NOAH AND THE ARK ON ANCIENT COINS
By Marvin Tameanko

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One of the best known stories of the Bible is the saga of Noah and the Ark. It has all the elements needed for a great literary novel, a good plot, marvelous characters, villains, a hero, lots of animals, a dialogue with the Supreme Being, a moral to tell, and then there is that rainbow - perhaps the greatest climax of any story ever told. Noah and the ark is not really a Jewish tale: Jewish history begins many years later with Abraham and Isaac. As well, the great flood that inundated the world was a legend common to many ancient, pagan civilizations. The Assyrian-Babylonian epic about King Gilgamesh, written down about 2,300 BC, long before the Bible, contained a myth very similar to the Noah and the ark story. 1 However, the Old Testament story of Noah is one of the most highly regarded parables in religious literature because it holds out hope for the redemption of the earth even in the midst of catastrophe and evil. Remarkably, the Jewish version of Noah and the ark is the only old Testament event that was ever commemorated on ancient currency and the patriarch Noah is even named, with the Greek inscription NOE, on these rare coins.

A bronze coin, 27 millimeters in diameter of Apameia struck for Septimius Severus, AD 192- 211. The reverse legend mentions the city's AGONOTHETES (chief organizer of the games) or chief magistrate, ARTEMAS, who probably was Jewish. Noah's name, given in Greek as NOE, appears on the ark. Historian Numorum, B. V. Head, no. 313, page 667.

These famous 'Noah' coins were issued m the city of Apameia, Phrygia, in the 3rd century AD, when the city was under Roman rule, and some of them were struck by city officials who were Jewish. The Noah coin design must have been very popular because it was struck for the emperors Septimius Severus, AD 192-211, Severus Alexander, 222-235, Gordian m, 238-244, Philip 1, 244-249, and Trebonianus Callus, 251-253, over a period of 61 years. The same coin may have been struck for other emperors such as Caracalla, the son of Septimius Severus, but these have not been discovered to date. Apameia, now the town of Dinar in western Turkey, was a prosperous city during Roman times. It was a trade terminal and commercial center that received the caravans from the east and south loaded with silks, spices, incense, perfumes medicines and gold. The population of the city was a cosmopolitan mix of Phrygians, Lydians, Cappadocians, Pisidians, Greeks, Jews and Romans, all involved in trade and commerce.

The city had been originally founded by Phrygians sometime before 1,000 BC and named Celaenae. It was located in a well-watered oasis at the source of the Meander River. This site was on the old 'Royal Road' from the Middle East to the Aegean Sea and gave the city control over all the caravan routes in the area. When he invaded Asia Minor, Alexander the Great made the city one of his military bases and after his death it became a possession of Antiochus 1, 280-261 BC, the general who carved a Syrian/Seleukid empire out of Alexander's conquests. Antiochus built a new city in 270 BC below the citadel of Ceaenae and named it Apameia after his mother. Then Antiochus brought Babylonian Jews to serve as garrison soldiers, civil servants and royal administrators in his new city. This may have been a type of punishment or exile for the Jews who formed a large influential community in Persia, and had resisted Alexander's invasion. Later, in 188 BC, Antiochus III, the Great, brought another large group of Persian Jews to Apameia. Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, in his work, 'Antiquities of the Jews' said that Antiochus III settled 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon in Lydia and Phrygia He also said that these Jews were given special privileges including tax exemptions for ten years and were permitted to adhere to their own customs, laws and religion. (Antiquities, Book XII, iii.4). These settlers may account for the large communities of Jews that suddenly emerged in the ancient Asian cities of Antioch, Apameia, Delos, Ephesus and Sardes.

The Jews brought to Apameia were the descendants of the Judaeans exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. They had remained in Persia even after King Cyrus released them in 539 BC and became a prominent and wealthy community in their adopted land. This diaspora staunchly preserved its religion by simply adapting to and accommodating the secular laws of the Persians as long as they did not violate religious convictions. It was Halachic concepts later stated in the Babylonian Talmud that made it possible for Jews to exist under foreign rule. These became the dictum, based on Jeremiah's exhortation "to seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives" (Jeremiah 29,7 ), that - dina demalchuta dina, the law of the land (you live in) is the Law. In this way the Jews of Apameia could remain loyal to their Seleukid rulers but also faithful to the One God. As the Jewish community in Apameia became prosperous they began to exert some political and social influence on their city. To establish some historical connection to their new city and to justify their right to be living there, the Jews claimed that the mountain behind Apameia was actually Mount Ararat, the place where Noah's ark came to rest after the deluge. This gave the Jews a powerful, mystical legend with which to counteract the pagan mythology of Zeus, Apollo and Marsyas, the patron deities of the original city.

It appears that the merchants in Apameia were the 'middle-men', wholesalers or brokers of the Asian trade routes. They purchased caravan loads in bulk then broke them up, re-packed them as a mixed assortment of goods in chests and shipped them to retailers in Egypt, Greece and Rome via the port city of Ephesus. The distinctive, wooden shipping crates of Apameia became famous all over the ancient world and Barclay V. Head, in his work, 'Historia Numorum' stated that the nick-name for the city of Apameia was 'Kibotos' the Greek word for "Chest". (Hist. Num. page 666). the ancient Roman/Greek geographer, Strabo, 64 BC-AD 21, was the first ancient author to mention that the nickname of Apameia was Kibotos and this is translated in his work as 'the Ark'. (Strabo, 'Geography' Book 12, chpt. 8,3).

By the end of the 2nd century AD the Jews found themselves in high political positions in the city. Some even functioned at the highest level as chief magistrates, and they decided to honor their own religious roots by displaying Noah and the ark on the city's coinage. To make the design acceptable to the pagan population, the Jewish officials instructed the coin engravers to depict the ark as a kibotos, the Apameian packing case, complete with an open lid. This was an ingenious and humorous gesture, using an image to invoke the nick-name of the city while connecting it to a Jewish parable, and it indicated that the Jewish community was entirely confident of its position and influence in the city

A bronze coin, 28 millimeters in diameter, struck in Apameia for Severu Alexander, AD 222- 235, showing the kibotos ark with Noah's name. Syllogi Nummorum Graecorum Deutschland, Von Aniock, 3506.

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