RPC 2220 varThe twice-published unpublished coin

June 6, 2017


                             "ὑμεῖς προσκυνεῖτε ὃ οὐκ οἴδατε."

                             "You people believe what you don't even know."

Jesus to the Samaritan woman of Sychar, John 4:22                             


Image result for ornate initial letter THIS IS THE STORY of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-45; cf. the story about the Canaanite woman in the synoptic gospels, Matthew 7:24-30, Mark 15:21-28, notably missing from Luke before 9:10)--

          Jesus and his disciples were passing through Samaria on their way back to their homes in Galilee after spending Passover in Jerusalem. They stopped to rest in the city of Shechem (nicknamed Sychar, "Falsehood," by the Jews) lying in the valley between Mount Ebal to the south and the Samaritans' holy mountain, Mount Gerizim, to the north. Here was the site of the famous pilgrimage Jacob's Well, and it was here that Jesus encountered a local woman.

          In the course of their conversation he told her intimate details about her personal life that he couldn't have known, and she recognized him as a prophet. As such he could arbitrate disputes of religious doctrine, so she asked him point-blank, "Where must we worship God, on our mountain as we have always believed or in Jerusalem as you Jews say?"

          Jesus smiled as he dodged the question. "You people don't know what you believe," he said.  He told her that this point of schism, which had separated the Jews from the Samaritans since the time of Moses (according to Samaritan tradition) or at least since the Babylonian captivity (according to Jewish tradition), was no longer relevant because he Jesus was the Messiah, something the woman had suspected all along apparently. This was the first time that Jesus Christ had declared himself to be the Messiah, and he delivered this world-changing revelation almost casually to a Samaritan woman of Shechem.

          She took this good news with her back to the city and in two days Jesus and his disciples made many converts among the Samaritans.

          Time marched on.  In 72 the emperor Vespasian (Domitian's father) razed Shechem to the ground and built a new city on the dust and ashes, calling it Neapolis (New City). This became the modern Nablus, Palestine, home today of the Palestinian Securities Exchange. It is also the home--and I find this absolutely astounding--of two minority communities, a Christian community and a Samaritan community!

          I mean--the mind reels!

          I mean--could these Christians be, after two millennia, the descendants of the Samaritan Christians converted in those two days? And the Samaritans, I mean--who knew there were still actual Samaritans living in the world? Well, there are! There are actually only about 700 of them today, but they constitute a fourth surviving religion in the Abrahamic tradition, a fourth People of the Book!


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          Here is a coin in the collection from the city of Neapolis, struck by Domitian in 86/7 (RPC 2220 var, 20mm, 7.97g, 12h)--

          It is worth noting that on this coin, nor on any of the coins of Neapolis, there is carefully no depiction of a pagan divinity. In my opinion this is proof that the inhabitants of the new city were the same former inhabitants of Shechem, that is to say, Samaritans, with the same strictures against handling graven images as the Jews.

          This coin came to me from the Lindgren coll. (Lindgren 2430, Henry Clay Lindgren and Frank L Kovaks, Ancient Bronze Coins of Asia Minor and the Levant from the Lindgren Collection, San Francisco, 1985) where it was published along with a plate.  This coin was subsequently cited in RPC (RPC 2220.21, Andrew Burnett, Michael Amandry, and Ian Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage, Volume II, London, Paris, 1999).

          Now, to me the two sweetest words in ancient-coin collecting are "this coin." The phrase connotes celebrity. It means that this very coin that I am holding in my hand right now (as I type in a very clumsy fashion with my other hand), before it goes back home to the bank, that this very coin has been mentioned or even pictured in a reference book, in this case two reference books. I don't know that you could ever say this about a modern coin or whether modern-coin collectors even think about such things, but maybe they do.

          The city of Neapolis struck two issues in the the time of Domitian, dated LAI and LEI. In the Greek numbering system A is one, E is five, I is ten, and L, which is not a Greek letter, serves as a symbol for Year. So LAI, year one plus ten, is CY (City Year) 11 (82/3 AD) and LEI, year five plus ten, is CY 15 (86/7 AD). LAI is a fairly common issue, but LEI is extremely rare. In fact of the five denominations of coins minted in Neapolis, only three denominations of the LEI issue have been cataloged. RPC provides an excellent table that shows the gaps, which I will try to reproduce here but with RPC I.D. numbers in the slots instead of weight in grams--



          (The numerals within brackets represent the number of examples for each year and denomination found in the major collections.)

          Looking at my coin, right away I noticed that the date (bottom right on the reverse) looked more like EI than AI, this in spite of the notched lower limb of the E. It was even more evident under my stereo microscope. I managed to find and buy a copy of Lindgren's book, an adventure in its own right, and it was also evident in his illustration. All of a sudden, in addition to owning a "this coin," I discover it is also an unpublished coin!

          This is another joy inherit in collecting ancient coins, the possibility of coming across something completely unknown. Can you imagine finding an unpublished American quarter in the State Series, maybe a reverse nobody's ever seen before, instead of a dairy cow on Wisconsin's quarter, maybe a sheep or a windmill or something? It isn't going to happen, but in the world of the specialist collector of ancient coins such events occur regularly, well, perhaps not regularly, but at least often enough to keep things interesting.

          So anyway, I contacted Prof Andrew Burnett at RPC for his opinion.  He said, because of the notch, that it could go either way, A or E, and that another coin would probably be needed for confirmation. Time marched on. Then, a few weeks ago while I was entering this coin into the website's database, I took a good hard look at the inscription on the obverse side of the coin--it's incomplete and hard to make out, so I ask to be excused for such a stupid blundering oversight.

          The obverse inscription on RPC 2220 reads ΑΥΤΟΚ ΔΟΜΙΤΙΑΝΟΣ ΚΑΙΣΑΡ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΣ; the inscription on my coin, ΑΥΤΟΚ ΔΟΜΙΤΙΑΝΟΣ ΚΑΙΣΑΡ ΣΕΒΑ ΓΕΡ, of which only ΑΥΤΟΚ ΔΟ. . .ΣΕΒΑ ΓΕΡ is legible. Although this inscription doesn't appear on any of the other coins cataloged for LEI, "ΓΕΡ" is short for ΓΕΡΜΑΝΙΚΟΣ, Germanicus, a praenomen Domitian didn't adopt until 83, after his successful campaign against the Chatti in Germany. Surprisingly Lindgren recorded the correct obverse inscription in his reference yet still misidentified the coin as belonging to LAI, an impossibility due to the ΓΕΡ.

          So once again I contacted Prof Burnett. This time he agreed with me. I am now waiting to be assigned a number for the RPC Fifth Supplement. RPC 2224A, I'm guessing :D

          Another joy, a source of major satisfaction, is catching something the experts missed, not that I'm running around singing, "ὑμεῖς προσκυνεῖτε ὃ οὐκ οἴδατε," or whatever, but such an event is really really fun for an amateur. Such bliss transcends ancient-coin collecting, or collecting anything for that matter.

          So there you have it, a twice-published unpublished coin.


          Next: "The 'Flavian' Minerva: M3, outlandish juxtaposition or dream girl"

© Jim Hazelton, 2018