What do we know about gold Nero coin found outside Jerusalem’s Old City?

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A Roman gold coin depicting the Emperor Nero, dated to 56 CE, found at archaeological excavation at Jerusalem's Mt. Zion. (Photo Credit: Dr. Shimon Gibson)

Coins have been used as currency for centuries, the earliest ones still in existence date back to around 1,000 years before Yeshua. The scriptures make reference to various types of coins such as the lepton, drachma, didrachma, tetradrachma, quadrans, assarius and denarius.

KNI reported on the discovery of an extremely rare gold coin, depicting the Roman Emperor Nero, which was none of the above. It was found just outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Mount Zion and dates back to the middle of the first century.

Coins such as the above have until now been seen only in private collections and their origin is seldom known, according to archaeologists. Given that this coin was unearthed under the auspices of a scientific archaeological excavation, the treasure was exceptional since its findspot was unambiguous.

Now, after further testing and studies, more has come to light about the coin.

It was excavated from rubble and debris near the remains of first century dwellings in the upper city of Jerusalem, where Jewish priests and aristocracy are believed to have lived. Did this coin originally belong to one of them?

Lower and middle class citizens, numbering some 25,000 inhabitants, lived and worked in the thriving and busy lower city, where various traders and merchants supplied the temple with animals for sacrifices, bread for the inner sanctuary and the priests, wood for the fires, incense and other requirements of the priests. Did one of these traders own the coin?

During Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, pilgrims would sojourn to the Holy City, according to biblical command, and the number of people in the city would swell to between 100,000 and 125,000 people. This would give the city an economic boost and also increase the demand for board, lodging and animals for sacrificing. The privileged would be able to afford accommodation in private homes and inns in the upper city. Did this coin come from a pilgrim?

It appears the majority of pilgrims stayed in tents just outside the city or in Bethany, Bethpage and even as far as Bethlehem, but all those coming up to Jerusalem for one of the three commanded aliyah feasts would use this opportunity to pay first tithes (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:26-32), second tithes (Deuteronomy 14:22-26) and a Temple tax (Exodus 30:11-16 Exodus 38:21-31). Did this coin come from one of these payments?

Roman soldiers were stationed around Jerusalem and sometimes extra reinforcements were called in when the numbers of visitors to the city increased. Did one of these reserve troops bring the coin from Rome?

In all likelihood, the answer to the above questions is no.

When the veil in the Temple tore (Matthew 27:50-51) the sacrificial system was made obsolete and all activities involving the Temple and in Jerusalem began to change. A few years later, Acts 6:7 tells us, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

Because the above mentioned practices would have changed by the middle of the first century, the coin probably belonged to a soldier because gold coins were used primarily as military pay. But the timing is important.

The standard gold currency in ancient Rome, called an aureus, was a coin exactly like the one found. Nero was the emperor of Rome between the years 54 to 68. The coin with Nero’s image bears engravings showing that it was minted in 56/57 along with other inscriptions depicting that Nero held the most prestigious religious position at the time. Ten years later, less than 30 years after the veil in the Temple tore, a revolt broke out in Judea.

In 67, Nero dispatched troops to Jerusalem to subdue the Jews. It is possible that one of these soldiers, even possibly General Vespasian who became emperor in 69, brought the coin. The revolt concluded in the year 70 with the Romans burning the Temple and Jerusalem was destroyed.

This unique coin has lain buried there until last month with its mysteries waiting to be discovered.