Paying Taxes in Biblical Israel

April 2 2019

Even in the ancient kingdom of Judah, during the First Temple period (approximately 900 to 586 BCE), taxes had to be collected. Daniel Shani explains an artifact that is one of the main sources of archaeological information about these taxes:

This item, approximately seven-by-seven millimeters in size, is a bulla—a piece of clay, which, while still wet and soft, was affixed to a string used to tie up a rolled papyrus document. . . . [A]ncient Hebrew letters stamped into the sealing, which, despite two broken letters, can be read as saying “Gibeon [belonging to the] king.” The shape of the letters and comparison to similar artifacts date it to the 7th century BCE.

This [artifact] belongs to a rare group known as “fiscal bullae.” Less than 60 of them were ever published, and until recently all were unprovenanced artifacts from the antiquities market. This changed in the past few years with the discovery of this bulla, which was also the first to mention the Canaanite town of Gibeon [that figures prominently in the book of Joshua]. Since then, excavations at the City of David in Jerusalem have yielded two more bullae (bearing the names of Bethlehem and Eltekon, a city in the hills of Hebron). Another bulla, unearthed southeast of the Temple Mount, has yet to be published. . . .

Most taxes mentioned in the Bible were the kind paid by the sweat of your brow—a period of forced labor [on] governmental infrastructure projects. But it also fell upon the residents of the kingdom to provide for the monarch. This was likely done via . . . local administrators, whose names appear on some of the fiscal bullae and on [specially designated] jars for collecting agricultural produce. . . . Some of the so-called fiscal bullae, such as ours, were attached to documents such as receipts or bills of lading and still retain the impression of papyrus fibers, while others were attached to nothing at all and served as a token of debts paid.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Temple Mount Sifting Project

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, First Temple, History & Ideas

Only a Clear Message to Iran Can Restore Israel’s Deterrence

Aug. 19 2019

Currently the greatest threat facing the Jewish state is an attack on three fronts, in which Hizballah and other Iranian forces launch tens of thousands of missiles simultaneously from both Lebanon and Syria, while Hamas—now also taking orders from Tehran—does the same from Gaza. Such a barrage would likely overwhelm Israel’s storied missile-defense systems, severely disrupt civilian life and possible result in high casualties, and gravely interfere with the IDF’s ability to counterattack. Noting that the Islamic Republic could unleash this mayhem at the time of its choosing, Benny Morris suggests a straightforward preventative measure. (Free registration required.)

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month

Register

Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Syria