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THE WIDOW’S MITE

In the New Testament Gospels of Luke and Mark is one of the most famous passages of The Bible that has come to be known as “the lesson of the widow’s mite”. It is about a poor widow who offered two small copper coins in a church’s offering, while people with more money around her made much larger offerings.

When Jesus observed this happening at the Temple in Jerusalem, he said (according to Luke):

“Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Widow’s Mite Coin

The bronze coins of this story were not described in any detail, leaving it to scholars and numismatists to try to discern what specific coins were offered by the widow. They are widely believed to be what are known as lepton(which means “small” or “thin’) coins minted by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judea from 103 to 76 BCE and the great grand-nephew of King Judah Maccabee. Two lepta were worth a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin, and a lepton was the least valuable coin that circulated in Judea.

Several types were issued during the rule of King Alexander Jannaeus, but the most common featured an anchor and a star. Anchors were often featured on coins of the time and for the next century because of the importance of the seacoast in the Holy Land. These coins were among the first struck after Jews were granted authority to issue their own coins by Syrian authorities.

In addition, a lepton was equal to one-half of a prutah – a small bronze coin about the size of a small fingernail. Lepta were about the same diameter as prutot (plural for prutah) but were thinner and weighed half as much.

During the Maccabean (or Hasmonean) period as this is known, the Greek silver drachma is believed to have been valued at 336 lepta or 168 prutot, while a shekel was worth 384 prutot. A Roman denarius was worth about 96 prutot.

Of the prutot and lepta issued by Alexander Jannaeus, the most common ones had on their obverse an anchor and “King Alexander” in Greek (reflecting the influence of Greek culture), while the reverse had a star with eight rays and sometimes Hebrew letters between the rays or around the rim. Researchers believe these small, low-value bronze coins circulated widely and were plentiful at the time. They were made about a century before they were allegedly offered by the widow.

While ancient coin researchers and experts in other fields mostly agree that the coins known today as Widow’s Mites were likely the issues of Alexander Jannaeus as explained above, it is also possible that one or both of the widow’s coins were foreign, such as Phoenician bronzes.

Because there is no way to be certain what coins they actually were (many coins from different eras, rulers, and kingdoms were circulating at the time), NGC decided to extend the Widow’s Mite designation to any small Maccabean bronze coin issued from 135 to 37 BCE.


Widow’s Mite
Widow’s Mite

OUR PRICE…$45.00

The Gospel of Mark specifies that two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth certain little. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage.

The Christian cross on ancient coins
The Christian cross on ancient coins

THE CHRISTIAN CROSS ON ANCIENT COINS. COMING SOON

The cross has been the most recognizable symbol of Christianity for more than 1,600 years. But this was not the case in the first few hundred years after Jesus died. When Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem between around 30 and 33 CE (the exact year is not known), he was one of many thousands of non-Romans who were dispatched by this ghastly form of capital punishment.

Rather than the cross, the earliest Christian symbol used on coins was the superimposed Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P) which looks like this ☧, and represents the first two letters of Christ in Greek (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ). This type of monogram is also called a Christogram, and the simple Chi-Rho is one of the oldest examples. It appears on a coin of Constantine the Great (307-337 CE) at the top of a labarum.

The first coin to feature the Christian Cross as the central motif was apparently a small bronze struck under Theodosius II, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople (402-450 CE).

Tiberius II Constantine (578 – 582 CE) gold solidus
Tiberius II Constantine (578 – 582 CE) gold solidus