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Understanding therefore that the word actually used refers to a denarius goes a long way in clarifying which coin was meant.
Biblical coins are a popular segment in the ancient coin hobby.
For many this proves to be a gateway into the wider world of ancient numismatics but most find just owning a coin mentioned in the bible, or even one merely contemporary, an end in itself as a way to connect with that distant but meaningful past.
Among these classes may be counted the so-called "Widow's Mites" and the easily available Constantinian bronzes that form the bulk of what we sell right here on DOC.
Another class of coins draws attention for being controversial.
His detractors had come before him hoping to show him up as a hypocrite for preaching to them about the one true God while at the same time he handles money inscribed with the name and image of a man many regarded as a living god.
To them he rebukes by pointing out that the earthly and divine domains are separate so paying the taxman carries no moral implications. If we assume that Jesus literally meant a denarius we would not be unsafe in making the further assumption that the denarius might well have been that of Tiberius which is known to have circulated in the region by the bucketfuls.
But it would positively, certifiably not have been the type available; in fact, the Tiberius denarius would have been a relatively new entry in a crowded field of other silver pieces bearing various portraits right alongside a milieu of local and foreign coinage.
Among the many, many issues yet unresolved by ancient numismatists it is perhaps a little ironic that an ordinary and easily available coin should prove the most divisive.
All the controversy is due to a rather numismatically ambiguous passage in the bible. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? Then saith he unto them, render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
As written in the King James version, Matthew -21 reads: Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Right away those with even passing familiarity with the coinage of Jesus's time will point out that the penny must be an anachronism since that invention was yet several centuries into the future. The KJV translators were deliberately remaking the ancient language of the bible into a tongue familiar to a largely illiterate audience.
The more correct translation of the Greek δηνάριον (denarion) or the Latin Vulgate's would have yielded an incomprehensible technicism not in keeping with the mission.