The Temple tax (lit. מחצית השקל the half Shekel) was a tax paid by Israelites amd Levites which went towards the upkeep of the Jewish Temple, as reported in the New Testament. Traditionally, Kohanim (Jewish priests) are exempt from the tax.
Exodus 30:13 This is what each one who is registered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. NRSV
After the return under Nehemiah, Jews in the Diaspora continued to pay the Temple tax. Josephus reports that at the end of the 30s CE "many tens of thousands" of Babylonian Jews guarded the convoy taking the tax to Jerusalem (Ant. 18.313).
The tax is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, when Jesus and his disciples were in Capernaum. The collectors of the temple tax (Greek: διδραχμα, didrachma) came to Peter and said "Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?" The narrative, which does not appear in the other gospels, leads to a discussion between Jesus and Peter about payment of the taxes levied by the "kings of the earth", and the miracle according to which Peter finds a stater (Greek: στατηρα), in the mouth of a fish, which is used to pay the tax due for both of them. The stater "was reckoned as equal to four drachmæ, and would therefore pay the didrachma both for Peter and his Master".
The word "temple" does not appear in this text and the illustration used in the passage refers to an example of royal and not religious taxation, prompting the question of whether this was the temple tax or a national tax.
After the destruction of the Temple
The first Roman attempt to halt payments of the tax was made long before the Jewish War on account of customs controls. The Senate had forbidden the export of gold and silver, but the Jews of Italy continued to pay the Temple tax. In 62 BCE L. Valerius Flaccus, governor of the province of Asia, issued an edict forbidding the Jews of his province from sending the tax to Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD70 a, new Roman tax was imposed for taxation of the Jews, the Fiscus Judaicus diverted into imperial coffers.
- The Gospel of Matthew: Chapters 11-28 - Page 196 William Barclay - 2001 THE TEMPLE TAX Matthew 17:24-7 When they came to Capernaum, those who received the half-shekel Temple tax ... the basis of Exodus 30:13, it was laid down that every male Jew over twenty years of age must pay an annual Temple tax of ...
- Aaron Levine The Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics - Page 570 - 2011 with the twenty-gerah shekel that is mentioned in the Torah (e.g., Exodus 30:13). ... In later centuries the half-shekel was adopted as the amount of the Temple Tax (although, in Nehemiah 10:32–34, the tax is given as a third of a shekel).30 The ..."
- The Formation of the Early Church - Page 21 Jostein Ådna - 2005 "... by specially appointed envoys from communities all over the Diaspora. For example, Josephus reports that at the end of the 30s CE "many tens of thousands" (Ant. 18.313) of Jews in Babylon shared in the convoy of the Temple tax in fear of ..."
- Matthew 17:24
- Matthew 17:25-27
- Charles Ellicott's Commentary for Modern Readers on Matthew 17, accessed 30 January 2017