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The Pharisee and the publican
Posted: 08 September 2012 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]
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When I was a little kid and attended Scripture classes, I heard about the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18: 9-14), where the Pharisee thanks God for the long list of his virtues (of which he reminds God in detail), while the Publican, with admirable terseness, confines himself to saying “God be merciful to me a sinner”. This parable was often wistfully called to mind when I would listen to political speakers (I used to, many years ago; not now). I’d no idea (then) what a Pharisee was (the parable’s certainly given them a bad name, to the extent of making the word a pejorative figure of speech), but I was sure that a “publican” was the keeper of a drinking shop, which is the meaning commonly assigned to the word nowadays.  Only quite recently, I realized that the word is used in the KJV sensu stricto, to mean a publicanus or Roman tax-collector*. 

Good to be reminded occasionally, that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, and that a whole lot of what we think we know is probably wrong anyway…….

* The NEB says “tax-gatherer”. Other modern translations probably follow suit. They weren’t widely used when I was a boy.

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Posted: 08 September 2012 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A publican can also be “A person who owns or manages a public house or tavern.” (OED n. sense 3 perhaps originally humorous) Be that as it may, the authors of the Authorized Version, as well as those English translators before them, followed Jerome’s Latin Vulgate pretty closely. Interesting that the OED defines publican as, “A person who farms the public taxes; a tax-gatherer,” The sense of the verb “Farm” is new to me but it seems to be “ b. To take the fees, proceeds, or profits of (an office, tax, etc.) on payment of a fixed sum.”

Publicum was the public revenue.

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Posted: 08 September 2012 03:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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My understanding of the Roman tax system was that individuals would buy the right to collect taxes and then go on to collect all they could, sending on what the government required and keeping the rest.  As if just being a tax-collector wasn’t bad enough.

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Posted: 08 September 2012 03:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yeah, anger at tax collectors in the Bible preaches well in these United States :-D Likely it has always been so in every time and every place.

And yet, Matthew, a tax collector, was one of the 12. Just sayin.

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Posted: 08 September 2012 07:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Also, here in Leftpondia, publican isn’t a commonly used term so we had to have it explained to us in Sunday school.  No potential for confusion with any other meaning.

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Posted: 09 September 2012 02:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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There’s also a medieval sense, now only used historically, of publican meaning “heathen, heretic” and often applied specifically to Cathars and Albigensians. This sense appears to be from Paulician, denoting a follower of Paul of Samosata, and which was conflated with the Latin publicanus over the centuries.

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Posted: 09 September 2012 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I can thank our enthusiastic Religious Instruction teacher for my early realization that publican meant tax collector in the NT context. We only had RI for the first year in grammar school but it was ample time, even at only one period a week, for him to bring the pagans among us up to speed on the Bible, although probably half of the time was spent on relation and discussion of koans, Zen Buddhism being a particular passion of his.

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Posted: 09 September 2012 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Happily, the Good News Bible was all the rage when I was a lad, and the phrase used was tax collector.

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Posted: 09 September 2012 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Lucky fellow, aldi. All the religious teachers that I ever had were top-notch propagandists for agnosticism (I don’t think it was intentional ;-)

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Posted: 21 October 2012 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I remember seeing a documentary in which an American Biblical scholar pronounced Pontius Pilate Pon-tee-uss which I thought sounded more Latin than Pon-shuss which I have known since British school assemblies and onwards my entire life. Do we know how they pronounced anything? Is it all anglicised a la Cassius, Portia (sometimes spelt as Porcia), even Confucius?
His wikipedia entry says /ˈpɒntʃəs ˈpaɪlət/(US), /ˈpɒnti.əs ˈpaɪlət/ (UK). How about in other languages? The Pope must know church Latin from his nonage. How did he pronounce it back then?

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Posted: 21 October 2012 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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There is a book, Vox Latina, by William Sidney Allen that claims to tell us how Classical Latin was pronounced.  In the forward he asks and answers the two burning questions: How do we know and who cares?

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Posted: 22 October 2012 02:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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We’ve got a pretty good idea of how it was pronounced (but no one knows with certainty, of course), especially the answer to this particular question, which is a straightforward syllable count and can be determined by looking at poetic meter. (Vowel sounds are more difficult to determine with certainty.) Pontius is a three-syllable word in classical Latin, corresponding to a poetic dactyl.

Not only is pronunciation important in reading Latin poetry, it’s important for etymology and historical linguistics.

But of course, as I’ve said before, classical Latin pronunciation is based on how the language was formally spoken by political and literary elites in Rome during a century-long span straddling the beginning of the Common Era. Latin was spoken as a first language for a thousand years before that and nearly another thousand afterward in a region stretching from Britain to Mesopotamia. There were a lot of different ways to pronounce it depending on date and region.

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Posted: 23 October 2012 04:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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My understanding of the Roman tax system was that individuals would buy the right to collect taxes and then go on to collect all they could, sending on what the government required and keeping the rest.  As if just being a tax-collector wasn’t bad enough.

That was roughly the system in Britain, too, till after the Restoration: it was called tax-farming.
At first there were different farms (this is ‘farm’ in the sense ‘A fixed yearly sum accepted from a person as a composition for taxes or other moneys which he is empowered to collect’) for different commodities; Elizabeth I was in the habit of awarding the farm for valuable commodities such as sweet Mediterranean wines to favoured courtiers. By the mid-17th century they had been amalgamated into the Great Farm of Customs, the right to collect which was bid for by public auction every few years.

The tax-farmer didn’t get to set the rate of import duty though, so it was a matter for fine judgement what value of dutiable goods would be imported into the country in the course of that period, and thus how much you could pay for the farm without making a loss. However, there was another advantage in having the Farm if you were an importer yourself, which the bidders usually were: as you were collecting the import duty directly for yourself, your own vessels could skip the whole lengthy process of customs declaration, inspection, payment, duty-stamping etc, and simply dock, offload and sell their goods on the British market ahead of the competition. That could be very important if you were bringing back the season’s first fresh China tea or Bordeaux wine, so even if the Farm only turned a modest direct profit it was still worth buying. The whole system only came to an end in 1671, after the Great Fire of London had bankrupted so many London merchants that there wasn’t anybody prepared to bid for it.

BTW, ancien regime France had the same system; tax farmers incurred great popular hatred there as it was applied as well to internal customs duties like the gabelle (the salt tax). The scientist Lavoisier was a major tax farmer, and was guillotined for it after the Revolution.

And yet, Matthew, a tax collector, was one of the 12. Just sayin.

Indeed he was, which is why he’s the patron saint of tax officials and customs officers. After the European Customs Union was created, the effort to coordinate and create good liaison between the customs services of all the countries concerned was named the ‘Matthaeus Programme’; my husband worked on it.

It’s also very plausibly suggested that that’s why Sebastian Cabot’s exploration ship was named the Matthew – Cabot’s backer Richard A’Meryke, who had the ship built, was Collector of Customs for Bristol, and what could be more natural than for a man to name his ship after his own patron saint?

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Posted: 23 October 2012 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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One of the serendipitous by-products of this forum is the googling fall-out.  Syntinen Laulu casually dropped the name A’Meryke into a post and away I (and probably several others!) went a-googling.  Isn’t it curious that his name should crop up in an American context. Coincidence knows no bounds! Here’s an interesting website that records what SL has already told us:

“The Customs service gradually expanded during the next two hundred years and Henry VII - by his mercantilist policies and trade agreements - gave trade a great impetus. The 1496 Customs Roll of the port of Bristol shows how the King arranged for Richard A’Meryke, the Customs collector at Bristol, to pay certain money to John Cabot to finance his voyages.” http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/history/hmce.htm

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Posted: 23 October 2012 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’m quite sure we had a post on A’Meryke/America, but I’ll let those better at archive-rummaging find it if they want.

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Posted: 23 October 2012 07:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I refer to the Ameryk story in the Big List.

There’s this from the archives.

My most detailed description, which takes apart the Ameryk argument piece by piece, is in Word Myths.

In short, Ameryk had a minor, but unclear, role in financing Cabot’s voyages. This is the first time I’ve heard the suggestion that the ship was named for Ameryk. But that doesn’t seem beyond the range of possibilities, although I’m pretty sure there’s no evidence to confirm it. (There’s almost no evidence of Ameryk’s role in Cabot’s voyages at all.)

But as for his name being the source of the term America, that is all but conclusively proven to be false. Martin Waldseemueller named the continents in 1507 after Amerigo Vespucci. That’s well documented. The Ameryk story was invented in the early twentieth century based on copies of copies of lost pre-Columbian manuscripts that had the word America inserted into them by later copyists. (It was a common practice in manuscript culture to “update” historical documents with terms and facts not known when the documents were first written.)

It is likely, however, that part of the Ameryk story is true—that fishermen from Bristol and other western English ports fished off the coast of North America and set up temporary camps along the coast long before 1492. There was actually quite a bit of pre-Columbian back-and-forth across the Atlantic. Pretty much everybody got here before Columbus. But there is no evidence that the Bristol fisherman had a name for the place or recognized that it was a continent (which was Vespucci’s contribution to the discovery and why Waldseemueller named it after him).

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