Last weekend I presented at an Education in Antiquity academic conference, in which I discussed how one’s occupation and social status was tied to literacy and education in the ancient world. Knowing nothing about an individual, except for one’s profession, gives us a general estimate of that person’s probable education and can inform the question of whether he or she could author a complex piece of literature. Since our knowledge of early Christian figures is exceptionally sparse, sometimes the best guide to assessing their background and education is to know the region that they came from, their social status, and their means of making a living.
This question is particularly relevant to the issue of Gospels’ authors. As I discussed in a previous article, the large majority of scholars doubt the traditional authors of the Gospels for manifold reasons. Part of the problem is that many of the figures to whom complex Greek scriptures were attributed were rural Aramaic-speaking peasants with a low probability of having recieved the necessary education to author the work in question.
For one of these traditional authors, Matthew the tax collector, however, I was less than certain about his probable level of education. Tax collectors would have had to recieve education in accounting and a certain degree of functional literacy for managing records, but how complex of an occupation was tax collecting? Would a tax collector be of high status or low status? To what extent would a tax collector be literate? These questions are important for assessing the disciple Matthew’s probable education and abilities. To answer it, I checked out a copy of Fabien Udoh’s To Caesar What Is Caesar’s: Tribute, Taxes and Imperial Administration in Early Roman Palestine (63 B.C.E.-70 C.E.), in order to learn more about the occupation of tax collector and the system of taxation in Judea and Galilee during the time of Jesus. What I found was quite interesting.