A Brief History of Money and Religion

As stated by the Musee de la Monnaie in Paris, "Money is at the heart of exchanges and therefore of history. This museum recounts the history of France through its money... and recalls the intersection of political, social and financial development."[1] Similarly, this exhibit attempts to illustrate the parallel development of money, art and religion over history. The information is from many sources, but draws primarily on Mark Taylor's chapter, "Currency" and H.W. Janson's History of Art. Therefore, it focuses on the Judaeo-Christian tradition and western culture.

In the time of many gods,
the temple was the treasury. [2]

Money as we know it did not exist. The bull, for example, was sacred and used in sacrificial exchange with the gods: we will leave a bull at your temple in exchange for your protection. According to Taylor, the bull was the embodiment of the gods and therefore sacrifice involves the death or murder of the gods. Participants attempt to identify with the gods by consuming the body of the deity. In this sense, then, all culture is consumer culture. Taylor also points out that the etymology of the word gold suggests a religious connection. Geld (german for gold) orignially meant sacrifice and the eighth century verb, gelten, meant "to sacrifice."[3]

Barter was the system of exchange. There is a one to one exchange between commodities: I give you four paper clips for one rubber band and we agree to this exchange; it's been a successful transaction without money. Barter naturally introduced money, as the direct exchange to commodities was not always practical. "Money is any commodity that can be exchanged for all others."[4]