Jesus Pays the Half Shekel Tax

November 13, 2013

In Matthew 17, an  unforgettable event transpired in the lives of Peter and Jesus:

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” (Matt. 17:24-27).

In a very real sense, Jesus was uniquely the Son of God; His Father was/is the owner of the universe. A case could be made that as such, Jesus was exempt from paying the temple tax, a half shekel, an annual tax paid by every male Israelite. But to avoid causing an occasion of offense, Jesus paid the tax. Peter would never forget the day that he went to the sea (Sea of Galilee) and pulled in the fish that had a shekel in its mouth, payment for two.

I had the opportunity to photograph the temple tax in the Israel Museum a few weeks ago.

Half Shekel. Israel Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Half Shekel. Israel Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This is a Tyrian half-shekel, a silver coin dated about AD 47-48. The placard provides the following information:

Every Jewish male over the age of twenty was obligated to pay a yearly tax to the temple. The Tyrian half-shekel silver coin was used for this purpose. The funds raised were used for maintenance, the purchase of sacrifices, and, indirectly, as a means of conducting a census.  Because Tyrian coins were not particularly common, they needed to be purchased from money-changers in the Temple. The coin depicts the Tyrian god Hercules-Melqart on one side and an eagle standing on the bow of a boat on the other.

It is our desire that such photos and info help illuminate our reading of Scripture.

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