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    Christus Vitae: The Collection Of A Lifetime

    PHOENICIA. Tyre. 126/5 BC-AD 65/6. Collection of 38 AR shekels spanning the lifetime of Jesus Christ, circa 5 BC - AD 33/4.  Dated from Civic Year 122 (5/4 BC) to Civic Year 159 (AD 33/4). All of general type bust of Melqart right, wearing laurel wreath, lion-skin around neck / TYPOY IEPAΣ KAI AΣYΛOY, Eagle standing left on prow, palm frond over wing; to left Civic Year date (in Greek letter-numerals) above club; to right, KP above monogram; Phoenician letter indicating officina between legs.

    Individual dates, weights are provided below. Attributions are by Roman Provincial Coins Vol. I and Vol. I supplement, and by Dated Coins of Antiquity Vol. 1 (Ed Cohen-CNG, 2011) and DCA Supplement: Shekels of Tyre (Cohen-CNG, 2014).  Rarity ratings are according to DCA 1 and are as follows: C = Thousands of known specimens; S = 500 to 2,000 known specimens; R1 = 25 to 500 known specimens; R2 = 2 to 25 known specimens; R3 = 1-2 known specimens; U = Unreported. DCA Supplement: Shekels of Tyre updates the rarity assessment (at least one example was found for most of the issues listed as U in Volume 1). The number of specimens cited in both RPC and SCA supplement are provided when available.

    (1) Date PKB, Year 122 (5/4 BC), (25mm, 14.04 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4647C (one specimen cited), DCA 920.3.11 (R1, one specimen cited). Nicely toned. NGC Choice VF 5/5 - 4/5.

    (2) Date PKΓ, Year 123 (4/3 BC), (27mm, 14.21 gm, 1h), letter aleph between legs. RPC 4648, DCA 920.3.12 (C, this coin illustrated as 299). NGC Choice XF 4/5 - 4/5.

    (3) Date PKΔ, Year 124 (3/2 BC), (25mm, 14.33 gm, 1h), letter aleph between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.3.13 (R3, this coin illustrated as 300). NGC AU 4/5 - 5/5.

    (4) Date PKE, Year 125 (2/1 BC), (25mm, 14.26 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4649 (one example cited), DCA 920.3.14 (S, this coin illustrated as 301). NGC Choice XF? 5/5 - 5/5

    (5) Date PKΣ, Year 126 (1 BC/AD 1), (25mm, 14.29 gm, 1h), letter aleph between legs. RPC 4650 (three specimens cited), DCA 920.3.15 (R1, three examples cited, this coin illustrated as 302). NGC Choice AU? 5/5 - 5/5

    (6) Date PKZ, Year 127 (AD 1/2), (25mm, 14.30 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC supplement 4650A (one example cited), DCA 920.3.16 (R3, two specimens cited, this example illustrated as 305). NGC Choice XF? 5/5 - 5/5

    (7) Date PKH, Year 128 (AD 2/3), (25mm, 14.23 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC supplement 4650B, DCA 920.3.17 (R2, four specimens cited). A little weakly struck. NGC XF 5/5 - 5/5

    (8) Date PKΘ, Year 129 (AD 3/4), (25mm, 13.96 gm, 1h), no letter between legs. RPC 4651 (one example cited), DCA 920.3.18 (R3, two specimens cited, this one illustrated as 311). Metal somewhat grainy. NGC Choice XF 5/5 - 3/5

    (9) Date PΛ, Year 130 (AD 4/5), (25mm, 14.30 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC 4652 (three specimens cited), DCA 920.319 (C, three specimens cited, this example illustrated as 313). NGC MS? 5/5 - 4/5

    (10) Date PΛA, Year 131 (AD 5/6), (26mm, 14.29 gm, 1h), letter aleph between legs. RPC 4653 (four specimens cited), DCA 920.320 (S, two specimens cited, this example illustrated as 316). NGC MS? 5/5 - 5/5

    (11) Date PΛB, Year 132 (AD 6/7), (25mm, 14.29 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC supplement 4653A (one specimens cited), DCA 920.321 (R1, two specimens cited, this example illustrated as 318). NGC MS? 5/5 - 5/5

    (12) Date PΛΓ, Year 133 (AD 7/8), (25mm, 14.17 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.322 (R3, this specimen cited and illustrated as 318). NGC AU? 5/5 - 4/5 // (13) Date PΛΔ, Year 134 (AD 8/9), (26mm, 14.29 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4653A (one specimens cited), DCA 920.323 (R1, this example cited and illustrated as 321). NGC Choice AU 4/5 - 5/5

    (13) Date PΛΔ, Year 134 (AD 8/9), (26mm, 14.29 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4653A (one specimens cited), DCA 920.323 (this example cited and illustrated as 321). Letter bet between legs. NGC Choice AU 4/5 - 5/5

    (14) Date PΛE, Year 135 (AD 9/10), (25mm, 14.27 gm, 12h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4654 (one specimens cited), DCA 920.324 (S, two specimens cited, this example illustrated as 322). NGC Choice MS? 5/5 - 5/5

    (15) Date PΛΣ, Year 136 (AD 10/11), (25mm, 13.57 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC supplement 4654A (one specimens cited), DCA 920.325 (R1, two specimens cited). NGC Choice Fine 4/5 - 4/5

    (16) Date PΛZ, Year 137 (AD 11/12), (25mm, 14.28 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4654B (two specimens cited), DCA 920.326 (R2, this specimen cited and illustrated). NGC Choice AU? 5/5 - 5/5

    (17) Date PΛH, Year 138 (AD 12/13), (25mm, 14.03 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC supplement 4654C (one specimen cited), DCA 920.327 (R2, this specimen cited and illustrated). NGC Choice Fine 4/5 - 5/5

    (18) Date PΛΘ, Year 139 (AD 13/14), (25mm, 13.13 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC supplement 4654D (one specimen cited), DCA 920.328 (R1, this specimen cited and illustrated). Toned. NGC XF 4/5 - 3/5

    (19) Date PM, Year 140 (AD 14/15), (25mm, 13.45 gm, 1h), letter bet between legs. RPC supplement 4655 (two specimens cited), DCA 920.329 (R2, three specimens cited). Some surface roughness on obverse. NGC Choice Fine 4/5 - 3/5

    (20) Date PMA, Year 141 (AD 15/16), (25mm, 14.12 gm, 12h), letter bet between legs. RPC supplement 4655A (one specimen cited), DCA 920.330 (R2, this specimen cited and illustrated). A little weakly struck on obverse. NGC XF 4/5 - 3/5.

    (21) Date PMB, Year 142 (AD 16/17), (25mm, 14.10 gm, 12h), letter bet between legs. RPC supplement 4655B (one specimen cited), DCA 920.331 (R2, this specimen cited and illustrated). Toned. NGC Choice VF 4/5 - 5/5

    (22) Date PMΓ, Year 143 (AD 17/18), (25mm, 14.16 gm, 12h), letter bet between legs. RPC 4656 (one specimen cited), DCA 920.332 (C, two specimens cited, this one illustrated as 334). NGC Choice XF 4/5 - 4/5

    (23) Date PMΔ, Year 144 (AD 18/19), (26mm, 14.39 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC supplement 4657 (six specimens cited), DCA 920.333 (C, three specimens cited). NGC Choice XF 4/5 - 5/5

    (24) Date PME, Year 145 (AD 19/20), (25mm, 13.94 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC 4658 (three specimens cited), DCA 920.334 (C, five specimens cited, this one illustrated as 340). Original "find patina" intact. NGC Choice VF 5/5 - 3/5

    (25) Date PMΣ, Year 146 (AD 20/21), (26mm, 14.14 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC 4659 (three specimens cited), DCA 920.335 (C, three specimens cited, this one illustrated as 344). Obverse a bit off-center. Toned. NGC VF 4/5 - 3/5

    (26) Date PMZ, Year 147 (AD 21/22), (25mm, 14.18 gm, 12h), letter bet between legs. RPC --,  DCA 920.336 (R2, three specimens cited, this one illustrated as 348). Obverse off-center. NGC VF 3/5 - 5/5

    (27) Date PMH, Year 148 (AD 22/23), (25mm, 14.19 gm, 12h), uncertain letter between legs. RPC 4660 (one specimen cited), DCA 920.337 (R3, three specimens cited, this one illustrated as 350). Nicely toned. NGC Choice VF 4/5 - 4/5

    (28) Date PMΘ, Year 149 (AD 23/24), (25mm, 13.94 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.338 (R3, this specimen cited and illustrated as 353). NGC VF 4/5 - 4/5

    (29) Date PN, Year 150 (AD 24/25), (25mm, 14.21 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC 4461 (one specimen cited), DCA 920.339 (R2, two specimens cited, this one illustrated as 354). Somewhat flatly struck at center. NGC VF 3/5 - 5/5

    (30) Date PNA, Year 151 (AD 25/26), (25mm, 14.13 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC supplement 4461A (one specimen cited), DCA 920.340 (R3, this specimen cited and illustrated as 356). Toned. NGC Choice VF 4/5 - 3/5

    (31) Date PNB, Year 152 (AD 26/27), (25mm, 13.26 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC 4462 (two specimens cited), DCA 920.341 (R3, two specimens cited, this one illustrated as 357). NGC XF 4/5 - 3/5

    (32) Date [P]NΓ, Year 153 (AD 27/28), (25mm, 12.78 gm, 1h), no letter between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.342 (U[?], four specimens cited, this one illustrated as 360). Somewhat porous surfaces. NGC Choice VF 4/5 - 2/5

    (33) Date PNΔ, Year 154 (AD 28/29), (25mm, 14.07 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.343 (U, this specimen illustrated as 363). Apparently unique! NGC Choice XF 5/5 - 3/5

    (34) Date PNE, Year 155 (AD 29/30), (25mm, 14.24 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC 4462A (one specimen cited), DCA 920.344 (R2, this specimen illustrated as 364). NGC XF 5/5 - 5/5

    (35) Date PNΣ, Year 156 (AD 30/31), (25mm, 14.14 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.345 (R3, three specimens cited, this one illustrated as 365). NGC Choice VF 4/5 - 5/5

    (36) Date PNZ, Year 157 (AD 31/32), (25mm, 13.93 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.346 (U, three specimens cited, this one illustrated as 369). A little softly struck. NGC VF 4/5 - 4/5

    (37) Date PNH, Year 158 (AD 32/33), (25mm, 14.34 gm, 12h), no letter between legs. RPC --, DCA 920.347 (U[?], two specimens cited, this one illustrated as 373). NGC XF 5/5 - 4/5

    (38) Date PNΘ, Year 159 (AD 33/34), (25mm, 13.99 gm, 12h), letter aleph between legs. RPC 4463 (four specimens cited), DCA 920.348 (S, four specimens cited, this one illustrated as 375). The presumed Crucifixion Year example! NGC Choice XF? 5/5 - 4/5.

    All Coins from the Frank Kovacs Collection.

    This extraordinary set of 38 dated shekels of Tyre, the main silver coinage of the Holy Land in New Testament times, spans the putative lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth and is the only collection of its type ever assembled. Hence we are justified in calling it "The Collection of a Lifetime."  The collection was assembled by noted numismatist and antiquarian Frank Kovacs of Corte Madera, California over a 25-year period from 1990 to the present. Widely known as an expert on dated coinages of the Classical East (including Armenia, Judaea, Syria and Phoenicia), Frank's extensive contacts provided him the opportunity to acquire several newly discovered dates that still survive only singly or in tiny numbers (fewer than five known examples). At least one coin in the collection (number 33, dated Year 154 / AD 28-29), is thought to be unique. Thus this collection would be impossible to duplicate until more examples come to light.

    The Lifespan of Jesus: Even without taking up the question of his divinity, Jesus of Nazareth, widely known as Jesus Christ, is arguably the most important person in the history of Western Civilization. Indeed, the modern world's BC / AD dating system is based on his assumed birth year of 1 BC/AD 1 (there is no "year zero"). This dating system is based on the calculations of Dionysius Exeguus in about AD 525; however, modern scholars have concluded that Jesus was actually born a few years earlier, probably 5-4 BC.

    Establishing the actual lifespan of Jesus is thus an uncertain exercise at best, as the Gospel accounts contain no detailed time line and the actual dates that are mentioned are frequently contradictory. However it is possible to set the broad goalposts between which Jesus must have lived, using the earliest widely accepted year for his birth, 5/4 BC, and the latest likely date for his Crucifixion, AD 33/4. 

    Three of the Gospels state Jesus was born in Bethlehem, about 10 kilometers from Jerusalem; his earthly parents, however, were from Nazareth in Galilee and evidently this is what he considered his "hometown."  Here he grew to manhood and embarked upon his epochal ministry at about the age of 30, likely sometime between AD 24-30. The Gospel of Luke mentions that John the Baptist's ministry in the wilderness began in the "fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (or AD 28/9)." Since Jesus was baptized by John, it is likely his own two or three-year ministry began after this.

    Equal uncertainly surrounds the date of the Crucifixion. All the Gospels and the historian Josephus record that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor (or prefect) of Judaea AD 26-36, and that he was crucified on a Friday before the Feast of Passover. The most widely accepted dates for the Crucifixion are 18 March AD 29, 7 April AD 30, and 3 April AD 33. 

    Shekels of Tyre: The Phoenician port city of Tyre rose to prominence in the tenth century BC as an international trade center, becoming wealthy from its export of a deep purple dye made from a mollusk, the famous "Tyrian purple" worn by royalty. It maintained good relations with the Kingdom of Israel and even helped finance the construction of Solomon's temple circa 971-931 BC. It became a Persian vassal in 539 BC and, after a legendary siege, fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Tyre was fought over by the successor Ptolemaic and Seleucid Kingdoms for another two centuries before finally regaining its independence in 126 BC. From this year, Tyre began issuing silver coins, shekels and half-shekels, that were widely accepted in the Levant as a trade currency due to their carefully controlled weight and fineness. Tyrian shekels carry the obverse image of Melqart, a Phoenician version of Heracles, and a reverse depiction of an eagle standing left on the prow of a ship, palm branch tucked under its right wing, with a club (of Melqart / Heracles) in the left field. The reverse legend translates to "Of the Holy and Inviolable City of Tyre" and in the left field is a date in Greek numerals, counting years forward from the date of the city's autonomy (126/5 BC). Other letters and monograms identify the responsible mint magistrates; a Phoenician letter aleph or bet between the eagle's legs most probably indicate the office or workshop where the coin was struck.

    Lacking a silver currency of its own, the newly independent kingdom of Judaea came to accept the use of Tyrian silver as the main coin of the realm. Tyrian shekels and half-shekels were the only coins acceptable as tithes and payments to the Temple in Jerusalem, which was vastly expanded by Herod the Great (37-4 BC). This situation maintained after the Romans gained direct control of Judaea after Herod's death. 

    After 20/19 BC, the style and fabric of Tyrian coinage changed markedly, with the coins becoming smaller and thicker, and the letters KP were added to the reverse control marks. The noted Israeli numismatist Ya'akov Meshorer proposed that these later shekels were actually minted in Jerusalem rather than Tyre, based on hoard evidence that the coins circulated far more heavily Judaea than in neighboring Phoenicia. While this view is not widely accepted, it is clear these later shekels were minted primarily to meet burgeoning demand in Judaea and surrounding regions. Edward Cohen, author of "Dated Coins of Antiquity," notes that the date form of the later shekels (consistently reading left-to-right) differs from the earlier issues and indicates a different mint in the southern Levant. These "KP" shekels were evidently minted more sporadically, and in smaller numbers, than earlier issues and are generally much rarer today; in fact coins are unknown for several of the years between 20 BC and AD 66, when their issue ceased. Other years are known from only a single specimen or a handful of examples.

    The Tyrian shekel features prominently in many Gospel accounts, most notably the scene in which the Apostle Judas betrays Jesus to the Temple authorities and is "covenanted" with "30 pieces of silver." These were certainly shekels of Tyre. In another scene (Matthew 17:24-27), Jesus plucks a shekel from the mouth of a fish to pay his Temple tax. The famous incident where Jesus attacks the "money changers" in the Temple courtyard likely resulted in many Tyrian shekels flying about, as this was the currency into which visitors were changing their own native coins. 

    Since Tyrian shekels were the only large silver coins to circulate heavily in the Judaea, Samaria, Galilee and the Decapolis, the very regions Jesus of Nazareth frequented during his itinerant ministry, the question must be asked: What are the chances that Jesus himself, or one of his disciples, or one of the other figures mentioned in the Gospels, actually touched or held one of the coins in this collection? 


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