Spotting the Counterfeits


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Handling money is such a commonplace event in most of our lives that we probably hardly stop to notice it. Only rarely might we have occasion to wonder whether the money was real or counterfeit. Nevertheless, the issue of counterfeiting is a serious one, forcing governments to invest heavily in measures to ensure that money is as hard to fake as possible, even as criminals become ever more adept at doing so. 

The problem goes back a long way. During the American Revolution, the British government flooded America with counterfeit continental dollars in order to destabilize the currency. Similarly, in 1942 the Nazis established a plan (Operation Bernhard) to collapse the British economy by flooding it with counterfeit money. Despite the high-quality counterfeits produced by the forced Jewish labor, the plan was never enacted as the operation was turned over to the SS, who laundered the money to pay for German spies and strategic imports. A similar plan targeted US currency, but the war ended the day full production of the counterfeit bills was scheduled to begin. 

Unsurprisingly, the history of counterfeiting goes back a lot further. In 2010 on the south coast of England, an enthusiast using a metal detector found what appeared to be a fake silver denarius forged in antiquity. The ancient forger had apparently intended to pass it off as one of the commemorative coins struck to honor Octavian’s victory against Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Having forged the piece a few years after the battle, the counterfeiter made serious errors. First, he depicted the wrong emperor. Second, he misspelled Egypt. Third, the crocodile depicted on one side is facing the wrong direction. The forger also made the mistake of minting the coin in solid silver, negating the reason for forging a coin in the first place. Ironically, experts at the British Museum valued the coin at £3,000 (US$3,800), considerably more than the £100 (US$160) that is usually paid for the genuine equivalent, which is a fairly common coin.

Shortly after his victory at Actium, Octavian, the adopted nephew of Julius Caesar, would become Caesar Augustus, son of “the Divine Julius” (Divus Iulius), who had been declared a god following his assassination by Brutus on the Ides of March. A generation later, when asked by the plotting Pharisees whether or not it was lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Rome, Jesus told His questioners to bring Him a penny (denarius), and then asked them whose image and inscription were on it. When they answered that it was Caesar’s, He replied, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15–21).

Leading historian Adrian Goldsworthy considers that “given the amount of currency produced during Augustus’ long life, it is more than likely that the coin in question showed his portrait rather than the Emperor Tiberius” (Augustus: First Emperor of Rome). Nevertheless, Caesar’s image was widespread in the Roman world. Goldsworthy notes, for example, that “more images of Augustus survive from the ancient world than those of any other Roman emperor—or indeed any other human being.” 

Regardless of whether the image and inscription on the coin referred to Augustus or to his successor Tiberius, both Caesars were proclaimed to be sons of a god. Coins depicting the young Caesar Augustus bear the inscription “Imperator Caesar, son of the god [Julius], triumvir to restore the Republic.” As the high priest of the Roman pantheon of pagan gods, Caesar Augustus also assumed the title of pontifex maximus in 12 BCE, a title that Goldsworthy tells us was “never again held by anyone who was not an emperor, until Rome had fallen and the pope took the title.”

However, the denarius of Emperor Tiberius, commonly referred to as the Tribute Penny, bore a similar inscription; Tiberius, it declared, was the son of the god Augustus. The coin read, “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.”

Ironically, the resurgence of the imperial cult of ancient Rome—promoting what were essentially false messiahs—had stirred to life again only decades before Jesus Christ, the real Son of God, would be born in the flesh to bring true salvation. Meanwhile Augustus—a man who suffered poor health throughout his life and who, in middle age, wore a broad-rimmed floppy hat to protect his extremely sensitive skin—was in no sense divine.

When Christ advocated peaceful adherence to the prevailing authorities and their tax regime, it was not yet time for Him to demonstrate that He is the true Son of God. The question is, are we able to spot a counterfeit when we see one?

D
ANIEL TOMPSETT

 

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Tags: false messiahs, religion and the bible, religion and politics

Religion and the Bible: Hope Springs (from the) Eternal

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When you think about hope, what comes to mind? Perhaps it is a personal hope, hope for family and friends, for the ecology of the planet, or even for world peace. Depending on your outlook, the attitude you adopt may be that better things are always just around the corner; or that the endemic nature of atrocity and suffering in the world renders hope hopeless!

It is likely that we have heard the optimistic epithet that "hope springs eternal." The quote is from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1733-34), where Pope suggests that "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never Is; but always To be blest." Does hope still have relevance for the modern world? If so, where should we be placing our hope for the future?

Musicologist and author, James A. Grimes offers some perspective on the first half of that question. In his 2014 work, Violins of Hope: Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour, Grimes traces the history of violins played by Jews in the Holocaust. Each chapter of the book is devoted to an individual violin, documenting how they were used to save lives, ease suffering and how they eventually came to be acquired by Israeli violinmaker and repairman, Amnon Weinstein, who spent twenty years restoring the instruments in honor of their owners.

The violins have been given into the hands of orchestras, and after sixty years of silence were played by the ancient Old City walls of Jerusalem in 2008. In January 2015 the instruments resounded again in the concert hall of the Berliner Philharmoniker, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2015, to mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. Hope for the future, it would seem, is still an active ingredient in attempting to come to terms with the horrors of the past. As fresh atrocities come to light each day, the need for a certain expectation for tomorrow becomes an ever more urgent quest.

As for where we might place that hope, one ancient poet suggests that good courage and strength of heart come from placing it in God (Psalm 31:24). However, for many today this may seem irrelevant: knowledge about God is increasingly incomplete for most of the population, and in general humanity seems to have little interest in pursuing it. 

Even in the 18th century, Pope suggested that human efforts to know and understand God were presumptuous. "Presume not God to scan," he continued in "Essay on Man." Rather, in a tradition familiar in ancient Greek thinking, he urges his readers to "know then thyself." To Pope, "The proper study of mankind is man." While it is true that of ourselves we cannot come to know God (1 Corinthians 2:11), the difficulty with Pope's alternative is that a philosophy only concerned with ourselves has not been able to solve the problem of human evil. History clearly demonstrates that the answer does not lie within us. To have true hope then, we need something outside of ourselves that we can completely rely upon.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul writes that the creation was "subjected to futility, not willingly" but "in hope" (Romans 8:20). That's where we are today. The reason for the temporary subjection to futility was sin, the hopeless desire of human beings to be the legislators of what is good and evil. The hope that Paul speaks of is the real hope founded in Jesus Christ, the Creator, who has already come in the flesh as the Immanuel (meaning "God with us"). He was described in prophecy as "a light to the nations" (Isaiah 42:6) and was seen, touched and heard by human beings directly at His first coming, when he spoke of a plan to benefit all of humanity: not just to save a few.

It is Jesus Christ who now represents the only certain hope for a better world to come

DANIEL TOMPSETT

 

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Tags: religion and the bible