Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3: Treasury, Tolls, and Taxes

Treasury, Tolls, and Taxes in the Lost Verses of Luke

Part 1

We speak of lost books but there are also "lost verses." The Joseph Smith Translation of the Holy Bible restores many such lost verses and, in so doing, opens broad areas of discovery for books we thought we knew.

Consider Luke 3:12-13:

12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.

Crystal clear, as we suppose, but now consider what follows in the New Translation and then consider how things would appear should we put the words of that New Translation back into Lucan Greek. Would it have a genuine ring to it?

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3: 19-20
(New Testament Manuscript 2, Folio 3 = Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, ed., Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2004]):

19 For it is well known unto you, Theophilus [misspelled "Theophelus" in NT Ms 2], that after the manner [ethos/nomima] of the Jews, and according to the custom of their law [kata to ethos tou nomou tou, or kata to nomos tou] in receiving [apolambanein] money [xalkon/argurion] in [LDS Bible: "into"] the treasury [eis ton gazophulakion], that out of the abundance [ek tou perisseuontos] which was received, was appointed unto the poor [diatetagmenou ptoxois], every man his portion [meros sou];

20 And after this manner [houtos] did the publicans [telonai] also, wherefore John said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed [diatetagmenou] you.

What we have here is an aside about the institution of toll-collecting or the like in Roman Palestine, a matter we know little about. Because Luke also holds forth on the institution of the Temple Treasury, things get confusing.

Yet the key to interpretation lies in the comparison: "And after this manner did the telonai, or publicans also." That means the institution of toll-collecting compares in kind to that of the Temple Treasury and distribution to the poor--quite a leap!

To make sense of things, we have to toss aside those manuals from schooldays and glimpse something of what a publican (the Latin word for telonos) is and what he is not. (The true ordo publicani is set forth by Ernst Badian, Publicans and Sinners: Private Enterprise in the Service of the Roman Republic.) And summing matters up in the Anchor Bible edition of Luke, Professor Joseph Fitzmeyer notes: "Neither 'publican' nor 'tax-collector' [nor 'tax-farmer'] is an accurate translation of the Greek term [telonos], which technically designates 'toll-collectors,' i.e. those engaged in the collection of indirect taxes (tolls, tariffs, imposts, and customs)" (Joseph Fitzmeyer, "Luke 10-24," Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965], Luke 2.469 n 12). While, in a broad sense, the telenai could include tax-farmers, Professor Donahue insists we are to see them in the New Testament as the "minor functionaries" at the toll booth, where they work under a supervisor (like Zacchaeus): "The telonai with whom Jesus associates in the Gospels are most likely toll collectors," 338 (John R. Donuhue, "Taxation in the New Testament," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 6.337-8).

What we have here, Professor Werner Stenger further informs us, is the institution of the Portorium or, speaking of the duties, the portoria (from Latin for door or gate, and harbour). Matthew sits at the toll-station, Portorium, or telonion, "the receipt of custom." And I admire the Prophet Joseph Smith's plain definition of "receipt of custom" in JST Luke 5:27 as "the place where they received custom." Such stations typically were found at the borders (gates) between both provinces, or political borders, and economically and geographical distinct regions (Werner Stenger, "Gebt dem Kaiser, was des Kaisers ist...!": Eine sozialgeschichtliche Untersuchung zur Besteuerung Palastinas in neutestamentlicher Zeit [Frankfurt: Athenaum]30; Hugh Nibley, "Tenting, Toll, and Taxing," in The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled = CWHN 10 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 33-98, unfolds the ageless tale of tolls and taxing; for the origin of the toll, or "tent-money," see p. 58f).

For Palestine, Professor Stenger notes "eine Zollstation in Jericho" (Luke 19:1), which marked the border of the Jordan River that divided the Tetrachy of Herod Antipas and Roman Judea. Another example is the toll-station at Capernaum (Mark 2:14), Matthew Levi's post (Stenger, 30).

Whoever passed through these stations had to declare (the practice of professio) and pay customs on, well, everything (Verzollt wurde fast alles, was eine Zollgrenze passierte): yokes, wagons, draft animals, wheat, oil, garden foods, cattle, pearls, and items of jewelry and clothing (Stenger, 31).

Should the wayfarer make a false professio (most foolish because soldiers often stood at guard), the duty was doubled. But ordinarily all went well, and the traveller went on his or her way with a document bearing the official stamp of the toll station (Stenger, 32).

Back to Luke (in my own words):

"Theophilus, being, as you are, a Greek proselyte to Judaism, you have traveled to Jerusalem at Passover and cast freewill offerings into the Chamber of Secrets in the Temple Treasury. You know well how these freewill offerings are then quietly distributed to the poor of good family, and you certainly understand the need for a surplus of such offerings if all the worthy poor are to be helped (Mishnah, Shekalim, 2,5; 5,6).

"Now it's the same principle of distribution, more or less, that one finds with our telonai, or toll-collectors--a matter which would be unfamiliar to you as a man of Athens. From the surplus or abundance of money collected at these stations, each telonos receives his due percentage. So, you see, most noble Theophilus, while a clumsy comparison--Temple and Tollbooth indeed!--it's as simple as all that.

"And you can see John's point: the system lies wide-open to abuse. Toll-collectors, conspiring together, would, as a matter of course, exact more from travelers than duly required (often by false accusation doubling their duty) in order to grow the abundance and thus increase the portion of every man. Such like abuse, O Theophilus, you never see back home in Athens!"

Note how the simplistic, or overly precise explanation--and Luke as physician loves the detail--awaits summary removal from the final cut by no-nonsense scribes. Yet the restored verses truthfully reflect an institution in the Roman Empire but poorly known today, despite all its administrative niceties.

In one deft stroke the Prophet Joseph Smith tells us something about who mysterious Theophilus was and also touches briefly on the economic workings of the day, including the Temple Treasury as a charitable institution (including perforce district treasuries, as set forth in the Mishnah, Shekalim 2,1), and shows us how publicans sometimes cheated the poor. And note the irony of an otherwise cold comparison: the Temple Treasury, as sacred institution, exemplifies the proper, consecrated use of money "for the intent to do good." While identical in function, in a broad sense--for Luke somewhat forces the comparison between tollhouse and temple--how utterly opposite in outcome and intent!

A hidden homily, ironically poised, underlies these restored words of the Gospel of Luke.

Publicans: "The publicans of the New Testament were not real Roman publicani at all, but merely their local employees," Ernst Badian, Publicans and Sinners: Private Enterprise in the Service of the Roman Republic (Blackwell: Oxford/Cornell University Press, 1972), 11; "The very appellation of the publicani is due to the fact that they dealt with the public property (publica) of the Roman People," 15, i.e., public companies as contractors, mine owners, weapons dealers, and sometimes tax-farmers, and similar.

Out of the abundance: Since abundance means surplus, one wonders whether Luke might have been talking about the Surplus Collection (from the Shekel tax), the sheyarei ha-lishkah. Indeed the distribution of the sheyarei ha-lishkah (care of altars, sanctuaries, courts, Jerusalem's water system, towers) has been partly contested in Midrash (Ket.106b v Shek 4:2). In JST Luke 3:19-20, however, "abundance" likely refers to those "special chambers for freewill offerings" of which, "One was the chamber of anonymous gifts for those who wished to give charity anonymously: 'sin-fearing persons used to insert their gifts therein secretly, and the poor of good family would be supported therefrom secretly' (Shek 5:6)," Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder (New York: Macmillan, 1971-2), 15:981.

For Athenian probity in tax collection, see A. H. M. Jones (ed. P. A. Brunt), The Roman Economy: Studies in Ancient Economic and Administrative History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), 152ff., and 154: "It seems unlikely that at Athens, where they could be sued before the people's courts, contractors often exacted more than their due."

I have not been able to find any Latter-day Saint commentary on JST Luke 3:19-20 other than brief notices that such an addition exists. Robert J. Matthews very briefly notices the additional verses in JST Luke 3:19-20 on ps. 238-9 of his "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible; as do Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament, 273; Robert L. Millet, "The Joseph Smith Translation and the Synoptic Gospels: Literary Style," in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, (ed. Monte S. Nyman, Robert L. Millet), 157; and D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner, Verse by Verse:The Four Gospels, 84.

Part Two

of Treasury, Toll, and Taxes in the New Translation of Luke

The New Translation reworks the wording of "receipt of custom" (the tollbooth) in three different ways, a reworking which reflects the study of the Prophet as he tried to express things clearly and accurately. The action of inspired translation, we are told in revelation, requires enormous mental effort, including trial and error, to be followed by prayer and confirmation (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9).

Consider, then, the following clarifications for "receipt of custom":

1) JST Matthew 9:9: The original manuscript, New Testament Manuscript 1, shows no change: He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom.

2) JST Mark 2:14, New Testament Ms 2, Folio 2: He saw Levi, the son of Alpheus, sitting at the [receipt of custom, phrase written and then crossed out] place where they receive [present tense] tribute, as was customary in those days.

3) JST Matthew 9:9, New Testament Ms 2, Folio 1, with pinned on note, penned by Sidney Rigdon: "sitting at the [receipt of customs, phrase written and struck out--and note the plural!] place [where they received tributes as, all struck out] [pinned note begins] where they received [past tense] tribute, as was customary in those days.

4) And now, JST Luke 5:27, the end of the chain: the place where they received custom.

The question that arises is what the strange phrase, the place where they received tribute, as was customary in those days, is all about? Did the Prophet, at first, not understand what "custom" (or "customs") in "receipt of custom" meant? Possibly. More likely, a pun occurred to the mind (the Prophet Joseph was wild about punning, according to friend, Benjamin Johnson): "custom" (taxes) thus becomes "custom" (practice). And such a pun surely takes a jocular stab at the ubiquity of taxes. In fact, it's all quite funny: as was the custom in those days, as opposed to these happy times in 1831 when all taxes have been abolished. . .

Now, while the statement about the institution of collecting taxes, tolls, or tribute stands true (it indeed "was customary in those days"), and perchance reflects a lost shard of text, the translation is not the best of all possible worlds. And note how the words for tolls and tribute are interchangeable in the New Testament, as Fitzmeyer observes. The observation is only logical, since a toll, according to Hugh Nibley, is a token payment exacted for "permission to pass somewhere," and duly "given in recognition of sovereignty or lordship," i.e., tribute money (the New Testament word, phoros), 58.

The mental struggle for clarity was long, but by Luke 5:27 the Prophet found both apt phrasing and confirmation: "custom" is a better choice than "tribute"--and no puns allowed.

The result stands true in plain American prose:

Telonion, or receipt of custom: the place where they received custom.

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