December 25, 2022

Christmas: the tax story

Christmas: the tax story

Merry Christmas. Did you know that the story of Jesus' birth is a tax story in disguise?

Luke: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee unto Bethlehem... to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.... And she brought forth her firstborn son, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

Joseph and Mary, being inhabitants of the Roman provinces, were due to pay the Tributa, a tax from which Roman citizens themselves were exempt.It consisted mainly of a poll tax (tributum capitis) and a land tax (tributum soli), calculated on the basis of a census list.

It was typically high-handed and thoughtless of the Roman tax authorities to force taxpayers to return to their town of birth to take part in the census for the Tributa taxes (HMRC today is continuing that tradition by forcing the self-employed to file tax info 5 times a year).

Roman peasants were known to join barbarians in battle in their anger over excession taxation.

For example Balkan miners defected to the Visigoth side en masse in 378. Zosimus, a late 5th century writer, reported that  “as a result of this exaction of taxes, city and countryside were full of laments and complaints, and all… sought the help of the barbarians.”

Some left the empire to avoid the tax burden. Farmers abandoned their land and  parents sold their children to pay taxes rather than be tortured for non-payment.

Not only did excessive taxation change Jesus's birthplace but it was a major cause of the fall of the Roman empire.