The Tax Collectors
The Jewish people were under the yoke of foreign oppressors ever since the Babylonian captivity. During the New Testament times the land of Israel was within the province of Syria and the tax collectors were collectors of Roman taxes, they were extortioners, and very despised.
The Jews detested these tax collectors not only on account of their abusive and tyrannical attitude, but because the very taxes that they were forced to collect by the Roman government were a badge of servitude and a constant reminder that God had forsaken His people. The tax collectors were always classed by the people with the harlots, usurers, gamblers, thieves, and dishonest herdsmen, who lived promiscuous, lawless lives. Some of the common terms for the tax collectors were "licensed robbers" and "beasts in human shape." [Bible History Online]