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.

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Read more at Temple Mount Sifting Project

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


What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy