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March 25    Scripture

Manners & Customs: Tax Collectors
Tax Collectors in the Ancient World
















History of the Tax Collectors The Tax Collectors in the Roman Empire The Tax Collector or Tax Gatherer is the Greek word "telones" and the King James Version of the Bible translates the word "publican." He was contracted by Rome to collect taxes for the government during New Testament times. The Greek word telones were really NOT the publicans. Publicans were wealthy men, usually non-Jewish, who contracted with the Roman government to be responsible for the taxes of a particular district of the imperial Roman state. These publicans would often be backed by military force. The telones tax collectors to which the New Testament refers (with the exception of Zacchaeus?) were employed by publicans to do the actual collecting of taxes within the areas where they lived. These men were Jews, usually not very wealthy, who could be seen in the Temple (Luke 18:13). They were probably very familiar with the people from whom they collected taxes. The Publican collected income tax for Rome. Sometime around 200 B.C. the Roman Senate found it fitting to farm the vectigalia (direct taxes) and the portoria (customs) to capitalists, who agreed to pay a substantial sum into the publicum (treasury) and so received the name of publicani. The Roman class who handled the contracts and financial arrangements were called equites. They often went further in their dealings with the publicani and formed a joint-stock societas (company) partnership with them or one of their agents magister (manager). This manager usually resided at Rome and conducted business and paying profits to all partners through the submagistri (officer) who lived among the provinces. Directly under their authority were the portitores (customhouse officers) who would examine all goods, whether imported or exported, assess the value, wrote out a ticket and enforced payment. They would live within the province where they were stationed and come into contact with all classes of the population. It was these portitores who were referred to as the Tax Gatherers (telones) in the New Testament. These tax-gatherers were usually Jews and would collect taxes for Rome and it was understood that they were to keep a "fraction" for themselves. There was really no real way to prevent that fraction from assuming great proportions, and in fact fraudulent exactions were encouraged. Although there were some honorable exceptions, the publicans, great and small, were really extortioners. Luke 3:12-15 "Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you." Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?" So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages." The Jewish people were outraged by the Publicans and regarded them as traitors and apostates. They were considered defiled by their constant contact with the heathen, even Romeís willing instruments of oppression. Zacchaeus was called a "chief tax-gatherer" (Greek: Ďarchitelonesí) in Luke 19:2 and his kind were utterly despised. Yet Jesus showed mercy on him: Luke 19:8-10 "Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." In Augustus's day (27 B.C.-A.D. 14) the practice of selling tax-collection contracts to joint-stock companies ceased, and tax collectors were put on the public payroll. Thus a kind of Internal Revenue Service was established and continued through the rest of the NT period. Edersheim makes an interesting comment: "The Talmud distinguishes two classes of publicans-the tax-gatherer in general (Gabbai) and the Mokhes or Mokhsa, who was specially the douanier, or customhouse official. Although both classes fell under the rabbinic ban, the douanier-such as Matthew was-was the object of chief execration. And this because his exactions were more vexatious and gave more scope to rapacity. The Gabbai, or tax-gatherer, collected the regular dues, which consisted of ground, income, and poll tax. . . . If this offered many opportunities for vexatious exactions and rapacious injustice, the Mokhes might inflict much greater hardship upon the poor people. There was a tax and duty upon all imports and exports; on all that was bought and sold; bridge money, road money, harbor dues, town dues, etc. The classical reader knows the ingenuity which could invent a tax and find a name for every kind of exaction, such as on axles, wheels, pack animals, pedestrians, roads, highways; on admission to markets; on carriers, bridges, ships, and quays; on crossing rivers, on dams, on licenses-in short, on such a variety of objects that even the research of modern scholars has not been able to identify all the names. But even this was as nothing compared to the vexation of being constantly stopped on the journey, having to unload all one's pack animals, when every bale and package was opened, and the contents tumbled about, private letters opened, and the Mokhes ruled supreme in his insolence and rapacity" (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:515 ff.). These tax collectors gathered several different types of taxes. Rome levied upon the Jews a land tax, a poll tax, even a tax for the operation of the Temple. There were different kinds of taxes for every territory. For example, since some provinces, like Galilee, were not under an imperial governor, taxes remained in the province rather than going to the imperial treasury at Rome. This is one reason why the Pharisees in Judea (an imperial province) came to ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Matt 22:17). Levi or Matthew, gathered the customs on exports and imports and taxes (Matt 9:9-11; Mark 2:14, etc.). The office for "receipt of custom" was at city gates, on public roads, or bridges. Levi's post was on the great road between Damascus and the seaports of Phoenicia. Zacchaeus' head quarters were in Jericho, which was a great center for the balsam trade. In fact this was the territory where the famed Marc Anthony purchased balsam plantations for Queen Cleopatra. It is interesting that when Jesus was in Jericho He preferred to eat at the publicanís house than any of the priests who lived in Jericho, who were said to have numbered over 10,000, which reveals the honor that He bestowed upon Zacchaeus and the scorn for the Jewish priesthood.
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSHistory.htm


Jesus and the Publicans Because JESUS sought to be friendly with, and bring help to, the lowest of men, certain men of His day gave Him the title, "friend of publicans and sinners" (Matthew 11:19).
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Jesus' Attitude Toward Tax Collectors The attitude of Jesus toward the tax collectors was in stark contrast to that of the Rabbis. He had come to seek and save the lost. The Pharisees were separatists, and did not lower themselves to have anything to do with a tax collector, who was to them no better than a Gentile. But Jesus came not to condemn anyone, but to save every sinner and offer a better life. He never taught that there was anything inherently wrong with paying tribute to the Roman Government or collecting the tax. He was opposed to extortioners, but would fling open the door of repentance and salvation to them. He rejected none, not even the worst. Jesus made himself a friend of men, even of the tax collectors and the worst of sinners. He set a new precedent among the Jews by accepting and associating with the tax collectors. He ate with them (Mark 2:16), He offered salvation to them (Luke 19:9), and He even chose a tax collector (Matthew) as one of His twelve disciples (Matt 9:9). Luke 18:9-14 "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSOverview.htm


Matthew the Tax Collector Matthew was a publican who had his customs office not far from Capernaum on the road from Damascus to Acre, where he could examine the goods of travelers along this highway, and could collect the required taxes. Holding this office he had of necessity to violate the Pharisaical Sabbath observances, and would therefore cause wrath to be upon him. But JESUS called Matthew to follow Him. "And saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me" (Luke 5:27).
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Matthew the Tax Collector The call of Matthew (Levi) and his reception in honor of Jesus (Mark 2:13-17 ; Matt. 9:9-13 ; Luke 5:27-37) . Jesus went out from the house of Peter to walk by the seaside. He needed a brief rest after the sharp conflict with His astute and stubborn enemies. This walk on the beach was a favorite haunt of His. There was place for physical recuperation in the salt-laden breezes and for quiet meditation and prayer after the heated debate. Soon the crowd was gathering about Him again. We do not know how many days of strenuous activity He had in the ministry by the sea before the call .of Levi. It may have been many days; but possibly it was on that same day that He passed by and "saw the son of Alpheus," who may have been the father of James the Less, also later of the Apostolic group. Levi was a custom-house official. The Talmud distinguishes between the tax collector and the custom house official. The Gabbai collected the regular real estate and income taxes and the poll tax; the Mockhes, the duty on imports, exports, toll on roads, bridges, the harbor, the town tax, and a great multiplicity of other variable taxes on an unlimited variety of things, admitting of much abuse and graft. The very word Mockhes was associated with the idea -of oppression and injustice. The taxes in Judea were levied by publicans, who were Jews, and therefore hated the more as direct officials of the heathen Roman power. Levi occupied the detestable position of a publican of the worst type --a little Mockhes, who himself stood in the Roman custom-house on the highway connecting Damascus and Ptolemais, and by the sea where all boats plied between the domains of Antipas and Philip. The name "publican," which applied to these officials, is derived from the :Latin word publicanus a man who did public duty. The Jews detested these publicans not only on account of their frequent abuses and tyrannical spirit, but because the very taxes they were forced to collect by the Roman government were a badge of servitude and a constant reminder that God had forsaken His people and land in spite of the Messianic hope, founded on many promises of the ancient prophets. The publicans were classed by the people with harlots, usurers, gamblers, thieves, and dishonest herdsmen, who lived hard, lawless lives. They were just "licensed robbers" and "beasts in human shape." According to Rabbinism there was no hope for a man like Levi. He was excluded from all religious fellowship including the Temple and Synagogue. His money was considered tainted and defiled anyone who accepted it. He could not serve as a witness. The Rabbis had no word of help for the publican, because they expected him by external conformity to the law to be justified before God. The attitude of Jesus toward the publican was in complete contrast to that of the Rabbis. He had come to seek and save the lost. The Pharisees were separatists, and did not deign to have anything to do with a publican, who was to them no better than a Gentile. But Jesus came not to condemn a whole class or any individuals, but to save every sinner to a better life. He refused to admit that there was anything inherently wrong with paying tribute to the Roman Government, while that continued supreme and maintained order in the land. Why was it wrong to collect the tax? Even though Levi and his colleagues .of the custom-house had been extortioners, Jesus would fling open the door of repentance and salvation to them. He despaired of none, not even the worst. Jesus made himself a friend of men, even of the publicans and the worst of sinners. By doing this, He "made Himself of no reputation" so far as the elite society was concerned. But He was a friend of all classes, the rich and the poor, the learned and the illiterate, the good and the bad. Capernaum, being located on the Via Maris and being a busy populous center, had a large custom-house with a correspondingly large number of tax-gatherers. It was located at the
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSMatthew.htm


Overview of the Tax Collectors The Jewish people were under the yoke of foreign oppressors ever since the Babylonian captivity. During the New Testament times the land of Israel was within the province of Syria and the tax collectors were collectors of Roman taxes, they were extortioners, and very despised. The Jews detested these tax collectors not only on account of their abusive and tyrannical attitude, but because the very taxes that they were forced to collect by the Roman government were a badge of servitude and a constant reminder that God had forsaken His people. The tax collectors were always classed by the people with the harlots, usurers, gamblers, thieves, and dishonest herdsmen, who lived promiscuous, lawless lives. Some of the common terms for the tax collectors were "licensed robbers" and "beasts in human shape." According to Rabbinism there was no hope for a tax collector. They were excluded from all religious fellowship including the Temple and Synagogue. Their money was considered tainted and it defiled anyone who accepted it. They could not serve as a witness in any court in Israel. The Rabbis had no word to describe any sort of help for the tax collector, because they expected him to externally conform to the law in order to be justified before God. Ancient Jewish writings reveal some interesting views of Rabbis toward the tax collectors: "As one robber disgraced his whole family, so one publican in a family; promises were not to be kept with murderers, thieves and publicans" -Nedar 3:4 "The synagogue alms box and the temple corban must not receive their alms" -Baba Kama 10:1 "It was not lawful to use riches received from them, as gotten by rapine; nor could they judge or give testimony in court -Sanhedr. 25, sec. 2 The attitude of Jesus toward the tax collectors was in stark contrast to that of the Rabbis. He had come to seek and save the lost. The Pharisees were separatists, and did not lower themselves to have anything to do with a tax collector, who was to them no better than a Gentile. But Jesus came not to condemn anyone, but to save every sinner and offer a better life. He never taught that there was anything inherently wrong with paying tribute to the Roman Government or collecting the tax. He was opposed to extortioners, but would fling open the door of repentance and salvation to them. He rejected none, not even the worst. Jesus made himself a friend of men, even of the tax collectors and the worst of sinners. He set a new precedent among the Jews by accepting and associating with the tax collectors. He ate with them (Mark 2:16), He offered salvation to them (Luke 19:9), and He even chose a tax collector (Matthew) as one of His twelve disciples (Matt 9:9). Luke 18:9-14 "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSOverview.htm


Tax Collection Under Turkish Rule Tax collection under the Turkish government. In the days when the Turkish government controlled Israel, a system of farming out import and export duties, excise taxes, and government produce tithes, was in force. A company would guarantee the government a certain sum for a tax, and then, having the monopoly of this, would charge the public enough to make sure a good profit for the deal. Much oppression and injustice was fostered by such a system, but it was continued so long that the public finally accepted it as a necessary evil.
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Tax Collector Coin The Tiberius Denarius
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSTiberius_Denarius.htm


Tax Collectors for Rome Tax collection under the Roman Empire. A somewhat similar system to the Turkish system was in operation in the Roman Empire in New Testament times. The office of publican, or tax collector, was in itself legitimate enough, as it was necessary to have government taxes, and important to collect them. But there was resentment on the part of the Jews against paying taxes to a Gentile government. This resentment was increased all the more because among these tax collectors there was much graft and oppression, as charged by John the Baptist: "Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you" (Luke 3:12,13). Because of this situation, the publicans came to be associated by the Jews with notorious sinners. Such expressions as "the publicans and the harlots," and "publicans and sinners" were in common use among them (Matthew 9:11; 21:31).
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The Customs of Tax Collectors The Customs of Tax Collectors in the Roman Empire. "The tax collector could walk up to any traveler, on any road within his district and ask him to drop all of his goods in order to exact tax." The taxes levied by the Roman government were many and varied. There was first of all the poll tax (tributum capitis). This had to be paid by every male over fourteen and every female over twelve (the aged were exempt). There was the land tax (tributum agri), which was payable in kind. Both of these direct taxes were collected by officials in Palestine who were usually Jewish. Also there were many forms of indirect taxation. The people were taxed on all imports and exports, including the transportation of slaves. These were collected by the telones of the gospels. They examined goods and collected tolls on roads and bridges. There was also a market toll in Jerusalem introduced by Herod. Many scholars believe that the customs raised at Capernaum, in Galilee, went into the treasury of Herod Antipas. In senatorial provinces, the Roman senate seized the money. Judea, however, was an imperial province, and the revenue collected went into the treasury of the emperor. This is part of the reason that they asked Jesus the question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Matt 22 :17; Mark 12 :14; Luke 20:22). Luke 19:2 mentions a "chief tax collector" at Jericho. Josephus (Jos. War II. xiv. 4) speaks of a certain John who was a tax collector at Caesarea in A.D. 66 and evidently a prominent Jew. Alfred Edersheim makes an interesting comment: "The Talmud distinguishes two classes of publicans-the tax-gatherer in general (Gabbai) and the Mokhes or Mokhsa, who was specially the douanier, or customhouse official. Although both classes fell under the rabbinic ban, the douanier-such as Matthew was-was the object of chief execration. And this because his exactions were more vexatious and gave more scope to rapacity. The Gabbai, or tax-gatherer, collected the regular dues, which consisted of ground, income, and poll tax. . . . If this offered many opportunities for vexatious exactions and rapacious injustice, the Mokhes might inflict much greater hardship upon the poor people. There was a tax and duty upon all imports and exports; on all that was bought and sold; bridge money, road money, harbor dues, town dues, etc. The classical reader knows the ingenuity which could invent a tax and find a name for every kind of exaction, such as on axles, wheels, pack animals, pedestrians, roads, highways; on admission to markets; on carriers, bridges, ships, and quays; on crossing rivers, on dams, on licenses-in short, on such a variety of objects that even the research of modern scholars has not been able to identify all the names. But even this was as nothing compared to the vexation of being constantly stopped on the journey, having to unload all one's pack animals, when every bale and package was opened, and the contents tumbled about, private letters opened, and the Mokhes ruled supreme in his insolence and rapacity" (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:515 ff.).
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSCustoms.htm


The Tax Collectors - Bible History Online The Tax Collectors, Overview , Their Name, Their History , Their Customs , NT Tax Collectors , Jesus and Tax Collectors, Dictionaries , Encyclopedias , Index, Conclusion
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/


The Term Tax Collector The term "tax collector" or "tax gatherer" is from the Greek word "telones" and the King James Version of the Bible translates the word "publican," although the Greek word telones were really NOT the publicans. Publicans were wealthy men, usually non-Jewish, who contracted with the Roman government to be responsible for the taxes of a particular district of the imperial Roman state. The Publican collected income tax for Rome. Sometime around 200 B.C. the Roman Senate found it fitting to farm the vectigalia (direct taxes) and the portoria (customs) to capitalists, who agreed to pay a substantial sum into the publicum (treasury) and so received the name of publicani. The Roman class who handled the contracts and financial arrangements were called equites. They often went further in their dealings with the publicani and formed a joint-stock societas (company) partnership with them or one of their agents magister (manager). This manager usually resided at Rome and conducted business and paying profits to all partners through the submagistri (officer) who lived among the provinces. Directly under their authority were the portitores (customhouse officers) who would examine all goods, whether imported or exported, assess the value, wrote out a ticket and enforced payment. They would live within the province where they were stationed and come into contact with all classes of the population. It was these portitores who were referred to as the Tax Gatherers (telones) in the New Testament.
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSName.htm


The Well Hated Tax Collector There is no one hated by a nation quite as much as an enemy collaborator. The tax collectors in Israel at the time of Christ were the leaches that sucked the financial blood out of the hard working laborers of Israeli society and transferred it into the coffers of the occupying Roman Empire, taking as much as they could for themselves. The tax collector made a sizable living. But part of his pay was the derision, disgust and isolation of his community. In rigid defiance he plodded through the condemning faces, the whispers, the threats and rage, multiplying his wealth and the emptiness of his soul. Here comes the new preacher from Nazareth, offering as his credentials, miracles, physical healing, and a voice of authority that even demonic presences obey. Having spent another day plundering the strongholds of hell over His people, He calls another to follow Him. Who would it be this time? It is Matthew, a tax collector! But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men. As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matt. 9:6-13 The great physician calls to all who are sick, knowing that the disease of sin is terminal regardless of the kind of sin, degree of sin, or any biased human method of quantifying it. All have fallen short of the glory of God, and all are in desperate need of His love and forgiveness. The tax collectors that followed Christ took their place in the long line of notorious sinners who were grateful for the abundance of mercy that God offered and continues to offer to all who will call upon His name. Part of their message must be that if God can forgive an enemy collaborator, He can forgive me. In the end, and by Godís standard, have we not all collaborated with the true enemy of heaven? Havenít we all been self-serving if we were honest enough to admit it? Thank God there is room for the tax collectors, and the sinners of all kinds in the Kingdom of Heaven, because that means that there is also room for you and me.
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSConclusion.htm


Views of the Rabbi's Toward Tax Collectors According to Rabbinism there was no hope for a tax collector. They were excluded from all religious fellowship including the Temple and Synagogue. Their money was considered tainted and it defiled anyone who accepted it. They could not serve as a witness in any court in Israel. The Rabbis had no word to describe any sort of help for the tax collector, because they expected him to externally conform to the law in order to be justified before God. Ancient Jewish writings reveal some interesting views of Rabbis toward the tax collectors: "As one robber disgraced his whole family, so one publican in a family; promises were not to be kept with murderers, thieves and publicans" -Nedar 3:4 "The synagogue alms box and the temple corban must not receive their alms" -Baba Kama 10:1 "It was not lawful to use riches received from them, as gotten by rapine; nor could they judge or give testimony in court -Sanhedr. 25, sec. 2
http://www.bible-history.com/taxcollectors/TAXCOLLECTORSOverview.htm


Zaccheus the Tax Commissioner Zaccheus was not an ordinary tax collector, but rather a tax commissioner, who farmed out a whole district, and had other tax collectors under his jurisdiction. His conversion was so thorough that he agreed, "If I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold" (Luke 19:8).
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