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Coin Hoard Uncovered in Judean Desert Provides Proof of Maccabean Revolt

December 13, 2022
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A coin hoard recovered from a cave in the Judean Desert dating back to the time of the Maccabean Revolt.

Tuesday, 13 December 2022 | Evidence for a dramatic moment in the history of the Jewish people was uncovered in the Judean Desert: A rare wooden box containing a small hoard of 15 silver coins, dated to the days leading up to the Maccabean Revolt.

The box was hidden in Muraba‘at Cave in the Darageh Stream Nature Reserve about 2,200 years ago, and it was discovered in excavations carried out there last May. The coin hoard has since been researched, and it will be exhibited to the public over Hanukkah [Feast of Dedication] in the Hasmonean Museum in Modi‘in, in the context of Israel Heritage Week that takes place during Hanukkah.

The excavation was carried out as part of the Judean Desert Excavation and Survey Project run by the Israel Antiquities Authority [IAA]. The Archaeological Office for the Military Administration of Judea and Samaria, in cooperation with the Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage, also participated. Among the many finds, the unique lathe-turned wooden box was discovered in a crevice in the cave.

When the lid was removed, it turned out that the upper part of the box was full of packed earth and small stones. Below this earth layer, a large piece of purple woolen cloth was found, covering the 15 silver coins that were arranged with pieces of sheep’s wool in the lower part of the box.

The coin hoard was then cleaned in the IAA metal finds laboratory. It comprised a homogeneous group of silver tetradrachma coins, minted by Ptolemy VI, King of Egypt. Ptolemy VI reigned over Egypt at the same time as his uncle Antiochos IV Epiphanes (“the Wicked”) reigned over the Seleucid Kingdom, including Judea. The three earliest coins in the hoard were minted in 176–175 BC, and the latest coin dated to 171–170 BC. The name “Shalmai” in Aramaic script was found secondarily incised on one of the coins.

Based on the date of the latest coin in the hoard (170 BC), the year when the coins were hidden can be fixed to the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt, and the war declared by Antiochos Epiphanes IV against the Jewish religion.

According to Dr Eitan Klein, who studied the coins together with Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, IAA numismatic expert, “It is interesting to try to visualize the person who fled to the cave and hid his personal property here intending to return to collect it. The person was probably killed in the battles, and he did not return to collect his possessions that waited almost 2,200 years until we retrieved them. This is an absolutely unique find which presents the first clear archaeological evidence that the Judean Desert caves played an active role as the stage for the activities of the Jewish rebels or the fugitives in the early days of the Maccabean Revolt.

According to Dr. Klein, the Books of the Maccabees describe the dramatic events of the times that would have led people to hide their possessions in the Judean Desert until the danger passed. One explanation could be the plundering of the Jerusalem Temple treasures by Antiochos IV, and the destruction of the Jerusalem city wall in the years that led up to the Hasmonean Revolt.

Another explanation could be the religious decrees imposed on the Jews in 167 BC. The First Book of Maccabees records that groups of Jews fled to hiding places in the desert due to the decrees imposed on the Jews.

According to the Minister of Construction and Housing, Jerusalem and Heritage, Zeev Elkin: “This moving find, coming just before the festival of Hanukkah, is symbolic, emphasizing once again the importance of our activity in the field of heritage. During Heritage Week which will take place during Hanukkah, dozens of sites will be open to the public with special activities for families and children, including the possibility to see the new discovery in the Hasmonean Museum in Modi‘in.”

Eli Escusido, director of the IAA said, “The coin hoard that will be exhibited to the public in the framework of the Israel Heritage Week events fires the imagination and connects us with ‘those days in this season.’ This is the Hanukkah ‘gelt’ (money) that the IAA is donating to the people and the State of Israel. I invite the public to take part in the excavations in the Wadi Muraba‘at cave in December. We consider that the cave has not yet said its final word!”

Posted on December 13, 2022

Source: (Excerpt from a press release that was issued by the Israel Antiquities Authority, December 2022. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today.)

Photo Credit: Shai Halevy, Israel Antiquities Authority

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