Jesus and taxes.

When Augustus Caesar overthrew Archelaus Herod in the year 6, he split Palestine into four parts, and took over the bulk of two parts. He sent a procurator to run it for him, but in essence Caesar was the king of Judea. And, same as nearly every king before and after him, he demanded his subjects pay him taxes.

Then as now, taxes weren’t popular. But among some of the Judeans, taxes were especially objectionable because they were going to a pagan king. (Herod may have been no Jew, and an awful man, but at least he bothered to play the part of a God-follower. He even built God a temple, you know.) So in the year 6, when the first census tax was taken, Judas of Gamala and Zadok the Pharisee founded the Zealot Party, and forcibly tried to stop the Romans—who arrested and crucified Judas, and that was the end of that.

By Jesus’s day, Tiberius Caesar was king—but he’d left Rome in the hands of his bureaucrats, and was living in Capri, spending all his time (if Suetonius is to be believed) having nasty sex, including with children. Understandably, the Judeans really didn’t want to fund this sort of lifestyle. But if you refused to pay taxes, you’d be sold into slavery at best, crucified at worst.

So one of the hot-button issues of Jesus’s day was the tax question. And it’s one Pharisee rabbis made a point of avoiding.

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