Saturday, November 27, 2010

Quirinius and the Census

I did a talk today on "Has History Disproved Christmas?" The answer, of course, was "No!" But here are a few of my notes about the census problem.

1 In 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.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Luke 2:1-5, NIV 2010

Bock identifies five problems people cite when it comes to this passage.

  1. There was no known empire-wide census under Augustus
  2. No Roman census would have required Joseph to go to Bethlehem to register
  3. Israel under Herod wasn't officially part of the Roman Empire until Herod died in 4BC
  4. Josephus wrote that the first Roman census was under Quirinius in AD6, and that caused a revolt
  5. Quirinius wasn't governor of Syria until 10 years after Herod died. Herod died in 4BC, Quirinius became governor of Syria in AD6.

Here are some answers to those problems, adapted from Bock...

1) The Romans liked doing censuses because they liked taxing people. We know there was ongoing census activity across the Roman Empire at the time of Herod.

3) We also know that vassal kings (like Herod) did censuses too when Rome told them to. There's even evidence that Jews under Herod were paying Roman taxes (and hence had been censused).

If there was a census for Roman taxation and at Roman command under Herod, it makes sense that...

2 & 4) If Herod did a census (before 4BC), he might have done it Jewish-style rather than Roman-style. A Jewish-style census could well involve going to ancestral towns, especially if Joseph owned land in Bethlehem as he might well do if descended from David. A Jewish-style census wouldn't have caused riots like the Roman-style one in AD6 and so is less likely to be mentioned by Josephus, who is the only non-Biblical historian describing Palestine in that period.

It's also clear that the census Luke is talking about isn't the one in AD6. For example, a census after 4BC wouldn't have required Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem - after 4BC they were in different provinces. Luke also knows about the AD6 census - he mentions it and the rebellion in Acts 5:37.

So what about Quirinius? Luke 2:2 reads "This was the first census that took place whilea Quirinius was governor of Syria." But the 2010 NIV has a footnote saying “Or this census took place before...”

The word in question is πρωτος - dictionaries define it as “first, before, greatest”. So it could be talking about the census BEFORE the one where Quirinius was governor of Syria (the one in AD6 which caused all the trouble). We've got the same issue in English with the word "prototype", which is from πρωτος. Is the prototype of a new car before that car, or the first one?

Literally, the verse reads “this was the first census of Quirinius, governor of Syria.” Qurinius may well have been asked to administer the census by Herod, even though he wasn't governor of Syria yet. In the same way, we might say "President George W Bush was a notorious drunkard as a young man", even though he wasn't president when he was a young man.

In conclusion, these verses don't seem to provide good reason to doubt the historicity of Luke's account.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Apprentice

I've got to admit, I do quite enjoy watching The Apprentice. It's amusing in particular how no-one ever suggests that each team should work as a team, and put their success as a team ahead of their individual success. It's a much better strategy than the one most of them adopt. But then I suspect there's more than a grain of truth in Mitchell & Webb's assessment...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Richard Baxter on Science and Religion

Richard Baxter might seem like an unusual person to quote on science and religion. As far as I know, the Vicar of Kidderminster didn't have any real connection with science. But he was clearly part of the Puritan movement, and the scientific revolution of the 1600s largely grew out of Puritanism. Baxter wrote his classic book The Reformed Pastor just 4 years before the Royal Society was founded, so it's an interesting reflection of what sort of thing Puritans were saying about science at the time...

I hope you perceive what I aim at in all this, namely that to see God in his creatures, and to love him, and converse with him, was the employment of man in his upright state; that this is so far from ceasing to be our duty, that it is the work of Christ to bring us, by faith, back to it; and therefore the most holy men are the most excellent students of God's works, and none but the holy can rightly study them or know them 'Great are the works of the Lord, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein;' but not for themselves, but for him that made them. Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. To see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works - this is the true and only philosophy.