October Feature: Bronze Lepton Coins

Jesus show the value of the poor woman's lepton

From the very beginnings of civilization, trade has been an important part of society. One person cannot easily produce everything that is needed for life. It is easier to produce one item in bulk than to produce small amounts of many different commodities. It makes sense that different people would specialize in different things. They could then trade for what they needed. Bakers baked large quantities of bread, blacksmiths would forge many plows, and the cobbler would assemble many shoes. And then, they traded with one another so that each person had what they needed.

But trading goods was sometimes complicated. What if you needed something from someone who was not in the market for what you had produced? There was a need for currency, something that you could trade for anything you wished to buy.

Precious metals filled this need. At first, people used gold, silver, and copper by weight, but eventually they began minting coins. These coins had a set value that one could easily recognize based on the image impressed onto the coin.

During the time of Jesus, coins were made of gold, silver, and bronze. Like today, gold and silver were worth more than bronze. Additionally, the larger the coin, the more it was worth. The smallest bronze coin, and therefore the coin that held the least value, was the lepton. Scholars estimate that the lepton was worth about 6 minutes of a workman’s day.

Leptons were minted in Judea during the reigns of Alexander Jannaeus and his successors. These were Jewish kings who ruled during the first century BC. But interestingly, these small coins remained in circulation for a very long time. They were still in use during the first century AD, the time of Jesus. Perhaps the Jewish people preferred to use coins minted by Jewish kings rather than those provided by their Roman overlords and bearing the faces of Roman emperors and gods. Certainly, the Jewish people felt the oppression of the Romans.

Jesus warned his disciples that they would be persecuted. He told them that he would send them not only to their Jewish brethren, but to the Gentiles as well, and that many people would hate them and persecute them for Jesus’ name’s sake. They would have to stand trial before Gentile rulers. But Jesus told them not to worry – the Holy Spirit would give them the words to say. Jesus told them not to fear. God was watching over them. He said,

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul … Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of. Your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
– Matthew 10:28–31

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