Jesus and Caesar’s Coin

16 10 2009

While working on my paper for the SBL meeting in New Orleans, I chased a little rabbit about the coin of Caesar in Mark 12:13-17 (parallel,  Matthew 22:15-22 and Luke 20:20-26).   I had never really paid attention to that fact that not only does Jesus make reference to the image on the coin, but also to the inscription.   Most preachers/teachers are good at quoting an abbreviated part of the verse, “Whose likeness/image is on this coin,” but neglect to add “and inscription.”  Jesus  seems to be implying that both he and his audience would have recognized the inscription.  Would Jesus and his audience have read and understood a Latin inscription?  Probably not, so it is unlikely the coin used for illustrative purpose was a denarius carrying a Latin inscription.  (Beside, denarii did not circulate in the East this early.  This fact undercuts the “typical” Tribute Penny, that is denarius, associated with Tiberius).   The coin was most likely a tetradrachm minted in Antioch.  This particular coin would have had a Greek inscription, which is an inscription both Jesus and the audience were more likely to have understood.  Perhaps they would have understood it only too well: obverse, TIBEPIOS SEBASTOS KAISAP (Tiberius Augustus Caesar); reverse, THEOS SEBASTOS KAISAP (God Augustus Caesar).  See Peter E. Lewis, “The Actual Tribute Penny,” Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia, Vol. 10 (July 1999), 3-13.  While Lewis does not approach this text-segment with New Testament exegetical skill, he still makes some interesting observations.  It is extremely difficult to find image of this coin.  However, an excellent example, copyrighted by the American Numismatic Society, is available via the link I created:  Antioch Tetradrachm.