[Graphic: Retracing biblical steps, BBC]
Thank you for your message. As is my normal practice, I am copying my response to my blog, CED, after removing your personal identifying information. Because of its length, I am breaking this post into two parts. Therefore, as per my previously announced policy that when my response to a private message copied to my blog blows out into multiple parts, I am going to post only a brief acknowledgment to the sender (i.e. this paragraph), informing him/her that my full response will be posted only to my blog.
----- Original Message -----
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 7:25 PM
>Dear Mr Jones,
>Where does he [Cyrenius] fit into your harmonization of the Matthew & Luke nativity stories?
I Googled your name and I gather that your standpoint is non- or even anti-Christian. That is, you presumably assume that Cyrenius (i.e. Quirinius) in Luke 2:2 does not fit into my harmonization of the Matthew & Luke nativity accounts (not "stories"). If so, I am sorry to disappoint you, because he fits in just fine!
According to the nativity account in Luke 2, Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time Jesus was born:
Luke 2:1-7 NIV: "1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. "
However, there is an apparent discrepancy with this as Christian historian Paul Barnett explains, namely that Jesus was born in the reign of King Herod the Great who died in 4 BC, yet Jesus was born at the time of a census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, which was in 6/7 AD:
"Jesus' birth (5 B.C.). Matthew and Luke make it clear that Jesus was born during Herod's reign (Mt 2:1; Lk 1:5,24,26). Thus Jesus' birthdate must predate Herod's death, which is almost universally accepted as having occurred in 4 B.C. However, Luke's account has an awkward internal conflict. Having implied that Jesus was born during Herod's reign sometime before 4 B.C., Luke then states that the nativity occurred at the time of Quirinius's census, which Josephus places in A.D. 6/7 [Antiquities, 18:1-3], more than ten years after the death of the king. Since there can be no doubt that Jesus was born during the days of Herod, we must conclude either that Luke has made an error or that there is something missing in our understanding of his reference to Quirinius." (Barnett, P.W., "Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1999, p.19)
At this point a non-Christian, like you, who already (by definition) assumes that Christianity is false, will likely "conclude ... that Luke has made an error" and therefore take it as further confirmation of his existing position that Christianity is false. But a Christian, like me, who assumes (indeed knows) that Christianity is true, will "conclude ... that there is something missing in our understanding of" Luke's "reference to Quirinius."
And as Barnett further explains later in the same book, there is indeed a plausible explanation, namely that there were two censuses, and this census took place before the second census (which is also mentioned by Luke in Acts 5:37) when Quirinius was governor of Syria:
"Two problems have been noted with Luke's stated reason for Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, where Mary's child was born. One is an absence of corroborative evidence of any decree from Augustus for a universal census. The other more serious difficulty is that Josephus gives very clear evidence that Quirinius came to Judea in A.D. 6/7 to conduct a census among the Jews in preparation for Judea becoming a Roman province. [Josephus, Antiquities, 18:1-2, 26] However, the evidence from Luke locates the birth of Jesus more than a decade earlier, in c. 5 B.C. [Lk 1:26, 39-41, 57; 2:1-5] According to Luke both John the Baptist and Jesus were conceived `in the days of Herod, king of Judea' (Lk 1:5), who died in 4 B.C. On the face of it Luke has made a serious chronological error. Various attempts have been made to resolve the second problem. One proposal is that Quirinius had also been appointed to Syria around the time of the nativity of Jesus, whether as outright governor or as some kind of military governor working alongside a civil governor. True, Quirinius campaigned against the wild Homanadenses tribe in Galatia from c. 12 B.C. to A.D. 2. [Tacitus, Annals 3:48] But there is no clear evidence that he governed the province of Syria at that time. The governors were known to be Titius (before 10 B.C.), Saturninus (10-6 B.C.) and Varus (6-4 B.C.). As a frontier province, Syria had a governor who was a legatus pro praetore, a military commander, rather than a civil proconsul. It is difficult to see how Quirinius would have fit into this existing military structure where one province was led by one governor. Quirinius's visit to Judea in A.D. 6 to register people and property for purposes of direct taxation was a major historical landmark. Augustus, having dismissed the ethnarch Archelaus, made Judea a Roman province under a military governor (praefectus). Because the people now had to pay their taxes to Rome rather than to Archelaus, it was necessary to conduct an apographe, `registration,' of the people in order to make an apotimesis, `assessment,' of their property for taxation. Josephus describes in some detail this registration as well as the uprising against it led by Judas the Galilean. In Judas's mind, it was not merely a matter of the money involved; God's rule over his people was now being handed over to the despised Gentile. ... [Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2:4333] Submission to Quirinius's assessment was, in effect, recognition of Augustus rather than God as master. 24 [Ibid., 2.118, 433; 7.253; Ant. 18.23]." (Barnett, 1999, pp.97-98)
[Continued in part #2]