Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Coins" or "Money"? Why It Matters

In 1 Samuel 13:21 we read that the Philistines during the time of Saul held a monopoly in iron metallurgy and so the Israelites would have to go to them to sharpen their tools. “The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and one-third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads” (1 Samuel 13:21 NRSV). In 2 Samuel Joab tells a soldier he would have paid him “ten shekels of silver” if he had killed Absalom, but the soldier responded that he would not have dared to do so for “a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand” (2 Samuel 18:11-12). Some think that references to silver money are out of place this early in Israelite history. Donald Redford, in a popular work on the ancient Near East reads into these passages the use of “coined money” and claims that such “blatant anachronisms are more numerous than a record with reliable sources should contain” (Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1992, 305).

In a recent article Alan Millard takes Redford to task reading things into the text which are not actually there. He observes:

Coinage began in Anatolia, usually said to be Lydia, probably a little before 600 BCE, when small lumps of electrum of equal weight were stamped with a design serving as an official or royal guarantee. Prior to that, anyone wanting to pay in bullion would weight the metal, which might be in the form of ingots, or pieces cut off from them, or worked metal, plate or jewelry, whole or in fragments. Several examples of hoards of such silver bullion have been unearthed in the Holy Land and adjacent regions, buried during the Iron Age and earlier. Although late in the third and early in the second millennia BCE Babylonian Smiths fashioned long coils of silver from which pieces could be cut to make payment.

These, however, were not coins.

A little earlier [than Lydian coins] in the Near East, certain towns and institutions had standard weights. Examples of bronze weights marked for Hamath are known and Assyrians reckoned by "the mina of the land", "the royal mina" and "the mina of Carchemish" . . . . In some cases specific amounts of precious metal may have been sealed in small bags (Alan Millard, “Are There Anachronisms in the Books of Samuel?” In Geoffrey Khan and Diana Lipton, Studies on the Text and Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Honour of Robert Gordon (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 40).

Redford had wrongly assumed references to metal money referred to coinage. the Biblical passages in question only mention pieces of silver.

Clearly payment was made by weighing the silver, as the man expressed to Joab "even if a thousand shekels were weighed out in my hands . . .", in the form of bullion that the hoards display. . . . There are no grounds at all for assuming that coinage which did not appear until the seventh century BCE, was envisaged in either passage in the books of Samuel. To allege that use of fractions implies coined money and so is an anachronism is without any justification at all (Millard, 41-42).

This is relevant to the question of money in the Book of Mormon. The text of Alma 11 mentions the use of gold and silver pieces of money, but not coinage.

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