The Associates for Biblical Research celebrated the final days of Chanukah with the discovery of 20 ancient coins, half of which date back to the time of the Hasmonean. Led by archeologist Dr. Scott Stripling in ancient Shiloh, Israel, the team dug through dirt that was last checked in the 1980’s to identify artifacts that were missed.
The process they used to find these artifacts is called wet sifting. The first step entailed dry sifting through the materials, then placing the items on a tray and washing the dirt off. After completing this process, the items could clearly be identified. Stripling explained that wet sifting is so important because “Once all the dirt is removed, you can see things that you could not see when it was caked with dirt. For example, small coins covered with dirt are going to be very hard to spot. Even things like scarabs and seal impressions – you can’t find them until you wash the material.” Stripling advocates for this multistep process and hopes to encourage more Israeli archeologists to do it as well since he believes it is a more effective way to find valuable artifacts.
During the time of Chanukah, the Greek-Hellinstic Empire controlled Israel and decreed that Jews may not practice their religion. The Hasmonean was a family of Kohanim that served in the Second Temple. They miraculously overthrew the Greeks, and after reclaiming the Temple, returned to their job of lighting the Menorah every night with oil. However, the oil had to have the seal of the High Priest, but only enough oil to last one night was available. With the help of another miracle, the oil lasted eight nights, until oil with the High Priest’s seal was made available.
The High Priest was John Hyrcanus, also known as Yochanan Kohen Gadol. His eldest son, Aristobulus I, became the first Hasmonean king once they defeated the Greeks and had sovereignty over Israel. When he died, his brother Alexander Jannaeus became the second king, from 103 BCE to 76 BCE. The coins the Associates for Biblical Research discovered were from Jannaeus’s reign.
Stripling said Shiloh was an integral village during the Hasmonean period, and while it was inhabited by both Jews and Christians alike, these coins were favored. Even after Rome conquered Israel in 63 BCE, these coins were still being used as an act of silent protest against the Romans.
One of the coins Stripling’s team found had the signage of King Alexander Jannaeus with a star on it, a messianic symbol representing hope which was used during the time of the Second Temple.
This finding during the holiday of Chanukah holds special significance, as it demonstrates the connection between the land of Israel and the history of the Jewish people. This message is best illustrated through Heart of Israel director A.Y. Katsof’s story. Katsof arrived from California with a supporter of his organization, who was curious to learn about “the connection between the Bible, the history and the land. He wanted to see how it’s connected in the reality of today,” Katsof explained. Given Shiloh’s presence in much of Tanach, having been the home of the Tabernacle, the center of Jewish life prior to the First Temple, and still inhabited by Jews during the First and Second Temple periods, Katsof knew that Shiloh would be the most enlightening place to show his associate. He, his associate, and Stripling’s whole team were astonished to find the coin, after being unsuccessful all day. Katsof explained, “We were blown away…We were talking about the battles of the Hasmoneans, and we found a Hasmonean coin right in front of eyes… For me, it was very special.”