When Joseph collected the ‘money’ that Egyptians brought as payment for corn (Gen. 47: 14–17), it consisted of metal objects rather than coins, though barter was also a common practice. Animals were used as payment of religious services in the Temple at Jerusalem (Lev. 2: 6–8; Luke 2: 24), but silver was available during the era of the monarchy, and coins from the time of the Return under the Persians. The exchange of coins became standard practice for commercial transactions when Alexander the Great had persuaded the civilized world of the advantages of a common currency: silver shekels no longer had to be weighed if coins were authenticated with a royal stamp. Jewish authorities had been striking their own coins in bronze, by permission of the Persian government, in the 4th cent. BCE, showing the name ‘Judah’: but in 332 BCE licence to strike coins was restricted to the official mints of Alexander, and a national Jewish currency was not issued until the Maccabean period.

In the NT era, coins were minted by Herod the Great and bore his name and a date. Roman governors also issued coins, such as the denarius (Matt. 20: 10), which was a labourer's wage for one day's work, and the amount of the Temple tax. The thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas (Matt. 26: 15) were shekels equivalent to 120 denarii. The smallest coin in circulation was ‘the widow's mite’ (Mark 12: 42), the Greek lepton, ‘a penny’ (NRSV, REB, NJB). During the Jewish revolt of 66–70 CE, some Jewish shekels were struck, and when the uprising was crushed coins commemorating the Roman victory showed Jews kneeling in submission bearing palms—the Jewish national emblem.