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A bronze coin of John Hyrcanus/Antiochns VII, 14 millimeters in diameter, supposedly struck "t a Jerusalem mint, showing the inverted anchor on the obverse with the legend BASILKOSANTIOCHIJSEUERGETKS. The reverse displays a formalized lily. The date in Greek letters, APR, year 181 = 131/30 B.C. is given in the exergue of the obverse. Greek Coins and Their Values, 7101.

These low denomination coins probably became the Chanukah Gelt for children during the festival in the 2nd* and 1st" century B.C. and they were given as mementos of the great Maccabean victories over the Syrians. The design of this coin was so popular among the Jewish people that it was copied and used during the long reign of the later Hasmonaean king, Alexander Jannaeus,103-76 B.C., the great nephew of Judah Maccabee. This ambitious and cruel ruler expanded his kingdom so that it was roughly the same size as the domain held by the biblical King David. Taking advantage of the weakness of the last Seleucid kings, Jannaeus achieved political and religious independence from Syria but he later turned into a tyrant who was hated by his own people. His small bronze coins reused the lily design but placed it on the more important obverse side of the coin. He duplicated the Seleucid royal symbol, the anchor, on the reverse to indicate that he had usurped the supremacy over the sea from the Syrians but also to remind the people about the miraculous Maccabean military victories. Also, the coin's legends were bilingual using ancient paleo-Hebrew script on the obverse and Greek on the reverse. These 'copy-cat' coins were really propaganda pieces to affirm Jannaeus' independence and to remind the nation of his glorious ancestry. As such, they were ideal for use as Chanukah Gelt distributed during the holiday.

A bronze coin called a 'prutah', 15 millimeters in diameter, struck by Alexander Jannaens, 103-76 B.C., probably in Jerusalem. The obverse displays the lily and the paleo-Hebrew legend of YKHONATAN THE KING. The reverse shows a stylized version of the Seleucid anchor and the Greek inscription, KING ALEXANDER. Greek Coins and Their Values, 6086.

In the history of Israel, the festival of Chanukah must be regarded as a. great celebration of the Jewish spirit. The real miracle of Chanukah was the peoples' choice of an 'activist' policy of resistance to Syrian oppression rather than the 'passivist', policy of accommodation and compromise. Jews of every era have faced this same choice and responded courageously, even against impossible odds. Perhaps in the future, with the restoration of the true meaning of Chanukah, the place names of the Maccabean victories, Shechem, Beth Horon, Emmaus, and Beth Zur, will be returned to the Jewish collective memory and take their places alongside illustrious names like The Warsaw Ghetto.

Unfortunately, in those early days of Israel, the passivist factions who controlled the nation, changed Chanukah from a belated Sukkot holiday and a celebration of independence from Syrian domination into a festival of rededication of the temple and a commemoration of the 'Lights' which burned from a miraculous, small jug of oil. Today, Jews are continuing this sad process of transformation and Chanukah is being converted into a Jewish substitute for the competing holiday of Christmas. But, as long as coins are made, we will have Chanukah Gelt to remind us of the great battles won by the Jews against superior Syrian armies and the enormous spoils of war that were distributed to the people, "even unto the little children".

Notes and Bibliography

  1. Israel: A History of the Jewish People by Rufuls Learsi, The World publishing Co., New York 1949, page 143.
  2. The Jewish Book of Why, Vol. H, by Alfred J. Kotlatch, Jonathan David Publishers, New York, 1981, page 267.
  3. Ancient Jewish Coinage, Vol. I, by Ya'akov Meshorer, Amphora Books, New York, 1982, page 59.
  4. Ancient Jewish Coinage, as above, page 35.

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