06.03.11 Region of Galilee: MATTHEW (LEVI) IS CALLED

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 06.03.11 Region of Galilee: MATTHEW (LEVI) IS CALLED

06.03.11 Mk. 2:13-14 (See also Mt. 9:9; Lk. 5:27-28) Region of Galilee      




13 Then Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to Him, and He taught them. 14 Then, moving on, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him.


By now Jesus had six disciples, Philip and Nathanael as well as two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John. Matthew became number seven. Jesus had an incredible teaching reputation, but it was the miracles that stunned the audience and captivated everyone’s attention. Consequently, He was teaching in the open countryside more frequently than in the synagogues.  This was for two reasons.


  1. The crowds became huge while synagogues could accommodate only a local congregation.


  1. The words such as “Your sins are forgiven” were more than some religious leaders could handle, and therefore, an increasing number of synagogue doors were closed to Him.


After teaching the crowd, Jesus invited Levi, better known as Matthew, who was the son of Alphaeus, to be a disciple. His accounting profession was one that was hated by the Jews as will be explained later. But, first a description of his professional life.

“Tax office.” The tax office (Gk. telonion 5058) was a custom-house.[1] The Romans contracted taxes with two kinds of tax collectors and many kinds of taxes.[2]


  1. The Gabbai collected on real estate, income (as from crops), and poll taxes, as follows.


  1. The ground tax consisted one-tenth of a farmer’s grain and one-fifth of his fruit. Tax was payable in cash or kind (grain or fruit).


  1. The income tax which was one percent of one’s income.


  1. The poll tax which ever male had to pay between the ages of 14 to 65 and every female had to pay who was between the ages of 12 and 65. It was paid directly to the treasury in Rome and was symbolic of slavery[3] – a detestable thought to the Jews.


  1. Herod the Great established a slave market in Jerusalem and it is believed that the Gabbai collected the taxes on the slaves sold there.[4]


  1. The Mockhes collected duty on imports, as well as export tolls on roads, the use of bridges, and ships that were anchored in the harbors. There was also a tax on wagon and cart wheels, on pack animals and the transportation of slaves.[5] The import / export duty ranged from 2½ to 12½ percent on all goods.


Matthew was a Mockhes or customs official for the Roman government. As such, his official position was the superintendent of the customs house at Capernaum. This was probably one of the most lucrative positions in the eastern empire because of the multiple caravans that traveled the Via Maris and stopped at Capernaum, Magdala, or other lakeside village for fresh supplies and water.[6] Since Herod Antipas controlled the District of Galilee, Matthew delivered all taxes and records to Antipas, who then passed them to his superior administrator in Damascus, who then passed them on to Rome.  As a typical tax collector, he would have had a five-year contract with the Romans.[7]  So when he decided to follow Jesus, there is no question that he walked away from a contract that in modern terms was a gold mine.


Tax collectors were usually local men, functioning within the occupied community. As early as 212 B.C. the Romans had established a class of men who contracted with the government to perform various tasks, including the collection of tribute or taxes.  Matthew and Zacchaeus were in this classification. However, as such they were hated by their fellow Jews for being “traitors,” considered worse than prostitutes, because they enhanced the wealth of the Romans and became personally wealthy at the expense of their own people as well as those who traveled through Israel.[8]


To acquire a tax collector position, men placed bids for the position in a particular region and the highest bidder received the appointment.[9] Anything beyond what he needed for the governor was his to keep.  If he did not receive sufficient funds, he had to pay the difference. This method of taxation resulted in a form of legal extortion in which the Jews became economic slaves.[10]   Of the two kinds of tax collectors, the Mockhes was the worst.  They were not only barred from the synagogue, but the religious leaders there frequently excommunicated them as well. He could not even be a witness in a Jewish court. Furthermore, since Roman coins had images of men and pagan gods, the strict Pharisees considered anyone who touched a Roman or Greek coin as filthy. Such a person violated the command against graven images.[11] Therefore, for Jesus to call such a man to join His ministry was a profound statement concerning the love of God and His ability to change the lives of people.


Taxes paid by the local peasants were not collected by tax collectors such as Matthew and Zacchaeus, but by Gabbai.[12] But regardless, to the typical Jew, tax collectors were a constant reminder that God had forsaken His people and His promise of land as an inheritance.  They were in deep despair and had immense bitterness against both the tax agents and Romans.  This may have been a reason as to why Jesus chose the two of them to follow Him.


Tax collectors were known to be two-way swindlers. They were known for their dishonesty and bribes from local rich and famous merchants. They would also under report the income and taxes due to government officials, so they became victims as well. Clearly they were notoriously dishonest, which is why they were often barred from the local synagogue and condemned as being unclean by local synagogue rulers (Lev. 20:5). This was one of several reasons why the Romans took a census every fourteen years.[13]


In Egypt, where the Roman administration was similar, numerous records written by tax collectors have been uncovered.  Since the Romans streamlined all segments of government, it would have been the responsibility of Matthew to collect the tax and write a document similar to this first century Egyptian papyrus:


Diogenes, superintendent of the customs house at Soknopaiou Nesos for the Memphais harbor-tax, to the desert guards: Didymos presented one donkey load … two measures….of oil, total two measures.  Year 11 of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator on the 23rd of the month New Augustus.


Egyptian Toll Receipt on Papyrus[14]


Again, an ancient extra-biblical papyrus fragment illuminates the understanding of Scripture for modern readers.  Amazingly, most of these documents were uncovered in the past three centuries as the number of Bible critics has exploded. It appears as if God, in His merciful grace, has been supplying mountains of evidence to not only confirm His word, but to add understanding of it as well.[15]


06.03.11a (3)


[1]. Vine, “Custom (toll).” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:142.


[2]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:329-30; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:278-81.


[3]. Gilbrant, “Mark.” 333; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:418.

[4]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 119; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 249.


[5]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 119; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 249.


[6]. See the Via Maris on these maps: 06.02.02.Z and 06.01.08.Z.


[7]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:279-80; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 154-55; For a study on the customs-duties of the Roman Near East and Egypt specifically, see S. L. Wallace, Taxation in Egypt from Augustus to Diocletian. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U., 1938. 255-76.

[8]. Harrop, “Tax Collector” 3:1520-21.

[9]. Josephus, Antiquities 12.4.3.


[10]. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People First Division, 2:68-69. The subject of high taxation that resulted in economic slavery is presented by Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.2 (307-308).  See also 02.03.03 “Economy” and 03.06.04 “4 B.C. The Death of Herod the Great.”


[11]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 246.  


[13]. See 04.03.09.Q1 and Q4 for further census details.


[14]. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity. 1:81.

[15].  On an interesting side note, a new imaging technology was developed in 2011 by two Hewlett-Packard scientists in conjunction with the University of Southern California to aide archaeologists. Known as Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), this new research instrument allows scientists to control light to highlight hidden details in ways never dreamed of previously for the proper reading of faded or damaged manuscripts and inscriptions. For more information, see Bruce Zuckerman.  “New Eyeballs on Ancient Texts.” Biblical Archaeology Review. Nov/Dec. 2011. 37:6. 28.


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