Clay Money
Text:  Ezra 3:7   "They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia."

Money is often mentioned in the Bible, but not always in the substance or form of what we currently think of as money. In earliest times, some nations used sheep and oxen as the standard of value of currency. Others used food produce and determined its monetary value according to the bulk weight.

The Hebrews, like other ancient nations without regular coinage, used precious metals for currency. This custom was most likely adopted from the Phoenicians who are credited with first trading silver for goods in commercial transactions. As depicted on Egyptian monuments, silver and gold were weighed into specific increments, formed into the shape of rings and designated a value.

In the Bible, silver as money is first mentioned in the time of Abraham (Gen. 17:13; 30:16). Also, jewelry. There is evidence that interesting adornments may have been crafted with specific weights in mind and, at times, used for money (Gen. 24:22). Such is the case of Rebekah's dowry.

During the Israelite period under Moses, the going rate for a slave was thirty pieces of silver in the shekel weight (Ex 21:32). Earlier, Joseph had been sold to the Ishmaelite slave traders for twenty pieces. While the cost varied, in both instances, the silver was exchanged was most likely in the form of rings. (Gen. 37:28).

Gold as money is first mentioned in the Bible in 1 Chron. 21:25. Although, it is likely that gold money of some form was in use in some areas of Palestine prior to the time described in this book, no actual coined money is mentioned before Ezra's time.

At the time of Ezra, in Babylonia and Persia, clay tablets were used as a form of money. Some researchers believe these slabs were the earliest form of banknotes; perhaps even similar to our paper currency today. It is thought that the tablets were used more like a voucher or credit slip. In either respect, this “clay money” was freely exchanged for goods and services.

In the book "Travels in Chaldea and Susiana" (p.222), W.K. Loftus tells of his experience at Warka in 1857:  "Among the curious things unearthed were about forty small tablets of unbaked clay, covered on both sides with minute characters...(and) in length from two inches to four and a half inches, and in breadth, from one to three inches. They had on them the names of various kings, and dates ranging from 626 to 525 BC. Among these was the name of Cyrus, the kin who directed the work for which the money was given --according to the (Bible) text. These tablets were, in point of fact, the equivalents of our own bank-notes and prove that a system of artificial currency prevailed in Babylonia, and also in Persia, at an unprecedented early age, centuries before the introduction of paper and printing."

Sir Henry Ralinson examined the clay tablet inscriptions and had this to say: "The tablets seemed to be notes issued by the government for the convenience of circulation, representing a certain value which was always expressed in measures of weight of gold or silver...redeemable on presentation at the royal treasury."

Actual coined money is first mentioned, in the Bible, in 1 Chron. 29:7 and Ezra 2:59.T The "dram" refers to the Persian "Daric", a gold coin.

Until 140 BC, no native Jewish coinage appears to have existed. At that time, Antiochus VII., Sidetes, (King of Syria, 138-129 B.C.) granted Simon Maccabaeus the license to coin money in both silver and copper, the weight of which were shekels and half-shekels or about 220 and 110 grains respectively. It is now generally agreed that the oldest Jewish silver coins belong to this Maccabean period.

In the New Testament, Jewish copper coinage was used side by side with Greco-Roman copper, silver and gold coins. The abundant money of Herod the Great was thoroughly Greek and only of copper. It seems to have been a continuation of the copper coinage of the Maccabees with some adaptation to the Roman standard.

In first century A.D., the chief currency of Palestine was the Roman penny "denarius", the Greek "drachma" and the Jewish farthing, half-farthing and mite. (Matt. 22:19; Luke: 20:24).

The explanation for the introductory text (Ezra 3:7) is that it is a reference to the type of payments to be made to those who furnished supplies and those who would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem under Zerrubbabel's direction, all at the expense of Cyrus.
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