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[XTalk] Jesus the Taxpayer

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  • Jan Sammer
    I have just returned from the vault and a reading of Liz s article on taxcollectors and the temple incident. An interesting example of how the same evidence
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 28, 1999
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      I have just returned from the vault and a reading of Liz's article on
      taxcollectors and the temple incident. An interesting example of how the
      same evidence can be marshalled in the defense of two quite different
      theories. In examining the gospels it is important to understand the
      circumstances under which they were written and the purpose for which they
      were written; if we succeed in doing that we have a handle on what to
      discount and what to accept as historical. Since the earliest NT writings,
      including Q, GMark and the "we" source of Acts date by all indications to
      ca. 60 A.D., it is important to consider the political pressures of the
      time, and the very purpose for which these earliest NT writings were
      composed. The key event for the early Christians in that period was the
      trial of Paul. In Acts it is made clear that Paul would have been freed had
      he not appealed to the Court of Caesar. This indicates that the appeal had a
      purpose beyond the scope of a private dispute, which we can presume to be,
      in line with Paul's entire effort up to that time, to secure official
      recognition for his version of Judaism as a religio licita. But there could
      only by one Jewish religio licita. Once Paul's adherents came to be
      recognized as the one Jewish religio licita, the temple would have been
      theirs by default. I have suggested that James, the brother of Jesus, was
      being groomed as the one to take over the high priesthood.
      Now if you want to persuade a man like Nero that he should put your sect in
      charge of the temple, a major source of income for his treasury, one of the
      best ways of doing that is to suggest to him that the current temple
      administration is corrupt and not giving him his due. You depict Jesus, the
      brother of your candidate for high priest, as a model taxpayer. In fact, you
      show by a vivid example that taxpaying was a favorite activity of Jesus'
      family. In the midst of a tax revolt in Galilee and despite Mary's advanced
      stage of pregrancy, the entire family treks across half the country to be
      assessed for tax. When Jesus grows up, taxcollectors are some of his
      favorite people, and he takes particular pleasure in sharing meals with
      them. When asked if people should pay the poll-tax, he answers "by all
      means" or words to that effect. Though by nature a peace-loving kind of guy,
      the one occasion when he loses control of himself is when he sees people
      evading taxes. On a visit to the temple precinct he sees all kinds of
      trading going on--the temple must be getting a cut, and pocketing it. Jesus
      can forgive anything except tax evasion, so he takes out his bullwhip... The
      corrupt temple administration starts looking for a way of getting rid of
      this man who tried to cut into their untaxed profits. They frame him and get
      him convicted on trumped up charges. They bully the kindly Roman governor
      into acquiescence. Now a few decades later the brother of this man, James,
      would like to be high priest. He's just as avid a taxpayer as his brother;
      in fact, he is called James the Just, which should reassure the Emperor that
      under his authority the Temple will turn over to the Emperor's treasury
      every last denarios that is the Emperor's due. This sort of thing runs in
      the family.
      Sorry if this sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I just wanted to suggest
      that the running theme in the gospels, to which Liz pointed, can be
      explained otherwise than as a reminiscence of the words and actions of the
      historical Jesus.

      Jan Sammer
      Prague-Czech Republic
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