10 June 2007

Who is on that coin?

Jesus' phrase, "Give to Caesar what is Caesars" is often quoted as if it constitutes divine support for secular authority, an injunction against tax protests for example.

But it doesn't. There were different sorts of coins circulating about in the Levant in the first century AD, after all. Some of them had Caesar's face. Others didn't.

When the Philistines asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes, he asked them for a coin. Receiving one, he asked, "Whose image is on this coin?" The significance of this question is hardly rhetorical. It wasn't, "Why do we rabbis answer every question with a question?" "Why should you not?"

"Whose image is on this coin?" exposed the interlocutors as, in a word, collaborators. Of the various media of exchange floating about the Near East in the day, they were using that associated with the military occupation and its forces.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's," then, might with gain to clarity be re-written: "If you've got the Emperor's picture, get rid of it. Find another way to do business."

Hardly a "turn the other cheek" type moment. More like, "Here's a non-violent way of slapping the occupier. Join the underground economy folks."

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.