Yahweh's Image on a 4th Century BC Persian Coin issued for the Province of Yehud (Judah)?

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M. A. Ed.

01 January 2007 (Revisions through 02 March 2008)                           


Langdon (1931):

"A coin from Gaza in Southern Philista, fourth century BC, the period of the Jewish subjection to the last of the Persian kings, has the only known representation of this Hebrew deity. The letters YHW are incised just above the hawk(?) which the god holds in his outstretched left hand, Fig. 23. He wears a himation, leaving the upper part of the body bare, and sits upon a winged wheel. The right arm is wrapped in his garment. At his feet is a mask. Because of the winged chariot and mask it has been suggested that Yaw had been identified with Dionysus on account of a somewhat similar drawing of the Greek deity on a vase where he rides in a chariot drawn by a satyr. The coin was certainly minted under Greek influence, and consequently others have compared Yaw on his winged chariot to Triptolemos of Syria, who is represented on a wagon drawn by two dragons. It is more likely that Yaw of Gaza really represents the Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic Sun-god, El, Elohim, whom the monotheistic tendencies of the Hebrews had long since identified with Yaw...Sanchounyathon...based his history upon Yerombalos, a priest of Yeuo, undoubtedly the god Yaw, who is thus proved to have been worshipped at Gebal as early as 1000 BC." (pp. 43-44. Langdon. 1931)

Below, a drawing of a coin of Gaza according to Langdon of the Persian Period. Yahweh (?) seated on winged wheel.(p. 43. Volume 5. Stephen Herbert Langdon, Mythology of All Races- Semitic.  Boston. Archaeological Institute of America. Marshall Jones Company. 1931)
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Below, a different line drawing by another artist of the "same" coin. There is an important difference however regarding the inscription. Langdon's drawing shows that all three letters are in front of the deity's face and above the deity's outstretched arm which holds a bird. The below drawing reveals only two letters above the outstretched arm, the third letter is behind the diety's head. Sukenik (1934) read the three letters not as yhw, but as yhd, meaning Yehud or Judah (for the below drawing cf. figure 8, facing page 543. "The Persian Period." Gosta W. Ahlstrom. The History of Ancient Palestine. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 1993, 1994).
Of interest is that Ezekiel suggests Yahweh's throne possesses some form of locomotion as it flies about in the heavens on four wheels accompanying Cherubim (cf. Ez 1:16-21; 10:2-19 and Dan 7:9). However neither Ezekiel or Daniel mention God's throne possessing wings. Perhaps the winged wheel was a "liberty" taken by the artist to show that the deity's wheeled throne could "fly"?

Ahlstrom (1993) notes the controversy over the inscription being read yhw or yhd:

"The above-mentioned coin with a bearded deity sitting on a winged wheel that bears the inscription yhd (earlier read yhw, which could refer to Yahweh) is unique in that it depicts a deity (see figure 8). If the reading yhd is correct, the inscription (in lapidary Aramaic) names a province rather than a deity, which is rare.. This must be an official coin, probably struck by the Persian administration in Jerusalem. The date would be close to 400 BCE. L. Mildenberg says that the deity 'depicts no specific god, but a general conception of deity easily comprehensible to many people in the western part of the Persian empire'. If so, the people of Yehud may have associated the god with Yahweh, whom they called the 'God of Heaven', a well-known Iranian concept." (p. 898. "The Persian Period." Gosta W. Ahlstrom. The History of Ancient Palestine. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 1993, 1994)

Figure 8's accompanying description (figure 8 is an ink drawing of the coin, facing p. 543, Ahlstrom, 1993):

"Figure 8. Jewish coin showing a deity seated on a winged wheel (c. 400 BCE). The inscription has been read both as yhw (Yahu) and yhd (Yehud). From the British Museum."

footnote 4 on page 898 (Ahlstrom. 1993):

"E. L. Sukenik's reading of yhd has been widely accepted: see his 'Paralipomena Palaestinensia', Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society. Volume 14 (1934), pp. 178-84. S. A. Cook objected to it asking why there would be a picture of a bearded man on a winged wheel without a corresponding name ('Ahlstrom cites: 'The Jahu Coin'. in the journal Zeitschrift fur die alttestementliche Wissenschaft. Volume 56 [1938]. pp. 268-71)

Albright (1934) on the yhw vs. yhd readings:

"Meanwhile Sukenik attacked the problem of the yahu stamps, including the famous silver coin in the British Museum, which has long been believed to illustrate a paganizing form of Judaism, in which Yahu was worshipped in the form of Zeus. On examining the available stamps again he became convinced that the three letters must be yhd, not yhw..." (p. 20. W. F. Albright. " Light on the Jewish State in Persian Times." in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. No. 53 Feb. 1934. pp. 20-22)

Gitler and Lemaire (2003) understand the deity on the winged wheel might be Yahweh:

"Two new YHD obverse types have been published by Meshoer, one with an ear (probably Yhwh's ear listening to prayers) and the other with a Shopher (61). Also taking into account the well-known YHD drachm depicting a deity seated on a winged wheel, he suggests that a figurative representation of the deity was still tolerated at the time." (p. 4. Haim Gitler & Andre Lemaire. "Phoenicia and Palestine in the Persian Period." in C. Alfaro & A. Burnett (editors). A Survey of Numismatic Research 1996-2001. Madrid, Spain. 2003. pp. 151-175)

Betlyon (1986) on Yehud coins and Jerusalem:

"Coins bearing the inscription "YEHUD" have surfaced for many years on antiquities markets and in collections around the world. Originally classified with the so-called Philisto-Arabian coins struck presumably in Gaza, the coins have now been recognized as a separate series, probably emanating from a mint in or near Jerusalem. None of the coins bears a mint mark..." (p. 633. John Wilson Betlyon. "The Provincial Government of Persian Period Judaea and the Yehud Coins." in the Journal of Biblical Literature. Volume 105, No. 4 (Dec. 1986), pp. 633-642)

Below, a stater of Tarsus of the 4th century BC. The Aramaic inscription reads Baal Tarz, "the lord of Tarsus" and is of the Persian period. The craftsmanship appears to be Greek. Of interest is that the god's left arm is nested in the coverlet of his garment (Greek: Himation), somewhat like the above Yehud coin showing Yahweh (?) with his arm in his garment's coverlet. The tip of the scepter ends in a lily. Could perhaps the lily found on some Yehud coins be symbolic of a god's scepter?

Below, another stater of Tarsus issued under Persian authority in the 4th century BCE. The inscription reads Baal Tarz "Lord of Tarsus" He holds a lily-tipped scepter in his left hand and a vine cutting with a cluster of grapes, an eagle (?) holding a ear of wheat. Baal in Ugaritic myths (12th century BCE) was associated with rains that made possible agriculture and he was called the "rider of the clouds" which was an epithet also borne by Yahweh in the Bible.
Below another drawing of the same coin but by a different artist (cf. p. 18. figure 1. "Yahweh, El, Baal and Zeus." Tim Callahan. Secret Origins of the Bible. Altadena, California. Millennium Press. 2002)
Below, a photograph of the Yehud silver coin (cf. figure 50. James B. Pritchard. Editor. The Ancient Near East, An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press. 1958. Paperback)
Below another photograph of the same coin.
Below, a photographic enlargement of the coin: