Thirty pieces of silver
Thirty pieces of silver was the price for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, according to an account in the Gospel of Matthew 26:15 in the New Testament. Before the Last Supper, Judas is said to have gone to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins, and to have attempted to return the money afterwards, filled with remorse.
The Gospel of Matthew claims that the subsequent purchase of the Potter's field was fulfilment, by Jesus, of a prophecy of Zechariah.
The image has often been used in artwork depicting the Passion of Christ. The phrase is used in literature and common speech to refer to people "selling out", compromising a trust, friendship, or loyalty for personal gain.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Judas Iscariot was a disciple of Jesus. Before the Last Supper, Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins. Jesus was then arrested in Gethsemane, where Judas revealed Jesus' identity to the soldiers by giving him a kiss.
According to Chapter 27 of Matthew's gospel, Judas was filled with remorse and returned the money to the chief priests before hanging himself. The chief priests decided that they could not put it into the temple treasury as it was considered blood money, and so with it they bought the Potter's Field.
A different account of the death of Judas is given in the Book of Acts 1:17–20; in it, Peter is quoted as saying: "With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out." Although the Gospel of Luke, which is commonly thought to have been written by the same author as Acts, mentions in 22:3–6 that Judas and the chief priests and temple guard officers agreed on a price, the amount is not specified, nor is the money paid up front as in Matthew.
Types of coin
The word used in Matthew 26:15 (ἀργύρια, argyria) simply means "silver coins", and scholars disagree on the type of coins that would have been used. Donald Wiseman suggests two possibilities. They could have been tetradrachms of Tyre, usually referred to as Tyrian shekels (14 grams of 94% silver), or staters from Antioch (15 grams of 75% silver), which bore the head of Augustus. Alternatively, they could have been Ptolemaic tetradrachms (13.5 ± 1 g of 25% silver). There are 31.1035 grams per troy ounce. At spot valuation of $28/ozt in 2021, 30 "pieces of silver" would be worth approximately $91 to $441 in present-day value (USD) depending on which coin was used.
The Tyrian shekel weighed four Athenian drachmas, about 14 grams, more than earlier 11-gram Israeli shekels, but was regarded as the equivalent for religious duties at that time. Because Roman coinage was only 80% silver, the purer (94% or more) Tyrian shekels were required to pay the temple tax in Jerusalem. The money changers referenced in the New Testament Gospels (Matt. 21:12 and parallels) exchanged Tyrian shekels for common Roman currency.
The 5th century BC Athenian tetradrachm ("four drachmae") coin was perhaps the most widely used coin in the Greek world before the time of Alexander the Great (along with the Corinthian stater). It featured the helmeted profile bust of Athena on the obverse (front) and an owl on the reverse (back). In daily use they were called γλαῦκες glaukes (owls), hence the proverb Γλαῦκ’ Ἀθήναζε, 'an owl to Athens', referring to something that was in plentiful supply, like 'coals to Newcastle'. The reverse is featured on the national side of the modern Greek 1 euro coin. Drachmae were minted on different weight standards at different Greek mints. The standard that came to be most commonly used was the Athenian or Attic one, which weighed a little over 4.3 grams. A drachma was approximately a day's pay for a skilled laborer. So 30 pieces of silver (30 tetradrachm), at four drachmas each, would roughly be comparable to four months' (120 days) wages.
In the medieval period some religious institutions displayed ancient Greek coins of the island of Rhodes as specimens of the Thirty Pieces of Silver. The obverses of these coins showed a facing head of the sun god Helios, with rays projecting around the upper part of it. These rays were interpreted as a representation of the Crown of Thorns.
The extracanonical Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea records that Judas was paid 30 pieces of gold, not silver.