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					Understanding the nature of money (Part one)

We are in the beginning of a new year. 2004 is lying ahead of us and many new years
resolutions have been made. One of them most probably would have something to do
with “money”. Either to make more money, spend less money or what ever, we need to
plan our spending this year. Understanding the nature of money will help us in this
process. To understand the nature of money it is important to understand the history of
money. In part one I would like to share with you the history of money as we find it in
the Bible.

History literary means HIS STORY. Money has a story as well. The first coinage
seems to have been introduced in the seventh century BC. These early coins were
simply pieces of metal of a standard wei ght impressed with a seal. The coins were
often named after the weights they represented. Before coinage was introduced all
kind of “things” such as dogteeth were used in trading.
For many centuries before coins were minted, business deals in the countrie s of
the ancient Near East worked on a kind of barter system: people bought and sold
by exchanging goods rather than coins or banknotes. All kind of things could be
exchanged, from foodstuffs to cattle, metals and timber.
A person‟s wealth was measured in terms of goods: Abram was a very rich man,
with sheep, goats and cattle, as well as silver and gold. Job the richest man in the
East owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, one thousand head of
cattle, and five hundred donkeys.

In these early days, gold and silver was kept not in the form of coins, but in the
form of jewellery - rings and bracelets – and thin bars. Abraham‟s servant,
arranging a marriage for Isaac, gave Rebecca and her family clothing and silver
and gold jewellery. For a long time the „dowry‟ – the payment made by a young
man to the father of his bride – was given as goods in this way.
But there were several problems with this exchange of goods system. One was the
difficulty of „carrying‟ these things about. Coins in a purse are more manageable
than a flock of sheep! It was also difficult to fix the value of one thing against the
value of what was offered in exchange.

Gradually metal – silver mainly, but also copper and gold – replaced other goods
as the exchange „currency‟. Copper was made into discs, and silver into lumps that
could be carried in bags. These were weighed out and standard weights were
agreed, at first locally and later more widely. The „shekels‟ and „talents‟
mentioned in the Old Testament were weights, not coins, until at least the seventh
century BC.

The merchants were „weighers of silver‟ (and other metals). In order to have some
kind of check on them, the purchaser often carried his own weights in a leather
bag. The Old Testament laws set high standards: „The Lord wants weights and
measures to be honest and every sale to be fair.‟ But there were many dishonest
merchants, and the prophets spoke out strongly against them: „They use false
measures, a thing that I hate,‟ God says through the prophet Micah. „How can I
forgive men who use false scales and weights? Your rich men exploit the poor.‟

Money in the New Testament

There were three different currencies used in Palestine in the New Testament
times. There was the official, imperial money (Roman standard) ; provincial money
minted at Antioch and Tyre (Greek standard); and local Jewish money which may
have been minted at Caesarea. Money for the temple (including the half shekel
tax) had to be paid in the Tyrian coinage – the 2-drachma piece - not in Roman. It
is not surprising that moneychangers flourished! Money was coined in gold, silver,
copper and bronze or brass. The commonest silver coins mentioned in the New
Testament are Greek tetradrachma, and Roman denarius, which was a day‟s wage
for the ordinary workingman.

Danie Reynecke
084 655 1258