[Graphic: Mary & Joseph in Bethlehem, ChristianAnswers.net]
----- 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?
[Continued from part #1]
As mentioned, there is a plausible explanation to the apparent discrepancy between: 1) Jesus being born in the reign of King Herod the Great (Mt 2:1; Lk 1:5,24,26) who died in 4 BC; yet 2) Luke in Luke 2:1-7:
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. "
seems to say that Jesus was born at the time of a census when Cyrenius (L. Quirinius) was governor of Syria, which was in 6/7 AD. Namely that there were two censuses, and this census that occurred at the time of the birth of Jesus took place before the second census (which is also mentioned by Luke in Acts 5:37) when Quirinius was both times "governor of Syria" (although see below).
Continuing with Christian historian Paul Barnett's explanation:
"Despite the serious historical problems raised regarding the integrity of Luke 2:1-3, for several reasons the possibility of Luke's historical accuracy should be kept open. First, the Romans employed the census formerly under the Republic, among other reasons, to assess property for taxation. Augustus revived the practice in Rome, where it had fallen into disuse. He was also the first to introduce the census to the provinces, which he did progressively and piecemeal, as he did with a census in Egypt in 10/9 B.C., which was to be repeated at fourteen-year intervals. Thus the census in Judea as described in Luke 2:1-3 fits with Augustus's known practice, even though there is no evidence of a precise decree (dogma) issued by the emperor calling for a universal registration. Second, Luke also refers (in Acts 5:37) to Quirinius's registration in A.D. 6: "Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census." By these words Luke recognizes the significance of the notorious census undertaken by Quirinius that provoked Judas' uprising. Yet Luke 2:2 introduces the word prote, "first," which suggests that Quirinius's registration was not the only census in Judea. Luke wants us to understand that there was another census or censuses, whether before or after Quirinius's census. It should be noted that, although the word prote means "first," in certain contexts it carries the comparative nuance "former." Luke himself provides an example of this in the opening words of his second volume, the book of Acts: "in the first [protos = "former"] book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1)." (Barnett, P.W., "Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1999, p.98)
There are actually two possibilities that resolve the apparent discrepancy, based on Luke 2:2, "This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria," that "first" [Gk. prote] can be be translated as: 1) "This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria"; or 2) "This was the former census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria":
In Luke 2:2 prote might qualify either the noun ("this first registration occurred") or the verb ("this registration occurred first"). If Luke intended the former, that this census was the first of others that would follow in Judea, it would mean that he located the nativity of Jesus at the time of the infamous census by Quirinius in A.D. 6, a significant error. If, however, prote qualified the verb, it would carry the comparative inference, "former," and point to a less well-known census in Judea conducted by Quirinius or someone else "prior to" [See John 1:15, 30; 15:18, where protos means "before" = "prior to."] the census of A.D. 6 that stirred up a local rebellion.
Personally I consider 2) to be the more likely, although both require Quirinius to have been "governor [Gk. egemoneuontos = "governing"] of Syria" (i.e. the Roman province of Syria which then directly controlled Gallilee and indirectly Judea).
Barnett also (almost as an afterthought in a footnote), mentions what seems to me a likely additional (or even main) reason for this census [Gk. apographe = "enrollment," "registration"] namely, "in 7 B.C. Herod imposed on all Jews an oath of loyalty to Augustus and himself" and "Such oath taking may have depended upon a registration of his subjects in their ancestral cities":
"Can we envisage such a Roman census earlier, during Herod's reign (37-4 B.C.)? There is no other evidence (beyond Lk 2:2; cf. Lk 1:5) of such a census. Herod was, after all, a client king, levying his own taxes. Surely a client king instituting a Roman census is unimaginable. In point of fact, however, a client ruler introducing a Roman-style census independently of Rome is known. Archelaus the Younger of Cappadocia did this in A.D. 36. [Tacitus, Annals 6.41] Significantly, there had been extensive connections between Archelaus's father, also named Archelaus, and Herod. Herod arranged an interdynastic marriage between his son Alexander and Archelaus the Elder's daughter Glaphyra. [Josephus Ant. 16.11] Archelaus the Elder also visited Judea in the latter years of Herod. [Ibid., 16.261-69.] If Herod had conducted a census, Archelaus the Elder, and therefore also his son, would have known of it. Archelaus's known use of a census in a client kingdom, which had close ties with Herod, leaves open the possibility that Herod conducted a Roman-style census for his own tax-gathering purposes. [It is noted that Herod's relations with Augustus were seriously strained in his latter years. Evidence of Herod's desperate attempts to regain Augustus's confidence can be seen at several points. For example, in 7 B.C. Herod imposed on all Jews an oath of loyalty to Augustus and himself, despite strong opposition from the Pharisees (Josephus, Ant. 17.42). Such oath taking may have depended upon a registration of his subjects in their ancestral cities. For the suggestion that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem to be registered for this oath taking, see Paul W. Barnett, "Apographe and Apographesthai in Luke 2:1-5," ExpTim 85 (1974): 377-80]" (Barnett, 1999, pp.98-99, 107 n30).
Barnett points out that "Luke proves to be well informed about Herod at other points where we can evaluate his accuracy":
"Luke proves to be well informed about Herod at other points where we can evaluate his accuracy. As noted above he locates the birth of John the Baptist "in the days of Herod, king of Judea" (Lk 1:5). Despite the complexity of the division of Herod's kingdom at his death, Luke understands exactly how this worked at the time John the Baptist began to prophesy in c. 28 (Lk 3:1-2). Moreover, throughout his writings Luke refers to "Herod the tetrarch," ruler of Galilee (Lk 3:19; 9:7; Acts 13:1). Since Luke knows about Herod "king of Judaea" and the intricacies of the division of his former realm, we may ask if he is likely to have made his supposed mistake in locating the nativity in A.D. 6/7, especially since he knows well the significance of Judas's uprising at that time. Having located Jesus' birth in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, in one place (Lk 1), would he also locate it at the time of the controversial census (Lk 2) a decade later? There are grounds for seeking another explanation for the apparent discrepancy in Luke 2:1-3, in particular that an otherwise unknown census occurred in the latter days of Herod, providing an occasion for Joseph and Mary to journey to Bethlehem." (Barnett, 1999, pp.98-99).
I might add that a fraud or myth-maker would not give such intricate historical details of names, titles, dates and places as Luke (in particular) does. If critics could suspend their anti-Christian prejudices they might consider how unlikely it is that Luke would write such details about important people which his contemporaries would know are false, if they were false. As Barnett says above, Luke-Acts are in fact addressed to a "most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) who is most likely the pseudonym of a high-ranking Roman official, in which case he would certainly know if Luke got his Roman facts wrong!
Here are further supporting details, including that "between 10 and 7 BC Quirinius performed military functions in the Roman province of Syria" and "If the interval between censuses was fourteen years, this brings him into the area in an official capacity at the right time":
"LUKE 2:2 ... There is a further difficulty about the part Quirinius played. As governor of Syria he carried out a census in AD 6 (Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 26; this is mentioned in Acts 5:37). This aroused violent opposition and Judas of Gamala led a rebellion (Antiquities xviii. 3ff). But that census is too late for the present passage. However, certain inscriptions indicate that between 10 and 7 BC Quirinius performed military functions in the Roman province of Syria. If the interval between censuses was fourteen years, this brings him into the area in an official capacity at the right time. There is no record outside Luke for a census at this time, but there is nothing improbable about it. Josephus tells us that at about this time `the whole Jewish people' swore an oath of loyalty to Caesar (Antiquities xvii. 42), which possibly reflects a census. It is also worth noting that Tertullian says that the census was carried out under Saturninus, who was governor of Syria 9-6 BC (Adversus Marcionem iv. 19). This is not in the Bible, so, if the statement can be relied on (which some scholars doubt), Tertullian must be relying on other evidence. Justin, in the middle of the second century, assures the Romans that they can see the registers of Quirinius's census (I Apology 34). Some hold that the census of AD 6 must have been the first, for people rebel at the unfamiliar, whereas once a census had been held a second would be accepted. But it is fairly contended that at the time of which Luke writes Herod would have arranged the details and `it would be quite like Herod's skill in governing Jews to disguise the foreign nature of the command by an appeal to tribal patriotism' (Easton, cited in Manson). This is supported by the fact that in Luke's census people returned to their family homes, whereas a Roman registration would have been at the place of residence." (Morris, L., "The Gospel According to Luke: An Introduction and Commentary," , Inter-Varsity Press Leicester UK, reprint, 1986, p.82)
I could stop here, but I have some further quotes that throw light on this apparent discrepancy, and it might help other Christians in responding to questions/attacks about it. I also need to answer specifically the original question, "Where does he [Cyrenius] fit into your harmonization of the Matthew & Luke nativity stories?" However, this part #2 is getting too long, so ...
[Continued in part #3].