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PUBLICAN:

Local tax-farmer; the office existed among the Jews under the Roman dominion. The Romans were accustomed to farm out, generally for five years, the customs dues on exports. These taxes were mainly ad valorem, and therefore, as the value placed upon goods varied, lent themselves to extortion; hence the unpopularity of the publicans, especially when, as under the Romans, they were Jews exploiting their fellow Jews. Echoes of this ill repute are found in the New Testament, where publicans are coupled with sinners (Matt. ix. 10; Luke v. 30, vii. 34), and even with the most degraded persons (Matt. xxi. 31). Taxes were levied on pearls (Kelim xvii. 15), slaves (B. B. 127b), and boats ('Ab. Zarah 10b). Tax-farmers were not eligible as judges or even as witnesses (Sanh. 25b), and it was even regarded as undesirable to exchange moneywith them, as they might be in possession of stolen coin. If one member of a family was a publican, all its members were liable to be considered as such for purposes of testimony (Sheb. 39a).

Bibliography:
  • Levy, Neuhebr. Wörtreb, s.v.:
  • Jastrow, Dict. s.v. ;
  • Herzfeld, Handelsgesch, der Juden des Alterthums, pp. 160-163.
T. J.
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