Mite or might not
An interesting question about mites and one that gave me pause for thought
many years ago. As yet I don't think there is a definitive connection
between the minutum or lepton and the sixteenth century mite except for the
Webster says: A small coin formerly circulated in England, rated at about a
third of a farthing. The name is also applied to a small coin used in
Palestine in the time of Christ.
This is not quite accurate because the mite was a Flemish coin worth three
to the Flemish penny. During this same period in Merrie Olde Englande, the
low end official currency included the farthing, halfpenny and penny. No
mention of mite. Indeed, the mite was never part of the official currency.
That doesn't mean that it was not used as part of the currency system.
Indeed, it was used as an accounting term throughout the various trading
ports in England. Since there were numerous ports, so too did the value
change according to geographical location. It ranged from 1/12th, 1/24th and
1/64th of a penny depending upon the port. Since Tyndale was writing for a
south eastern English audience centred upon the port of London, he would use
that measure which was commonly used by the merchants of the day which is
also where the Webster definition gets its information.
The problem is translating this information into the context of Palestine in
the days of yore. If the minimum accounting unit of the mite was three per
farthing as existed in London we have to know on what basis Tyndale made his
claim that two mites equalled a farthing, a value that is unrecorded in the
books of account in England during that period.
The Easton Bible Dictionary Definition gives a romantic definition - it
being a contraction of minute, from the Latin minutum, the translation of
the Greek word lepton, the very smallest bronze or copper coin (Luke 12:59;
21:2). Two mites made one quadrans, i.e., the fourth part of a Roman as,
which was in value nearly a halfpenny.
This opens up speculation about the location of the author in relation to
the subject of the story. Since Judaea was an autonomous province of Rome,
the local currency was left undisturbed. There is no mention of such a
coinage in use at that time. So possibly the author is writing from a period
or place where Roman currency is in common usage so the passage resonates.
This could not have occurred prior to the first Jewish uprising from 66-69
The parable may have been given by Jesus but the currency unit described are
asynchronous for the period.
Where does this leave you? Well as confused as me but better informed
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