Poll tax, salt tax, and crown tax! Wherever they went, along major highways, at city gates, or along quiet country roads, the Israelites encountered the tax booth. The main symbol of foreign domination, and that which most stirred their indignation.
When Christ appeared on the scene, it was during a time of hatred, factions, and divisions. Judaism was split into three factions: the middle class Pharisees, rich aristocratic Sadducees, and the Essenes who had taken vows of poverty. All three disliked each other and looked down on the Galileans, whom they viewed as uneducated country people.
Rabbis in Christ’s time used the following saying to express their disdain of Galilee. They proudly viewed Judea, with its traditional lore and religious academies, as far superior to Israel’s northern regions. And they could find no words strong enough to express their arrogant dislike of their northern Galilean cousins, from Nazareth in particular.
The sky was rosy with the rising sun as Pharaoh and his court went out to the Nile for morning washing and worship where he found Moses and Aaron waiting for him. “Go out,” God had told Moses, “and wait beside the Nile for the king. Tell him to let my people go into the desert to worship me.”
We can only imagine Joseph’s dismay at finding no room in Bethlehem. Having to sleep in the stable, and with a baby on the way! But it wasn’t because the famous innkeeper, anonymous and long maligned, was inhospitable. But because every home and inn was already full.
Even before the times of the kings, carriage roads existed in Israel, including the king’s highway, a toll road for public use, (Numbers 20:17). All roads leading to the cities of refuge, according to the Hebrew Talmud,¹ had to be well-maintained, 48 feet wide, and equipped with bridges and signposts marking the way.