Monday, February 25, 2013

How did Jonah pay the fare?

Lydian 1/3 starter. 6th century BC
image wikipedia
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa,where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.Jonah 1:3 NIV

 ויתן שׂכרה
שׂכר śâkâr payment of contract; concretely salary, fare, maintenance; by implication compensation, benefit: - hire, price, reward [-ed], wages, worth
Strong's Hebrew Dictionary

Jonah ben Amittai only needed a one way ticket to Tarshish. But how did he pay for the fare since minted coins were used only by the Lydians during the Assyrian period?

Lydian legendary wealth is associated with their first king Croisos who had rich source of gold in the Pactolus river. This abundant source of the yellow metal was associated with the touch of the tragic golden  king of Midas.

First coinage
According to Herodotus, the Lydians were the first people to use gold and silver coins and the first to establish retail shops in permanent locations. It is not known, however, whether Herodotus meant that the Lydians were the first to use coins of pure gold and pure silver or the first precious metal coins in general. Despite this ambiguity, this statement of Herodotus is one of the pieces of evidence often cited in behalf of the argument that Lydians invented coinage, at least in the West, even though the first coins were neither gold nor silver but an alloy of the two.
The dating of these first stamped coins is one of the most frequently debated topics of ancient numismatics, with dates ranging from 700 BC to 550 BC, but the most common opinion is that they were minted at or near the beginning of the reign of King Alyattes (sometimes referred to incorrectly as Alyattes II), who ruled Lydia c. 610-550 BC. The first coins were made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver that occurs naturally but that was further debased by the Lydians with added silver and copper.
The largest of these coins are commonly referred to as a 1/3 stater (trite) denomination, weighing around 4.7 grams, though no full staters of this type have ever been found, and the 1/3 stater probably should be referred to more correctly as a stater, after a type of a transversely held scale, the weights used in such a scale (from ancient Greek ίστημι=to stand), which also means "standard."  These coins were stamped with a lion's head adorned with what is likely a sunburst, which was the king's symbol. To complement the largest denomination, fractions were made, including a hekte (sixth), hemihekte (twelfth), and so forth down to a 96th, with the 1/96 stater weighing only about 0.15 grams. There is disagreement, however, over whether the fractions below the twelfth are actually Lydian.
Alyattes' son was Croesus, who became associated with great wealth. Sardis was renowned as a beautiful city. Around 550 BC, near the beginning of his reign, Croesus paid for the construction of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which became one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Croesus was defeated in battle by Cyrus II of Persia in 546 BC, with the Lydian kingdom losing its autonomy and becoming a Persian satrapy.

Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah
Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron Image Jewish Virtual Library
Historical Abraham lived during the Canaanite period around 2000 BC but many scholars date the final editing of the patriarchal narratives in the Bible to the Assyrian Babylonian period (some even to early Persian period). Among these stories there is a very detailed - and today also politically highly significant - pericope telling how Abraham bought a piece of land from Hebron as the burial place for his wife Sarah who had died there.

Much later on King Herod raised a monumental building over the Cave of Machpelah inside which according to Jewish and Muslim tradition also Abraham himself and other members of his family were buried.

The story nicely describes polite but very strict Oriental bargaining as Ephron ben Zohar the Hittite initially offers the land for free. But Abraham knows the habits of the local people and offers to pay in full the extraordinary payment that Ephron hints at.
Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

Ephron answered Abraham,  “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”

Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
Genesis 23:12-16
Method of payment
Old man weighing silver in Morocco.
Image credit Lars From Ashton to Zagora
From the cash payment Abraham made for the cave of Machpelah and surrounding land we learn that there was a weight standard for silver current among the merchants that determined the amount of silver to be given.

The fact that the silver or gold metal used for payment had to be weighed at the cash was somewhat inconvenient but what to do?

The idea of the king of Lydia was to stamp weighed pieces of metal made life much easier as long as the coins were genuine and their silver or gold content as announced. Achmenidian rulers of Persia were highly gifted and practical. They adopted the idea of Croisos and in their empire coinage became common place around the Mediterranean Sea. From there the use of coinage spread to Hellenic and Roman world... and gold standard is still today at the heart of banks backing the true value of their coinage and other forms of money.

(By the way, the young State of Israel wanted to be "international" and called their money Lira. Today there is more confidence in own culture and heritage and New Israel Sheqel (NIS) it is!)

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