Review: Not Kosher

Not Kosher

David Hendin. Not Kosher: Forgeries of Ancient Jewish and Biblical Coins. New York: Amphora, 2005. Hb. 224 pp., b/w illus, 81 b/w pls. ISBN 0-9654029-3-2. $50.00.

The last several years have seen an increase in new books and articles devoted to the identification of modern forgeries and replicas of ancient coins, no doubt partly sparked by the great success of Wayne Sayles’ Classical Deception (Iola, 2001), which offers a general overview of the subject (see ANS Magazine 2.3 (Winter 2003), pp. 62-65 for review). While many of these have tended to focus on the productions of particular individuals or groups and often include copies of coins from a variety of series ranging from Archaic Greek to Byzantine, David Hendin’s new book, Not Kosher, attempts to collect in one place all known forgeries based on coins of the ancient Jewish and Biblical series.

The main text (pp. 9-55) is written in Hendin’s usual friendly anecdotal style, which will be familiar to readers of his popular Guide to Biblical Coins or of his regular column on Biblical coins in The Celator. The two most useful features are the sections on “Differential Diagnosis of Forgeries” (pp. 20-26) and “Diagnostics for Jewish and Biblical Coins” (pp. 26-32). In the former, Hendin offers eleven features to look for when attempting to distinguish a forgery from an authentic ancient coin. These range from the study of style and edge treatment to the consultation of publications and consideration of the reputation of the coinís source. In the second section, the author gives stylistic and production diagnostics for the main series of Jewish coins from the Hasmonaean prutah to the sela of Bar Kochba. Here, special attention is paid to planchet form and edge treatment. Enlarged photographs of the edges of legitimate coins placed next to those of known forgeries make the differences between ancient and modern productions very clear.

The technical discussion is followed by a selection of personal stories of Hendin’s brushes with forgeries (pp. 37-53). These tales are simultaneously entertaining and serve to give some insight into the circumstances and human psychology that can allow even the most obvious forgeries to pass as authentic. Particularly remarkable is the bizarre story of the Bar Kochba forgery from Clay City, Kentucky that was declared authentic and worked into a theory of ancient Jews and other Semitic peoples reaching the Americas before Christopher Columbus. Readers should be aware that most of these anecdotes have been published previously in the author’s Celator column.

Hendin concludes with a discussion of the so-called “false shekels” made from the seventeenth to early twentieth centuries, a topic which he is almost apologetic about including in the book, on the grounds that they were not originally produced to deceive. However, many of the forgeries in his catalogue began their lives as replicas intended to educate before they were modified and repatinated so that they could be sold to the unwary as authentic. Thus the author is fully justified in including the “false shekels” since already in the eighteenth century Erasmus Frölich (Annales Regum et Rerum Syriae (Vienna, 1754), p. 92) was warning against them as modern fabrications.

The catalogue (pp. 56-227), listing some 600 forgeries and replicas of 125 separate types, is arranged in Sylloge style, with descriptions and excellent photographic plates appearing on facing pages. With the exception of the “false shekels” (F1.1-6) and imaginary fantasy pieces (F2-F15) that open the catalogue, as well as a few fake city coins of the Roman period (Fcc1-Fcc6), all entries are numbered according to the fourth edition of Hendin’s Guide to Biblical Coins (New York, 2001).

Those interested in Jewish coinage before the rise of the Hasmonaean dynasty will no doubt be pleased to discover that the author has found relatively few forgeries of the early coins. These include a Ptolemaic tetradrachm ostensibly from Gaza or Joppa (F409), five Philisto-Arabian drachms mainly based on Athenian prototypes (F420.1-422.1), seven Yehud drachms (F434-F446v), including a Peter Rosa reproduction of the unique British Museum coin depicting a deity seated on a winged wheel (F434). The small number of Yehud issues and the total absence of Samarian coins may be directly related to the difficulty of engraving dies or producing moulds for tiny denominations like the obol and hemiobol.

Although in his discussion of misconceptions about forgeries Hendin makes the important point that even inexpensive coins can be worth the forger’s time and effort, the catalogue shows that valuable coins are far more likely to inspire fakes. A mere six specimens (F451-F479) are listed for the common issues of the early Hasmonaeans, Alexander Jannaeus and John Hyrcanus II and the Seleucid coinage struck by John Hyrcanus I in the name of Antiochus VII, but for the rare and famous menorah/showbread table types of Mattathias Antigonus, the last Hasmonaean, the author has collected 22 examples (F845.1-15). Seven of these (F845.9-15) should be relocated to the fantasy piece section, since the only real connection to the Mattathias Antigonus coinage is their use of a menorah obverse type. The reverses of these pieces all feature the Star of David or a cross.

A similar focus on more valuable coins is also revealed for the issues of the Herodian kings. For example, two forgeries from the same dies (F500.1-1.1) are known for the relatively common anchor/cornucopiae issues of Herod the Great, but eight from five die sets are listed for his much-sought after large bronze of year 3 (F486.1-5). It is notable that the only forgeries listed for Herod Archelaus are of his common grapes/helmet type (F505.1.1-2.2), rather than his scarcer and more valuable issues featuring an anchor type. There are perhaps somewhat fewer forgeries of the coinage issued by Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Agrippa I, than one might expect, but those that do exist mainly copy their more valuable issues. However, seven different forgeries of the extremely common canopy/ears of barley prutah of Agrippa I (F553.1-7) are also listed. Forgeries of Agrippa II bronzes (F584-F631) and those of some of the earlier Herodians appear to have been extensively perpetrated by the so-called “Lebanon” forger, active in the 1960s and 1970s. They can be particularly difficult to catch since they are often struck over real ancient coins, thus giving them an authentic patina.

Forgeries are catalogued for all of the Roman prefects and procurators of Judaea who struck coins during their tenures in office. The number of different known dies and moulds used to fake the coins of each governor are fairly close (3-5), but just as one might expect, there are somewhat more for Pontius Pilate (F648.1-F649.3), perhaps indicative of the wider market for his coins. Especially notable in the procuratorial group is a bizarre mule (F652.3), featuring the crossed shields and spears type of an Antonius Felix prutah (issued between AD 52 and 59) paired with the obverse of an AE 3/4 of Constantine I (AD 309-337).

It should come as little surprise that within the ancient Jewish series the most frequently forged coins are the issues of the great Jewish War against Rome (AD 66-71), particularly the silver shekels and half shekels. Their symbolic, historical, and religious evocations for both modern Jews and Christians made them a prime subject for forgers and producers of replicas early on in the history of numismatics and continuing into the present day. Variously seen as artifacts of the last free Jewish state before the destruction of the Second Temple, misunderstood relics of the Maccabaean rebellion against the Seleucids and the infamous 30 pieces of silver (both of these associations were not fully repudiated by scholars until the first half of the twentieth century), or as precursors of tokens used in Masonic circles, the potential market for such coins has always been large. The vast number of known forgeries reflects the high degree of interest inspired by the real coins. Here, Hendin catalogues over 140 specimens of fake shekels and their fractions spanning the full five years of issue and including examples of the unique quarter shekel of year 4 (F667.1-3) and the extremely rare crude shekels produced at Gamla (F673.1). Forgeries of year 2 and year 4 Jewish War bronzes (F661.1-12, F668-F670a) are also catalogued, but these are greatly outnumbered by copies of the silver issues.

In 1984, Leo Mildenberg, listing a mere 11 forgeries, was pleased to report that, “Only a very few counterfeit Bar Kokhba coins are known to this author…. In this respect, hardly any other field of ancient numismatics can compete with the Bar Kokhba coinage.” (The Coinage of the Bar Kokhba War (Aarau, 1984), p. 348). Unfortunately, the catalogue of Not Kosher shows that in the years since this happy announcement was made, modern forgers have redoubled their efforts in an attempt to correct their earlier oversight. Hendin now lists and illustrates forgeries of some 36 individual types in all silver and bronze denominations. The Bar Kochba forgeries range in quality from the very poor to the extremely dangerous, with some (F685.1.1, F728.2.1-2, F739.2) even overstruck on Roman coins just like authentic issues. However, few should be deceived by the small bronze types of year 1 struck over a Byzantine half-follis (F681.3), probably issued by Justinian I (AD 527-565) from the mint of Thessalonica (cp. A.R. Bellinger, Catalogue of Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection I (Washington, 1966), nos. 103-106).

Following the listings of forged coins of the two Jewish rebellions against Rome, Hendin also catalogues numerous forgeries of the popular IVDAEA CAPTA issues struck to commemorate the Roman victory in the Jewish War and Roman coins relating to the Jews and Judaea issued in the years leading up to the Bar Kochba War. It is perhaps notable that with the sole exception of F746, a large bronze of Domitian, no other forgeries of commemorative issues struck at the Caesarea mint appear in the catalogue. For post-Flavian coins, Hendin includes 5 specimens (F797.1-4) of fake FISCI IVDAICI sestertii of Nerva (one of which is a nice Paduan) and 2 of Hadrianís ADVENTVI AVG IVDAEAE sestertius (F798.1-1.1).

Like the Jewish War issues with their heavy historical and religious significance, the denarius of Tiberius, thought by many to be the so-called “Tribute Penny” used by Jesus to make a point about the fulfillment of both divine and temporal obligations, as well as the Tyrian shekel, used in the Temple treasury and therefore possibly the coin of the 30 pieces of silver, can also be found in the catalogue. As both of these are famous coins, it was virtually guaranteed that someone would attempt to forge them. However, considering the premiums commanded by authentic specimens, there are fewer forgeries listed than what one might expect. Only eight examples of the denarius (F916.1-8) and 15 of the shekel (F917.1-F919.4) are catalogued. It is interesting that the majority of the shekel copies are based on the early autonomous coinage of Tyre, rather than the later issues with ìdumpyî flans, thought by some to have been struck at Jerusalem expressly for use in the Temple (see Y. Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins (New York, 2001), pp. 72-78. This view is now strongly refuted by H. Cotton and W. Weiser, “Neues zum ‘Tyrischen Silbergeld’ herodianischer und römischer Zeit,” ZPE 139 (2002), pp. 235-250). More of the latter might have been expected, and especially issues with dates in the early AD 30s, in an effort to cash in on the association with the crucifixion, but this does not seem to have been the case. Indeed, almost half of the early shekels listed were not originally produced as forgeries with the intent to deceive, but rather as replicas, as indicated by the word “COPY” stamped on their edges.

In addition to the Jewish and Biblical forgeries mentioned above, Hendin also describes and illustrates six examples of fake city coins from Aelia Capitolina, Gaza, Hippos, Neapolis, and Tiberias (Fcc1-Fcc6) as a warning that these bronzes have also attracted the attention of the modern forger. The catalogue concludes with three reproductions of the beautiful large bronze coins of Phrygian Apamea depicting Noah’s Ark on the reverse (F921v-F922.2).

After this cursory review of the catalogue it is perhaps obvious that Not Kosher will be an indispensable reference for anyone who works closely with ancient Jewish coinage. Not only does the book reveal the identities of many false coins, but it also serves to uncover and chronicle the very long tradition of copying ancient Jewish coinage. Understanding the history of forgery and replication, which is not always simply reducible to a history of greed, can only deepen the appreciation of the authentic coins and the feelings that they have stirred in so many over the centuries. Still, one suspects that it would be heartbreaking to learn just how many of the very same thoughts and dreams of ancient wonders were conjured by the objects in David Hendin’s catalogue before they were identified as products of the modern age.

—Oliver D. Hoover