Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shekel of Tyre on History Channel Series "Pawn Stars"

The American cable television channel the "History Channel" does not air as much actual documentary and historical content as it once did.  Instead, it has gone the more profitable route with reality TV shows like "Swamp People", "Ax Men", "Big Rig Bounty Hunters," etc.  Even worse when one does flip on the TV to find a documentary program airing it is often that damaging, pseudo-archaeological program "Ancient Aliens". The Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, and to a somewhat lesser degree National Geographic, have similarly switched to focus on reality programing.

Nonetheless, "Pawn Stars" is one top-rated History Channel program with a strong following.  I too enjoy the program.  The series follows a Las Vegas pawn shop that buys items of historical or collectible interest.  Experts are often brought in to evaluate the authenticity of items and to appraise them.  Many items, but not all, are great rarities.

On Monday night, a new episode aired; one segment featured a gentleman who sold a shekel of Tyre to the owners of the Pawn Shop.  Scholars generally accept that the Tyrian shekel was the mode of currency used in the infamous transaction of the thirty pieces of Judas paid to Judas to betray Christ (Matthew 26:14-16).  The thirty pieces are mentioned again when Judas returned the money to the chief priests after being overcome with remorse (Matthew 27:1-10).

A recent article by Haim Gitler provides a great discussion on the identification of the thirty pieces of silver as the Tyrian shekels (H. Gitler, "The Thirty Pieces of Silver: A Modern Numismatic Perspective," in L. Travaini (ed.), Valori e disvalori simbolici monete. I trenti denari di Giuda (Rome, 2009), pp. 63-78).  Archaeological excavation has helped to confirm that Tyrian shekels are the best candidate for the medium of exchange in the biblical episode as they circulated widely in the area and period in question.

The Pawn Stars paid $1,600 for the coin. Anyone familiar with the market can attest they overpaid, especially in view of the coin's condition.  The Pawn Stars also immediately sent off the coin to be slabbed and graded, a phenomenon which is common in the collecting of modern U.S. and world coins, but which has been resisted in the ancient coin collecting community.  It is curious that an expert was not called in as is typical with most historical items featured in the series.  The overpayment and slabbing would suggest the Pawn Stars do not regularly deal with ancient coins, or at least that they do not cater to serious collectors.

After purchasing the coin, the Pawn Stars were visited by a detective.  The coin was apparently stolen, not by the seller featured in the episode, but by a previous possessor of the coin.  A local interview with the man featured in the episode, who bought it along with some other coins at an estate sale for a few hundred dollars, alludes to this: ""It was 2000 years old. I'm sure it was stolen at some point in time after 2000 years yeah."  Ultimately the pawn shop was able to keep the coin as the owner from whom the coin was stolen had been reimbursed by his insurance policy.

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Anonymous said...

doesn't the coin belong to the insurance company since they paid the claim?


I would have assumed that as well, but I don't know much about insurance. Over on the IMDB message boards some have weighed in on this point.