In the New Testament in both Mark and Luke there are stories told about the widow giving her mites. Although there is much controversy as to which actual coins these referred to, it is more than likely that themites were the lepton and prutah coins minted by the Jewish King Alexander  Jannaeus who ruled from 103-76 BC and were the lowest denomination coins still in circulation in Jerusalem during Christ’s lifetime.  “Widow’s Mites” refers to two different yet similar coins, the smaller lepton and the larger prutah, both coins share the same images of the anchor on one side and the star image on the other. The lepton is the very smallest denomination and is probably the true “widow’s mite.”

The word “mite” is from the 1611 King James Version Bible translation, lepton being the word used in the original Greek language. So while scripture references only the lepton, due to the commonalities of these two coins, today both coins are commonly referred to as ‘Widow’s Mites’.  In fact, the lepton is probably the lowest denomination coin ever struck by any nation in all of history! The value of these coins during the time of Christ was typically based on combined weight with other coins and not on the individual coin’s value.

Ancient Jewish coins were produced only during a 268 year period and then not continuously.  This period began during the Hasmonean dynasty  in 134 BCE and ended with the conclusion of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE. The lepton and prutah coins of Alexander Jannaeus were probably minted after the conquest of the coastal cities in 95 B.C. (with the exception of Ashkelon), the anchor probably publicizing the annexation of these areas, until his death in

76 B.C.

These coins were carelessly and crudely struck, usually off center and on small flans and because they circulated for such a long period they are usually worn. They are rarely well enough struck or preserved to allow reading of the tiny Hebrew letters between the spokes of the wheel.

Where in the Bible:

In Mark 12:41-44

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury; and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him, his disciples, and said unto them, “Verily I say unto you, this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury, for all they did cast in of their abundance, but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living”.

In Luke 21:1-4

And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, “Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had”.

Lepton and Prutah Coin Descriptions:

Alexander Jannaeus was the first of the Jewish kings to introduce the eight-ray star symbol, in his bronze “Widow’s mite” coins, in combination with the wide-spread Seleucid numismatic symbol of the anchor. He was also the first Jewish ruler to use the title “King” on his coins and was the first to mint Bi-lingual Jewish coins. The obverse is in Greek and the reverse in Hebrew. The coinage of Alexander Jannaeus is characteristic of the early Jewish coinage in that it avoided human or animal representations, in opposition to the surrounding Greek, and later Roman types of the period. Jewish coinage instead focused on symbols, either natural, such as the palm tree, the pomegranate or the star, either an-made, such as the temple, the Menorah, trumpets or cornucopia.


Bronze Prutah103 – 76 B.C.


(of King Alexander), around anchor.

Reverse: Star with eight rays, surrounded by diadem.

  “Yehonatan the King” between rays (in Hebrew)

 Bronze Lepton, 103 – 76 B.C.


(of King Alexander), around anchor.

Reverse: Star with eight rays,

surrounded by diadem.

Most references describe the reverse of these coins as a wheel with eight spokes, but Ya’akov Meshore, in ANCIENT JEWISH COINAGE, Volume 1, demonstrates that this is really an eight-pointed starwithin a diadem.  He goes on to point out that the diadem is a Hellenistic symbol of Kingship, and that the star may derive from the Song of Balaam which states “There shall come a star out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17), so the iconology makes perfect sense for this coin.

The anchor was adopted from the seleucids, who used it to symbolize their naval strength.  Anchors are depicted upside down, as they would be seen hung on the side of a boat ready for use.

Since both the larger prutah and the smaller lepton have the same images, the best way to tell the difference is that the prutah has writing around the anchor and the lepton just has a solid circle around the anchor.

How were they made?

These coins were made by first producing a long, thin strip of metal between two dies. The end of the strip was placed between two striking dies, and hit with a hammer. Then the strip was pulled quickly, about the length of one coin, hit again, and the process is repeated until the end of the strip is reached. After all the impressions had been made onto the metal, the coins were individually cut out. The two striking dies were not fixed in place very well, so many of the coins have the pattern on one or both sides off-center. The coins are from about 11mm to 17mm in diameter (about half an inch), and weigh from .8g to 3.5g.

 A Short History

These bronze prutahs were Judean coins that were minted during a portion of the inter-testamental period of Jewish history when Israel was a self-governing nation. Israel had previously been self ruling during most of itsOld Testament history up to the time of the Babylonian captivity under King Nebuchadnezzar in 450 BC. Israel remained under Persian rule till 330 BC when Israel was concurred by Alexander the Great and came under the Greek Hellensitic rule. Alexander’s influence introduced the Greek language and culture into Israel.

Following Alexander the Great’s death, the Hellenistic Ptolemies Dynasty who maintained the area of Egypt also ruled Israel. The Ptolemies were considerate of Jewish religious sensitivities. However, the Hellenistic Seleucid Dynasty under Antiochus took control of Israel in 198 BC, introducing atrocities aimed at the eradication of the Jewish religion. This triggered the Maccabean revolt and the 24 year war which resulted in the final independence of Israel as an independent nation in 166 BC.

The Jewish independent “Hasmonian Dynasty” ruled Israel from 142 – 63 BC, a short 79 years.  John Hyrcanus was king over Israel from 134-104 BC. During this time, he minted Israel’s first currency, known as the “Cornucopias” coins.After his death, Alexander Janneus ruled from 103-76 BC. and under his rule, minted the lepton and prutah coins which are most likely and widely believed to be the widow’s mite coin later given by the widow and noticed by Jesus Christ in the Temple. It is easy to understand that the Jews who despised the Roman occupation after 63 BC would continue to use these small coins, representing Israel’s independence, well into the time of Christ.

Alexander Jannaeus (also known as Alexander Jannai/Yannai), king of Judea from (103 BC to 76 BC), son of John Hyrcanus, inherited the throne from his brother Aristobulus, and appears to have married his brother’s widow, Shlamtzion or Shlomtzion or “Shelomit”, also known as Salome Alexandra, according to the Biblical law of Yibum or levirate marriage, the custom of marriage by a man with his brother’s widow, such marriages as  required in Biblical law if the deceased was childless. Deut. 25:5–10.

His likely full Hebrew name was Jonathan; he may have been the High Priest Jonathan, rather than his great-uncle of the same name, who established the Masada fortress.  Under the name King Yannai, he appears as a wicked tyrant in the Talmud (the collection of Jewish law and tradition consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara and being either the edition produced in Palestine a.d. c400 or the larger, more important one produced in Babylonia a.d. c500), reflecting his conflict with the Pharisee party. He is among the more colorful historical figures yet little is known about him, however, the impact of him on the subsequent development of Judaism and Christianity is substantial.

 “The Widow’s Mite”
Painting by Gustave Doré 1870

Gustave Doré (1832-1883) was one of the foremost illustrators of his time. He illustrated a huge number of classic works from the Bible through to Dante and Don Quioxte.  This Widow’s Mite print is from Doré’s illustrations for The Bible. It was in his Bible illustrations that Doré was thought to have created some of his greatest work.


As you can see, these historic coins possess an interesting and compelling past. If you are a believer in the teachings of the bible, these coins will serve as a treasured relic from this significant time in biblical history.  If you are a coin collector they will enhance any coin collection. That they are available and in existence today is truly amazing, but to be able to hold one of these coins in your very own hand is beyond amazing to me.



Seleucid – Of or relating to a Hellenistic dynasty founded by Seleucus I after the death of Alexander the Great. It ruled much of Asia Minor from 312 to 64 B.C. The Hellenistic period of Greek history was the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence.

Hasmonean(haz-muh-nee-uhn) – a member of a priestly family of Jewish leaders

in Judea in the 1st and 2nd centuries b.c.