“Tax Collectors” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

AYBD in Logos
The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

Recently I’ve been spending time with The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary in Logos Bible Software. In the coming weeks I’ll review it here, summarizing some of the articles, commenting on their content, and evaluating the dictionary’s presentation in Logos. (You can find my other Logos reviews here.)

The dictionary is massive, consisting of six volumes and somewhere in the ballpark of 7,000 total pages. Here are a few more features, taking from the dictionary’s publisher’s page:

– Includes six volumes of approximately 1,200 pages each
– More than 6,000 entries
– More than 7,000,000 words
– Nearly 1,000 contributors
– Multicultural and interdisciplinary in scope
– An unprecedented interfaith exploration of the Bible
– Illustrated throughout with easy-to-find references
– Extensively cross-referenced for comprehensive coverage of topics
– Easy-to-read article and chapter headings for speedy location of material
– Full bibliographical references following all major entries

In Logos on a computer there is the added bonus of being able to open more than one entry at a time:

Two articles open at a time
Two articles open at a time (click to enlarge)

As with the rest of Logos’s resources, all of the content in blue above is hyperlinked. So with the verse references you can hover over them for a popup of the verse text, or click on a hyperlink to open its contents in a new window. In the right half of the screen above, clicking on a section in the article takes you directly there.

I’m preaching this week on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, so wanted to read a bit more about tax collectors. I type the entry name into the search bar to get there. Or I could navigate there via the left contents sidebar.

Tax Collector in AYBD
Looking something up

The “Tax Collector” article by John R. Donahue begins this way, with elaboration on each of the three mentioned “problems”:

Among the NT writings, only the Synoptic Gospels recount Jesus’ association with tax collectors (telōnai, KJV, “publicans”). Three problems attend this picture: (1) the identity and status of the telōnai, (2) the moral evaluation of them, and (3) the significance of Jesus as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34).

In “Identity and Status” Donahue helpfully begins, “Etymologically telōnēs is a combination of telos in the sense of something paid for the purpose of the state, a toll, tax or duty; and ōneisthai (noun, ōnē), to buy or purchase.” I highlighted this sentence in Logos on my iPad and then moved to a computer, where the highlight had almost instantaneously synced to display there, too. Had I made a note at that sentence, it would sync, as well.

Donahue summarizes the Greco-Roman history of the term and office of the telōnēs, then moves into the details of how “Palestine was forced to pay tribute to Rome” after Pompey’s siege in 63 B.C.E. He differentiates between the different kinds of taxes (poll/census taxes, land taxes, etc.), as well as the different senses in which “tax collector” (telōnai) could be used. He concludes that the telōnai with whom Jesus interacts appear to be “toll collectors,” or, “minor functionaries fulfilling the orders of higher officials.”

In “Moral Evaluation” of the tax collectors, Donahue notes that “negative views” of this group of people occur outside the New Testament, as well (e.g., in rabbinic and secular literature). The author writes, “In Roman and Hellenistic literature they are lumped together with beggars, thieves, and robbers,” citing sources and giving examples. Knowing this helps me to better appreciate just how universally despised tax collectors were. This adds more punch to the parable in Luke. The New Testament itself (including Luke 18), as Donahue notes, mentions them in the same breath as “sinners” and “immoral people.”

“Jesus and the Tax Collectors” is the third and final section of the article. Multiple hyperlinked NT references in the article take the reader to places in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus sits with and shows love to tax collectors. Citing Norman Perrin, Donahue notes:

Jesus’ association with them is viewed as an “acted parable” of his message of God’s mercy to sinners and “an anticipatory sitting at table in the kingdom of God” (Perrin 1967: 107).

A 15-source Biblography concludes the article.

Personally I’m not a big fan of the transliteration throughout the AYBD; I’d rather see τέλος than telos, for example. But that is the editorial decision of this dictionary. It’s not insurmountable, but does require a little extra work on the part of anyone who knows other languages but may not be used to seeing their transliterations.

Other than that quibble, Donahue’s article is indicative of what I’ve seen so far in the Anchor Dictionary: careful and top-notch scholarship that does not therefore suffer from dryness or inaccessibility. There is strength, too, in Donahue’s succinctness.

Evangelical scholars, pastors, and readers will want to be aware of and use their judgment regarding the dictionary’s “critical” approach to biblical studies. Donahue’s citation of “Q” will not be warmly accepted by all. (I and others still want to hear about manuscript evidence for Q.) But this generally does not make the dictionary any less useful or of lower quality.

Though I have other Bible dictionaries I use, when I’m studying, teaching, or preaching on a given topic, I’ll likely reach for (or, rather, click on) the Anchor Dictionary first.

Thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy of the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Find it here.

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