Ancient Jewish coins dating back to the Second Temple era found in Jerusalem

Five rare ancient coins, among the first ever minted by Jews, were discovered on the Temple Mount. They provide evidence of Jewish activity during the First Persian Empire. 

By: JNS and World Israel News Staff

Five coins dating from the fourth century BCE bearing the letters “YHD” or “Yehud” were found near the Temple Mount this week.

The coins were minted by the autonomous Jewish province that existed in the Land of Israel during the First Persian Empire in late 4th century BC.

The coins attest to the existence of Jewish commercial and administrative life in and around the Second Temple and Temple Mount.

“These were the first coins ever minted by Jews,” according to Zachi Dvira, a co-director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

In an interview with Israel’s Ynet news, Dvira said the coins “express the people’s return to their land after the Babylonian exile, and their ability to hold and maintain diplomatic ties with the ruling empire—then Persia—similar to our relations with the United States today.”

Dvira added that the coins were used by Jewish pilgrims to the Temple to convert their tithes from produce grown in the Land of Israel into a monetary form. The coins were then brought to Jerusalem to buy food that was eaten in Jerusalem in accordance with the laws of purity as detailed in the Bible.

The newly discovered coins bear the letters “YHD,” or Yehud,” the Aramaic name for the biblical kingdom of Judea.

Archaeological wars

The small coins—three in good condition and two showing signs of wear—were discovered as part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, an archaeological initiative started in order to sift thousands of tons of dirt illegally excavated and dumped in the Kidron Valley by the Islamic Waqf in 1999.

The Waqf excavations compromised the archaeological integrity of the Temple Mount and sparked outrage in Israel, leading many to suggest that the Waqf was intentionally attempting to eradicate evidence of two Jewish Temples that stood on the Mount for more than 800 years.

The sifting project, which has operated since 2004 in the Emek Tzurim National Park, aims to salvage religious and historical artifacts from the rubble, as well as to educate the public about the veracity of Jewish history on the Mount.

The Temple as a religious and commercial center

Dvira noted that Jewish pilgrims would bring offerings of first fruits of the season to the Temple around the time of the Shavuot holiday and would often convert their value to silver in the days of the Second Temple.

He also noted that the Temple was a center of commerce and public administration, making it a prime site for finding coins.

Old-new nation

Dvira said the New Israeli Shekel also bears the letters “YHD,” exactly as they appear on the newly unearthed coins.

Though state funding for the project halted in 2017, the Temple Mount Sifting Project is now aiming to bring mobile sifting units of Temple Mount dirt to Israeli schools and communities, enabling children to learn about Jewish history in Jerusalem and to participate in the sifting themselves.

More than half a million artifacts have been pulled from the rubble so far by 200,000-plus participants, including 6,000 ancient coins.

In May 2017, UNESCO adopted a resolution denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. In October 2016, the international body said the Jewish people have no ties to the Temple Mount.