The Publican The class designated by this word in the New Testament were employed as collectors of the Roman revenue. The Roman senate farmed the vectigalia (direct taxes) and the portorin (customs) to capitalists who undertook to pay a given sum into the treasury (in publicum ), and so received the name of publicani . Contracts of this kind fell naturally into the hands of the equites , as the richest class of Romans. They appointed managers, under whom were the portitores , the actual custom-house officers, who examined each bale of goods, exported or imported, assessed its value more or less arbitrarily, wrote out the ticket, and enforced payment. The latter were commonly natives of the province in which they were stationed as being brought daily into contact with all classes of the population. The name pubicani was used popularly, and in the New Testament exclusively, of the portitores . The system was essentially a vicious one. The portitores were encouraged in the most vexatious or fraudulent exactions and a remedy was all but impossible. They overcharged whenever they had an opportunity, (Luke 3:13) they brought false charges of smuggling in the hope of extorting hush-money (Luke 19:8) they detained and opened letters on mere suspicion. It was the basest of all livelihoods. All this was enough to bring the class into ill favor everywhere. In Judea and Galilee there were special circumstances of aggravation. The employment brought out all the besetting vices of the Jewish character. The strong feeling of many Jews as to the absolute unlawfulness of paying tribute at all made matters worse. The scribes who discussed the question, (Matthew 22:15) for the most part answered it in the negative. In addition to their other faults, accordingly, the publicans of the New Testament were regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen, willing tools of the oppressor. The class thus practically excommunicated furnished some of the earliest disciples both of the Baptist and of our Lord. The position of Zacchaeus as a "chief among the publicans," (Luke 19:2) implies a gradation of some kind among the persons thus employed. Taxes I. Under the judges, according to the theocratic government contemplated by the law, the only payments incumbent upon the people as of permanent obligation were the Tithes, the Firstfruits, the Redemption-money of the first-born, and other offerings as belonging to special occasions. The payment by each Israelite of the half-shekel as "atonement-money," for the service of the tabernacle, on taking the census of the people, (Exodus 30:13) does not appear to have had the character of a recurring tax, but to have been supplementary to the freewill offerings of (Exodus 25:1-7) levied for the one purpose of the construction of the sacred tent. In later times, indeed, after the return from Babylon, there was an annual payment for maintaining the fabric and services of the temple; but the fact that this begins by of a shekel, (Nehemiah 10:32) shows that till then there was no such payment recognized as necessary. A little later the third became a half, and under the name of the didrachma , (Matthew 17:24) was paid by every Jew, in whatever part of the world he might be living. II. The kingdom, with centralized government and greater magnificence, involved of course, a larger expenditure, and therefore a heavier taxation, The chief burdens appear to have been-- (1) A tithe of the produce both of the soil and of live stock. (1 Samuel 8:15,17) (2) Forced military service for a month every year. (1 Samuel 8:12; 1 Kings 9:22; 1 Chronicles 27:1) (3) Gifts to the king. (1 Samuel 10:27; 16:20; 17:18) (4) Import duties. (1 Kings 10:15) (5) The monopoly of certain-branches of commerce. (1 Kings 9:28; 22:48; 10:28,29) (6) The appropriation to the kingís use of the early crop of hay. (Amos 7:1) At times, too, in the history of both the kingdoms there were special burdens. A tribute of fifty shekels a head had to be paid by Menahem to the Assyrian king, (2 Kings 16:20) and under his successor Hoshea this assumed the form of an annual tribute. (2 Kings 17:4) III. Under the Persian empire the taxes paid by the Jews were, in their broad outlines, the same in kind as those of other subject races. The financial system which gained for Darius Hystaspes the name of the "shopkeeper king" involved the payment by each satrap of a fixed sum as the tribute due from his province. In Judea, as in other provinces, the inhabitants had to provide in kind for the maintenance of the governorís household, besides a money payment of forty shekels a day. (Nehemiah 5:14,15) In Ezra 4:13,20; 7:24 We get a formal enumeration of the three great branches of the revenue. The influence of Ezra secured for the whole ecclesiastical order, from the priests down to the Nethinim, an immunity from all three (Ezra 7:24) but the burden pressed heavily on the great body of the people. IV. Under the Egyptian and Syrian kings the taxes paid by the Jews became yet heavier. The "farming" system of finance was adopted in its worst form. The taxes were put up to auction. The contract sum for those of Phoenicia, Judea and Samaria had been estimated at about 8000 talents. An unscrupulous adventurer would bid double that sum, and would then go down to the province, and by violence and cruelty, like that of Turkish or Hindoo collectors, squeeze out a large margin of profit for himself. V. The pressure of Roman taxation, if not absolutely heavier, was probably more galling, as being more thorough and systematic, more distinctively a mark of bondage. The capture of Jerusalem by Pompey was followed immediately by the imposition of a tribute, and within a short time the sum thus taken from the resources of the country amounted to 10,000 talents. When Judea became formally a Roman province, the whole financial system of the empire came as a natural consequence. The taxes were systematically farmed, and the publicans appeared as a new curse to the country. The portoria were levied at harbors, piers and the gates of cities. (Matthew 17:24; Romans 13:7) In addition to this there was the poll-tax paid by every Jew, and looked upon, for that reason, as the special badge of servitude. United with this, as part of the same system, there was also, in all probability, a property tax of some kind. In addition to these general taxes, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were subject to a special house duty about this period.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Copyright Statement These files are public domain. Bibliography Information Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Publican and Taxes'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary", 1901.