According to the Gospel of John, Judas Iscariot received 30 silver coins, or in today’s money, around $340, to betray Jesus and put him in the hands of Caiaphas.
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 afterward, filled with remorse.
Judas’ kiss identified Jesus Christ to the soldiers of the high priest, Caiaphas, who handed him over to the soldiers of Pontius Pilate.
Researchers have for a long time tried to figure out the value of the famous “30 silver coins” that history’s greatest traitor received in order to commit the deplorable act.
Judas probably received Tyrian shekels to betray Jesus Christ
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.
Biblical scholar and archaeologist Donald Wiseman suggests two possibilities. They most likely would have been tetradrachms of Tyre, which is an ancient city in Lebanon, 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.
The spot price for silver in April 2023 is $0.81 per gram. The silver in these 30 Tyrian shekels would be worth $340 today.
The coins themselves, being ancient and historical, would of course be priceless, but at the time, they were merely regular silver coins used as instruments of commerce.
That $340 is a value out of time, however, as an article in specialist magazine Grand Rapids Coins says. You can’t just say that Judas betrayed Jesus for 340 bucks because there is also inflation across time to consider.
The above coins vary widely in how much silver they contain, but you would also have to know the going rate for a man’s labor at that time and what the cost of living was in Jerusalem in order to determine how much money the chief priests paid for Jesus’s life.
Thirty pieces of silver were the price of contempt
What’s more revealing is the gospel writer Matthew’s intent. The phrase he used, “30 pieces of silver,” is a throwback to a reference in the book of Zechariah. In Zechariah 11, this phrase is used to mean the value of a slave and is based on Jewish Law. Exodus 21:32 states:
“If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.”
The prophet Zechariah asked the Israelites to pay him for the work he had completed working among them, and that’s what they gave him. It was meant to be an insult; they didn’t value his prophecy. Jehovah told Zechariah to throw this slave’s wage into the treasury (back in their faces).
So when Matthew says 30 pieces of silver and has Judas throw it back into the treasury, it’s an allusion to this story in Zechariah in which unfaithful Jews undervalued a prophet of the Lord with an insulting amount of money—what a slave is worth.
Matthew is saying the priests were willing to pay almost nothing for Jesus. They were angry at Jesus for the scene he’d made at the temple, namely overturning the moneylenders’ tables and railing against the corrupt priests profiting off the sacrifices people brought to Jerusalem for God out of devotion and duty.
Thirty pieces of silver to the priests, Matthew, and Zechariah, then, was the price of contempt.
It’s interesting that this phrase, “30 pieces of silver” has had a negative meaning of contempt or betrayal for thousands of years even though silver itself has been valued as a precious metal for the same amount of time or longer, says Grand Rapids Coins.