of two sparrows sold in the market. The only Jewish coin mentioned in the Gospels is the bronze "lepton" This is the- "widow’s mite," called a "fartbing" in some translations. It represents a very small amount of money.

Jesus told a parable about a master who entrusted "talents" to his servants. A talent was not a coin, but a unit of a high value, though the amount varied from time to time. If a denarius was worth a day's wages, a talent would have been worth about seventeen years’ wages. A reference to a large number of talents generally meant "a great deal of money," much the same as when people today say, "if I had a million dollars."

The "stater" is a Greek or Tyrian coin that was often used to pay the temple tax for two people. That coin is mentioned in Matthew 17.27, when Jesus arranged for payment of his temple tax. The Stater was minted at Antioch, at Caesarea in Cappadocia, and at Tyre. Many coin specialists believe that Judas's payment of thirty pieces of silver was made in staters. It is also believed that the chief priests used staters to bribe the guards of the tomb (Matt. 28.12).