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Holman Bible Dictionary
A political office created by the Romans to help collect taxes in the provinces. Actually, the title “tax collector” is more correct than the older term “publican” in referring to the lowest rank in the structure. Zacchaeus is called a “chief among the publicans” (Luke 19:2
), probably indicating one who contracted with the government to collect taxes, and who in turn hired others to do the actual work. In New Testament times people bid for the job of chief tax collector and then exacted the tax plus a profit from the citizens. Most of the offices were filled by Romans, although some natives got the bids. Publicans were held in the lowest esteem because of their excessive profits, being placed in the same category as harlots (Matthew 21:32
). Jesus was accused of eating with and befriending them (Matthew 9:11
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Publican'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/publican.html. 1991.