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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Publican, a person who farmed the taxes and public revenues. This office was usually held by Roman knights, an order instituted as early as the time of Romulus, and composed of men of great consideration with the government, 'the principal men of dignity in their several countries,' who occupied a kind of middle rank between the senators and the people. Although these officers were, according to Cicero, the ornament of the city and the strength of the commonwealth, they did not attain to great offices, nor enter the senate, so long as they continued in the order of knights. They were thus more capable of devoting their attention to the collection of the public revenue.

The publicans were distributed into three classes: the farmers of the revenue, their partners, and their securities, corresponding to the Mancipes, Socii, and Prædes. They were all under the Quaestores Ærarii, who presided over the finances at Rome. Strictly speaking, there were only two sorts of publicans, the Mancipes and the Socii. The former, who were generally of the equestrian order, and much superior to the latter in rank and character, are mentioned by Cicero with great honor and respect; but the common publicans, the collectors or receivers of the tribute, as many of the Socii were, are covered both by heathens and Jews with opprobrium and contempt.

The name and profession of a publican were, indeed, extremely odious among the Jews, who submitted with much reluctance to the taxes levied by the Romans. The Galileans or Herodians, the disciples of Judas the Gaulonite, were the most turbulent and rebellious (). They thought it unlawful to pay tribute, and founded their refusal to do so on their being the people of the Lord, because a true Israelite was not permitted to acknowledge any other sovereign than God (Josephus, Antiq. xv. 5. 3). The publicans were hated as the instruments by which the subjection of the Jews to the Roman emperor was perpetuated; and the paying of tribute was regarded as a virtual acknowledgment of his sovereignty. They were also noted for their imposition, rapine, and extortion, to which they were, perhaps, more especially prompted by having a share in the farm of the tribute, as they were thus tempted to oppress the people with illegal exactions, that they might the more speedily enrich themselves. Those Jews who accepted the office of publican were execrated by their own nation equally with heathens: 'Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican' (). It is said they were not allowed to enter the temple or synagogues, to engage in the public prayers, fill offices of judicature, or even give testimony in courts of justice. According to the Rabbins, it was a maxim that a religious man who became a publican was to be driven out of the religious society. They would not receive their presents at the temple any more than the price of prostitution, of blood, or of anything wicked and offensive.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Publican'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​p/publican.html.
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