Tribute penny

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Denarius of the Emperor Tiberius, commonly referred to as the Tribute Penny.

The tribute penny was the coin that was shown to Jesus when he made his famous speech "Render unto Caesar..." The phrase comes from the King James Version of the gospel account: Jesus is asked, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (Mark 12:14) and he replies, "bring me a penny, that I may see it" (Mark 12:15).

The Pharisee or "spy" asking Jesus whether to pay Roman taxes/tribute is attempting to entrap him into admitting his opposition to doing so. But Jesus also opposes Roman coinage and the money given by Rome to colluders like the Pharisees. So upon seeing that the coin is a "tribute penny", Jesus avoids the trap by saying to give it back to Caesar, because it is his anyway.

The Tribute Money, by Titian (1516), depicts Jesus being shown the tribute penny

The Greek text uses the word dēnarion,[1] and it is usually thought that coin was a Roman denarius with the head of Tiberius. It is this coin that is sold and collected as the "tribute penny", and the Gospel story is an important factor in making this coin attractive to collectors.[2] The inscription reads "Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs" ("Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus"), claiming that after death Augustus had become a god. The reverse shows a seated female, usually identified as Livia depicted as Pax.[3]

However, it has been suggested that denarii were not in common circulation in Judaea during Jesus' lifetime and that the coin was more probably an Antiochan tetradrachm bearing the head of Tiberius, with Augustus on the reverse.[4] Another suggestion often made is the denarius of Augustus with Gaius and Lucius on the reverse, while coins of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Germanicus are all considered possibilities.[5]

A similar episode occurs in the Gospel of Thomas (verse 100), but there the coin in question is gold.

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  1. ^ Thayer's Lexicon: δηνάριον
  2. ^ Akerman, John Y. (1855). The Numismatic Chronicle, Volume 17. Royal Numismatic Society. p. 52.
  3. ^ "Tiberius, Tribute Penny". Archived from the original on 8 September 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  4. ^ Lewis, Peter E.; Bolden, Ron (2002). The Pocket Guide to Saint Paul: Coins Encountered by the Apostle on his Travels. Wakefield Press. p. 19. ISBN 1-86254-562-6.
  5. ^ Michael E. Marotta (2001). "Six Caesars Of The Tribute Penny". Archived from the original on 12 October 2011. Retrieved 7 Sep 2011.

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