Forms of taxation have long been employed to support the services of government, public officials and also of priests. The taxes that were imposed anciently included the tithe, tribute, toll, head or poll tax, and tax on consumer items, exports, imports and goods taken through a country by merchants.
TAXES FOR MAINTAINING JEHOVAH’S SANCTUARY
The service of the sanctuary was maintained through taxation. Obligatory tithing provided the major source of maintenance for the Aaronic priests and Levites and, on at least one occasion, they received a share of the war booty in accordance with a tax stipulated by Jehovah. (Num. 18:26-29; 31:26-47; see TITHE.) Jehovah also instructed Moses that, on taking a census, each person registered was to give a half shekel as “Jehovah’s contribution,” it serving in behalf of the tent of meeting. (Ex. 30:12-16) It appears that it became customary for the Jews to give a fixed amount every year, even though a census was not taken annually. Jehoash, for example, called for the “sacred tax ordered by Moses.” (2 Chron. 24:6, 9) The Jews of Nehemiah’s time obligated themselves to pay a third of a shekel yearly for the service of the temple. (Neh. 10:32) And, in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Jews paid two drachmas to the temple. When asked whether Jesus complied with this taxation, Peter replied in the affirmative. Later, in discussing the matter, Jesus pointed out that kings do not tax their sons, the sons being part of the royal household for whom tax is collected. However, though being the only-begotten Son of the One worshiped at the temple, Jesus, to avoid giving occasion for stumbling others, saw to it that the tax was paid.—Matt. 17:24-27.
TAXES IMPOSED BY RULERS
With the establishment of kingship in Israel, taxes, including a tenth of the flock and of the produce, were imposed to support the king, his household and the various governmental officials and servants. (1 Sam. 8:11-17; 1 Ki. 4:6-19) By the end of the reign of Solomon, conscription for forced labor and the support of the government had become so burdensome to the people that they requested Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam, to lighten the ‘hard service and the heavy yoke.’ Rehoboam’s refusal to do so prompted ten tribes to revolt.—1 Ki. 12:3-19; see COMPULSORY SERVICE; FORCED LABOR.
Upon coming under foreign domination, the Israelites had to submit to still other forms of taxation. For instance, when Pharaoh Nechoh made Jehoiakim his vassal and imposed a heavy fine or tribute on Judah, Jehoiakim raised the necessary funds by having his subjects pay a certain sum “according to each one’s individual tax rate.”—2 Ki. 23:31-35; see TRIBUTE.
During the Persian period, the Jews (with the exception of the priests and others serving at the sanctuary, who were exempted by Artaxerxes Longimanus) had to pay tax (mid·dahʹ or min·dahʹ), tribute (belohʹ) and toll (halakhʹ). (Ezra 4:13, 20; 7:24) Mid·dahʹ is thought to designate personal tax on individuals; belohʹ, a tax on consumer items, excise; and halakhʹ, toll paid by travelers at road stations or river fords. The mid·dahʹ (translated “tribute” in AS, AV, NW at Nehemiah 5:4) must have been quite high, for many of the Jews had to borrow money to pay it. Besides having to care for the taxes levied by the Persians, the Jews normally also had to pay for the support of the governor.—Neh. 5:14, 15.
In the first century C.E., the Jews very much resented the payment of taxes, not only on account of the corruption prevalent among tax collectors, but also because this forced them to acknowledge their subjection to Rome. (See TAX COLLECTOR.) However, both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul showed that it was proper to pay taxes to “Caesar” or to the “superior authorities.” (Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1, 7; see CAESAR [God and Caesar].) Among the various kinds of taxes mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures is teʹlos (an indirect tax, duty or tribute; Matt. 17:25; Rom. 13:7). Also referred to is the kenʹsos (a head or poll tax; Matt. 17:25; 22:17, 19; Mark 12:14) and phoʹros (a broader term thought to designate a tax levied upon houses, lands and persons; Luke 20:22; 23:2).