Ancient Numismatics and the New Testament

22 01 2008

I mentioned in my first post my interest in utilizing numismatics in the study of the New Testament, and so I thought I might follow up on that interest. Richard Oster in a 1982 article, “Numismatic Windows into the Social World of Early Christianity: A Methodological Inquiry” (JBL 101 [1982]) notes that biblical scholars have overlooked and given insignificant attention to numismatic evidence when examining early Christianity. Unfortunately, little has changed since the publication of this seminal article. One notable exception is the book by Larry Kreitzer, Striking New Images: Roman Imperial Coinage and the New Testament World (JSNTSup 134; Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). Yet fourteen years after Oster’s article, Kreitzer notes, “. . . New Testament scholars have been slow to embrace the contribution that numismatic evidence has to make to their discipline” (p. 101). The trend continues today.

There are probably several reasons for this neglect. There is a lack of focus on ancient numismatics in colleges and universities. No degrees or majors are offered in ancient numismatics by any major college or university in the US. Therefore individuals are not trained in utilizing numismatic resources for historical research; numismatics is a complicated field of study. No doubt there are other reasons also.

Whatever the reasons, ancient numismatics can yield a wealth of information for the interpretation of the world of the New Testament. Some of my own personal research is on Revelation and how the symbols in that book correspond with the symbols on Roman coins. Many of the images and symbols in the Apocalypse, e.g., thunder, eagles, horses, stars, sun, moon, lamb/ram, serpents, women, thrones, crowns, and many others are also found on Roman imperial and provincial coins.

I hope from time to time to illustrate some of the ways that coins can help interpret the New Testament world.

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