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Publicans were collectors of various revenues and taxes in the province of the Roman Empire. Roman taxes were of two types, direct (property, poll, and income; Lat. vectigalia ) and indirect (fees on sales and purchases, export and import customs; Lat. portitoria ). Instead of collecting the indirect taxes through government officials and under public control, the state usually auctioned them out to rich contractors. These tax farmers divided their territory into districts and employed local agents to do the actual work of collecting revenues. These subagents were the custom house officers who examined merchandise, assessed its value more or less arbitrarily, and exacted the levy. The tax farmers were, in the strict sense, the publicans, for the Greek term used in the New Testament, τελ[symbol omitted]ναι (from τέλος and νέομαι), means literally to farm taxes; yet the word came to be loosely extended to the subordinates, or the portitores, and these are the publicans (from the Latin publicani ) so frequently mentioned in the Gospels.

The complicated system doubtless saved the governmentcentral and locala great deal of trouble and expense, but it opened the way to flagrant injustices. The unscrupulousness and rapaciousness of the publican became proverbial; he was universally hated (Cicero, De officiis, 1.42). The Jews had additional reasons for despising him. Most of them looked upon taxes, not as a legitimate requirement for the preservation of the social order, but as a tribute exacted by a hated conqueror, and those of their race who exacted this badge of subjection were regarded as base and despicable. They were classified with sinners (Mt 9.11, 11.19; Mk 2.1516; Lk 15.1), heathens (Mt 18.17), and harlots (Mt 21.3132). No publican was allowed in the Temple or synagogue; his testimony in a court of justice was not accepted. St. Matthew stresses the horror with which the publican was viewed by the people (Mt 5.4647, 9.1011, 11.19, 18.17), and he is the only Evangelist who indicates that Levi, the publican called to be an Apostle, was Matthew himself (cf. Mt 9.913 with Mk 2.1417). (see matthew, apostle, st.) All three Synoptics emphasize Our Lord's compassion for these outcasts of society (Mt 9.913, 11.19; Mk2.1517; Lk 7.2934, 15.1, 18.914).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 196061. j. jeremias, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (Tübingen 195765) 6:192728. j. schmid, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger, 10 v. (Freiburg 193038) 10:1092.

[j. m. dougherty]

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