It has been recently reported that the Israel Museum has acquired the earliest coin mentioning the word “Jew”/”Yehud” on it. It dates to the 5th century BCE from ancient Persia, modern Iran. The amazing thing is that the interpretations that have been offered for the coin go against the plain meaning of the find. What is also amazing is that so far, to my knowledge, no one has tied it to the most famous Persian Jewess that ever lived – Queen Esther.
Esther will be celebrated during the upcoming Purim holiday. According to the Scroll of Esther (Megilat Esther), Esther lived in Persia, modern Iran, during the reign of King Ahashverus, commonly identified with Xerxes (486-465 BCE). According to the story, the Jews of the Persian empire were highly assimilated and well to do. When the Queen of Persia misbehaved, Ahashverus had her executed and replaced with the beautiful Esther. He didn’t realize that she was a Jewess. Later, when the evil Haman plotted genocide against the Jews, Esther’s uncle Mordechai recruited her to intervene on behalf of her people. She did, Haman’s plot was foiled. He and his sons were hung and the Jewish people fought a war against the forces of Haman during which 75,500 of the enemy fell.
In the story, Mordechai is constantly called “Ha Yehudi” i.e., “The Jew”. This story ends with his ascent to power. It makes sense that a coin would have been struck commemorating the Purim victory. I believe that that coin has now been found. The problem is that it hasn’t been recognized for what it is.
So far, Israel Museum’s chief curator of archeology, Haim Gitler, has called the coin “the earliest coin from the province of Judea”. But is it from the province of Judea? “Yehud” means “Jew”, not “Judea”. And when coins seem to be referring to a Jewish province, they date much later and the faces on them depict real rulers e.g., Berenice I, the Queen of Egypt. Also, the iconography has totally been misread. On one side there’s a face of a female. Gitler has declared that this face is a “gorgon”. A “gorgon” is a dreadful monster – a Medusa-like character with hair made of snakes. There are, indeed, Medusa-like characters depicted on Persian coins, complete with snake-like hair emanating from the head. But any child can look at the face on the newly-found coin and see that it represents a woman – a beautiful woman at that, with full lips, wearing earrings, a necklace, bangs and braided hair. If it is a woman, and not a gorgon, there is simply no other candidate for the woman on the Persian coin, with the word “Jew” struck on it, other than Queen Esther.
The back of the coin is also interesting. Here we see an unusual representation of a lion and a bull. Although it is known from other contexts, the lion is the symbol of Judah. It is next to, or on top of, some kind of bovine. The head of the bovine is unclear. However, a little research leads to the revelation that Xerxes, the King of Persia, who is traditionally identified with “Ahashverus” from the story of Esther, was known as the “man-bull”. In other words, everything about this coin: the word “Jew”, the beautiful woman, the man-bull, and the lion all speak to a commemorative coin from the time of Esther. According to Gitler, the coin dates to the late 5th century, or early 4th century. Esther and Mordechai ruled at the beginning of the 5th century. In other words, a coin commemorating Esther fits perfectly within a period immediately after Esther. It wouldn’t work, if the coin predated Esther. Put differently, a coin with Lincoln on its face can date after Lincoln, but not before. If it turns out that a coin you thought was depicting Lincoln is earlier than his lifetime, you know you’ve made a mistake about the image. So from a dating point of view, the coin perfectly fits the period of Esther and Mordechai.
The descendants of Haman and the descendants of Esther have always dominated Persia. Persia/Iran is never neutral when it come to the Jewish people. For the good, it was the Persians who ended the exile of the Jews from Babylon and sponsored the building of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem. For the bad, it was the Persians/Iranians who, under Haman, wanted to destroy the Jewish people in ancient days, and are trying to build a nuclear bomb today for the same genocidal purposes. Isn’t it ironic that at this particular time of confrontation between modern Israel and modern Persia, this coin celebrating Esther shows up?
The Haman-like forces of today are obsessed with Esther. In fact, Islamic clerics attempted to ban Starbucks from the Middle-East because they feared that the Starbucks logo, which includes a twin-tailed mermaid, is really Esther in disguise. When the Israeli Secret Service invaded Iran’s nuclear facilities with the super computer worm called “Stuxnet”, it made sure that the invader was code-named “Esther”.
The story of Esther is also the most mystical of the ancient Jewish texts. It is the only scroll read on a Jewish holiday that does not refer to God at all. Meaning, the presence of God is “hidden” in the text. In fact, the word “Esther” means “the hidden one”. One of the oddest things about the text is a passage where Queen Esther asks permission to hang the “sons of Haman”. She refers to these executions in the future tense. In that same section of the text, there is a combination of large and small letters that together correspond to the year 1946 in the Gregorian calendar. The odd thing is that after World War II, on that exact date, the Nuremberg Tribunal executed Ten Nazi war criminals i.e., “sons of Haman”. The last one to be executed was Julius Streicher. As the noose was put around his neck, he shouted “Purim-Fest, 1946”. Clearly, Streicher believed that Esther had, once again, won.
So now the coin appears. It comes from Iran and it has Esther’s face on it. It also has the lion of Judah dominating the man-bull of Iran on the obverse side. What are we to make of it? As we go into the New Year, is the coin telling us that soon the Ayatollahs will be shouting “Purim-Fest 2015”?