In Genesis 23, Abraham is described as purchasing a burial plot in Hebron for “four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.” This passage has long troubled archaeologists, as evidence suggests that coins were not in use in the Levant until several centuries after the period in which the biblical patriarchs presumably lived. A new discovery, however, throws this conventional wisdom into question. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich writes:
Archaeologists from the University of Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found silver coins made in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in the 17th century BCE, the Middle Bronze Age, at archaeological digs from the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, a century later. The coins, which were used in regional trade, including with ancient Israel, were discovered at Tel Shiloh near Jerusalem, Tel Gezer on the western slopes of the Judean Hills, and Tell al-Ajjul in the Gaza Strip.
Their discovery proves the use of silver coins as money in the southern Levant and precedes by 500 years what was thought to be the use of such coins. The identification of Anatolia as the source of the money indicates continuous and long-term trade with Asia Minor.
The use of coins as a means of payment was known in Mesopotamia as early as the third millennium BCE. However, in the southern Levant region, known in the Bible as the land of Canaan, it was thought that such use was common only in the Iron Age, starting from the 12th century BCE. The silver coins are pieces of silver whose unpolished form clearly indicates that they are not jewelry or ornamental objects. That they were usually found together, wrapped in cloth and kept in pottery, indicates that they were used as a means of payment.