Article - Sheqel Stamps
Stand-by SHEQEL Stamps
The word "Sheqel" appears very early in the Bible. Based on the Hebrew "lishqol" - to weigh - its connotation was generally accepted both in ancient Palestine and in the whole of the Middle East. Many biblical examples can be cited, including that in Genesis 23:15, when Ephron the Hittite of Hebron shrewdly conveys to the bereaved Abraham the value of the plot he wanted for Sarah's burial - "four hundred sheqels of silver" - while a continuation of the story in verse 16 describes the payment of "four hundred sheqels of silver, current money with the merchants."
Another reference in Genesis 24:22 indicates that the sheqel of those days, nearly 4,000 years ago, was truly a weight. Here Abraham's servant brings to Rebecca "a golden earring of half a sheqel weight, and two bracelets ... of ten sheqels weight of gold."
Centuries passed before the meaning of "sheqel" became synonymous with "coinage," particularly in regard to Jewish coins minted in Eretz Israel. First known was the Phoenician Sidonian double silver sheqel, common currency in the fourth century BCE and used extensively in Eretz Israel. A large, handsome coin imprinted with a horse-drawn carriage carrying three passengers, it weighed 26.5 grams - nearly an ounce, and was the prototype of the popular Tyrian sheqel minted in the city of Tyre between the years 126 BCE and 56 CE.
Book I of the Maccabees, 15:6, tells how around 140 BCE Antiochus sent a document to Simon the Maccabee with the words: "I give thee leave to coin money for the country with thine own stamp." Formerly it was believed that these unsubstantiated coins were the first purely Jewish sheqels to be struck, but recent research asserts that no such coin had ever existed.
Widely circulated in Eretz Israel during the Second Temple period, the silver Tyrian sheqel weighed about 15 grams, was of a high standard, and so well thought of that the Mishna, in Bekhorot 8:7, remarks: "(Temple dues) should be paid in Tyrian coinage." The regular half-sheqel Temple tax, payable by every Israelite "from twenty years old and above," (Exodus 30:14) seems to have been acceptable in the same currency.
Only during the 66-70 CE revolt against the Romans were the characteristic Jewish silver sheqels, half-sheqels and quarter-sheqels minted, bearing in archaic Hebrew the words Sheqel Israel, Hatzi ha-sheqel (half-sheqel) and Reva ha-sheqel (quarter-sheqel). The timing of the order to mint independently came partly as a mark of nationhood and partly because the production of the Tyrian sheqel stopped around 56 CE. Good, solid coins, the silver sheqels measured about 22 mm across, weighed some 14 grams, and were decorated with Jewish symbols.
Pictures of three "Silver sheqels" of that period are shown on the three top-value stamps of Israel's first postage stamp series which was issued in May 1948. As coinage is considered one of the symbols of statehood, it had been the idea of the designer of these stamps to signify the "bridge" between the Jewish Commonwealth of 2,000 years ago and the renaissance of the modern State of Israel by using the "Sheqel" motif.
Towards the end of the revolt in 70 CE, when precious metals were scarce, sheqels were struck in bronze, one of these rarities being in the collection of the Bank of Israel. Incidentally, it was exactly 1,900 years from the minting of the last Jewish State sheqel in 70 CE that the Israel Knesset officially decided to name Israel's monetary unit the "Sheqel."
An interesting sidelight on the Bar Kochba revolt during the years 132-135 CE is the fact that the Jewish coinage then issued was not original, but overstamped on coins already in circulation.
These stamps are inscribed with the word "sheqel" in Hebrew.