“The Emperor’s,” they said; 17 and Jesus replied, “Pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and to God what belongs to God.” And they wondered at him.
in the premise
is our conclusion
until a sacred jujitsu
uses a premise
a simple conclusion
holds a constructed premise
until jujitsu sacra
concludes a conclusion
in a different frame
By the time Mark is writing, the Maccabean revolt has come and the Roman retaliation destroyed the temple. The revolt was brought to a head by the image of Caesar in the temple. This brought a strong enough remembrance of Daniel and his “abomination of desolation” that revolt turned to war. That war was victorious for a moment and then disastrous beyond forced occupation.
It is understandable that the interpretation of this story by the early church obligated Christians to pay the tax. It has ensnared the church in state affairs to this day with the perk of tax exemption in the United States that in effect quiets any concern the church has about actions by the state.
The Jesus Seminar has voted this saying as an authentic statement by Jesus.
A fragment from the Egerton Gospel (one of the oldest found) shifts the story at this point by reporting:
Jesus knew what they were up to, and became indignant. Then he said to them, “Why do you pay me lip service as a teacher, but not [do] what I say? How accurately Isaiah prophesied about you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart stays far away from me; their worship of me is empty, [because they insist on teachings that are human] commandments.’”
Whether Jesus gives his enigmatic response or calls the religious leaders on their attempt to trick him, we can imagine the result is the evocative word, “dumbfounded” (The Scholars Bible), which has overtones of awe and wonder, but in a confused manner. The choice behind the choice to pay or not is to pay attention to one’s values and this can be quite confounding. Likewise it is being caught with one’s motivations hanging out for all to see.