Photo Credit: Naftali Shvolman, Israel Antiquities Authority
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. and Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escozido, September 12, 2020.

Following a transcontinental intelligence operation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, on Monday, DA Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. announced the return of the Year Four Quarter Shekel, the second such coin known to exist from “The Great Jewish Revolt” that began in 66 C.E.

The Quarter Shekel, which was minted in 69 C.E., marked Jewish independence from Rome during the revolt that ended with the siege of Jerusalem and the 73 C.E. mass suicide at Masada. The Quarter Shekel is valued at more than one million dollars and was returned at a repatriation ceremony attended by Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, IAA Director General Eli Eskozido, Israel’s Consul General in New York Assaf Zamir, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel.

Two sides of the quarter shekel coin. / Israel Antiquities Authority
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“We are honored to return the Quarter Shekel, an exceedingly rare coin that has immense cultural value,” said District Attorney Bragg, adding, “Despite the complexity of this investigation, our team of prosecutors, analysts, and agents working with Israeli authorities, were able to track down this antiquity in just a matter of months. Just this year alone, we have repatriated nearly 400 antiquities to countries all over the world, and look forward to many more of these ceremonies in the future.”

A week ago, DA Bragg announced the return of 58 antiquities valued at close to $19 million to Italy, many of them from the collection of philanthropist Michael Steinhardt (NYC Returns $19 Million Worth of Antiquities Seized from Michael Steinhardt).

Ilan Hadad, Inspector in charge of commerce at the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the rare coin. / Miri Bar, Israel Antiquities Authority

The Roman Empire granted local rulers limited permission to mint bronze coins, according to the client rulers’ respective degrees of importance and how close they were to the central government. Minting silver coins was a much more limited privilege granted to fewer and more important client cities, explained Ilan Hadad, archaeologist and inspector in charge of commerce at the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit (ATPU) of the IAA.

“Because of this, the minting of silver coins by the leaders of the Great Revolt was a de facto declaration of independence by the Jews in the land of Israel, a statement against the mighty empire,” Hadad continued. “Many of the rebels’ silver coins were struck over imperial silver coins, covering the emperor’s face with Jewish motifs. This gave the coin a much greater symbolic value than the monetary value of the coin itself.”

Quarter Shekel coins from the fourth year of the revolt have not previously been found in situ in archaeological excavations. One similar coin was acquired in the 1930s by the British Museum, and about three more unofficially “circulate” on the antiquities black market and among various collectors.

In 2002, PA Arab antiquities looters unearthed a hoard of coins from the period of the Great Revolt, in the Elah Valley area. Among the looted coins was the silver quarter shekel from 69 C.E. –– one year before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The IAA spent the next two decades attempting to locate the coin, during which time it passed through illicit antiquities markets in Israel, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. In London, false provenance papers were prepared to export the Quarter Shekel from the UK to the US, where it was offered for sale at the Heritage Auction’s World Coins & Ancient Coins Signature Auction scheduled for August 3, 2017, in Denver, Colorado.

Earlier this year, the case was passed to Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit. Working closely together, the IAA and the ATU developed sufficient evidence to execute a seizure warrant for the coin and received a court order repatriating the coin to Israel.

The ceremony at the DA’s office, September 12, 2020. / Miri Bar, Israel Antiquities Authority

The investigation was conducted by Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Daniel Healey and Hillary Chassé, and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Megan Buckley, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos. Investigative support was provided by the IAA’s Ilan Hadad and Eitan Klein, Shaaban Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, Detective Constable Sophie Hayes of the New Scotland Yard, Aktham Oweidi of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, and Homeland Security Investigators in Tel Aviv and Denver. The IAA also wishes to thank Afeef Herzalla for his assistance and cooperation with the investigation.

According to Bogdanos, “Today’s repatriation to Israel of this extraordinary coin represents a cherished piece of history finally going home. But it also represents an equally extraordinary partnership between New York’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It is a partnership that should be used as a model in recovering pillaged cultural heritage around the world.”

Israel’s Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir, said “this singular artifact is a stark reminder of the Jewish people’s millennia-old connection to the land of Israel. We thank the IAA and the DA’s office for restoring this priceless coin to its rightful home.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said: “The Palestinians are working at the UN to hide the history of our people and erase our connection to the Land of Israel. But no matter how many lies are spread, the truth cannot be erased and the truth is laid out here this evening for all to see. This coin is evidence of the eternal bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, I can now use it in my mission to fight the lies of our enemies.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.