One of the Consequences of the Fall: Unscrupulous Tax Collectors

Although Jesus said render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, no one likes to pay taxes. Moreover, no one really likes tax collectors :). The same was true for the denizens of the Graeco-Roman world. Note the following complaint, which is dated c. 50 CE, about an ex-tax collector (evidently he was too devious even for the government officials in Oxyrhychus to keep on the pay role) who took more than just taxes:
“To Tiberius Claudius Pasion, strategus, from Sarapion, son of Theon, a weaver of the city of Oxyrhynchus, living in Gymnasium square quarter. Apollophanes, ex-collector of the trade tax upon weavers, in the first year of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator using great violence seized from me a linen tunic which I was wearing, worth 8 drachmae. He also extorted from me four more drachmai, and two drachmae each month during the six months from the month Neos Sebastos in the ninth year of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator to Pharmuthi; total 24 drachmae. I therefore beg you to proceed against him as you may think fit” (P. Oxy 2.285; Grenfield and Hunt, p. 276-77). 

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Notice that this tax collector, Apollophanes, was more like Whitey Bulgar (i.e., a mobster) than a tax collector. Sarapion’s complaint is that Apollophanes not only seized his tunic with “great violence,” but also Apollophanes “extorted” from him “four more drachmai.” Consequently, Sarpion is asking Tiberius Claudius Pasion for justice.

This kind of behavior by tax collectors and government officials may well lie behind the occasion for some of Jesus’s comments during his ministry, and thus reflect the socio-economic situation of many of Jesus’s followers. That is, Jesus may well have had people like Apollophanes in mind when he said: 

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ( Matt 5.38-42; NRSV)

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