The Quirinius question and the date of Jesus’ birth

Was Luke right or wrong about Quirinius? I’ve found the question briefly discussed in a couple of books, but I’d like to know more. Anybody?

1. There’s a half-page entry for Quirinius in Ronald Brownrigg’s Who’s Who in the New Testament. Here are some short snippets:

Luke’s efforts to record the exact date and circumstances of the birth of Jesus do not seem in complete accord with the historical facts. … The first Roman census of Palestine did in fact take place in AD 6, on the occasion of Judea being incorporated in the Roman province of Syria … It is of course possible that Herod conducted his own census in the last year or two of his reign, and that Luke muddled this with a Roman census in the time of Quirinius, AD 6-9.

2. In Green & McKnight (eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, there is a long section (nearly three pages) under the heading “The Date of Jesus’ Birth”, including this on pp. 67-68:

For those who believe that the Gospels are accurate historical records of Jesus’ life, one of the most difficult problems in the NT is the census Luke presents in 2:1-2 … Quirinius was sent by Augustus to be governor of Syria (and Judea) in AD 6 (not 6 BC) and thereafter did take a notable census for the empire. … It has been suggested that Luke may have confused Quirinius with P. Quintilius Varus, who was legate of Syria during the period 6-3 BC. … There is some evidence of a census of Judea under Saturninus between 9-6 BC. We also know that Quirinius undertook more than one census during his governorship …
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Comments

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Three issues to bear in mind:
    • The Greek of Luke 2.2 can equally be translated “This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria” or “This was the census before Quirinius was governor of Syria”
    • Our knowledge about first century AD/BC censuses may be incomplete
    • ‘All the world’ (Luke 2.1) may be an idiomatic phrase meaning (loosely) everyone (cf. Fr. tout le monde) rather than literally ‘everyone in the whole world’.
  • It's a complicated and interesting topic but in short, my view is this: Luke was probably right.

    The arguments that begin with "Luke's account is not in accordance with known facts..." in my (amateur) experience usually come down to giving some other source more credence that Luke without any justification and/or an argument from silence. (I.e. no other source mentions it).

    It's not an unreasonable argument but nor is it compelling.

    AFZ
  • I was told (dunno if it's True™) that Luke received a lot of his information about the birth of Jesus from Our Blessed Lady herself.

    If this is so, it may be that even Our Blessed Lady's memory was a little askew, by the time she sat for her portrait...
  • Working through my family history, I often have to deal with conflicting dates, especially when people married. All suggestions seem to be sourced well, but there is no way a person can be married after they are dead, if you get my drift. Six years variance is actually within the margin of error as far as I am concerned. While Luke does try to pinpoint a date in history it is important to note he is not writing a history text. He is giving testimony to what he believes. Specific dates are of secondary importance to his intent.
  • I was told (dunno if it's True™) that Luke received a lot of his information about the birth of Jesus from Our Blessed Lady herself.

    If this is so, it may be that even Our Blessed Lady's memory was a little askew, by the time she sat for her portrait...

    Is outrage™!
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    The purpose of a census was taxation. For this they needed to find out who lived where. I see no reason why Joseph would need to go to Bethlehem unless it was to fulfill prophecy
  • mousethief wrote: »
    I was told (dunno if it's True™) that Luke received a lot of his information about the birth of Jesus from Our Blessed Lady herself.

    If this is so, it may be that even Our Blessed Lady's memory was a little askew, by the time she sat for her portrait...

    Is outrage™!

    O I know, but OBL was only human...wasn't she?
    :naughty:
  • mousethief wrote: »
    I was told (dunno if it's True™) that Luke received a lot of his information about the birth of Jesus from Our Blessed Lady herself.

    If this is so, it may be that even Our Blessed Lady's memory was a little askew, by the time she sat for her portrait...

    Is outrage™!

    O I know, but OBL was only human...wasn't she?
    :naughty:

    On which side of the Adriatic?
  • My take is that Luke, knowing that Jesus had been raised in Nazareth, also had the story of a birth in Bethlehem. So he had to provide an explanation for why a couple from Galilee was so far south for the birth of their first-born. He probably had heard of a census under Quirinius around about that time and so put two and two together. We need to remember that he had no access to official records and was writing about events possibly 70+ years before.

    We can know now, with our access to historical records that he didn't have, that his dating was incorrect. Furthermore, there is no evidence at all that people had to move "back home" for any census. In short, the Quirinius dating reference cannot stand up to detailed investigation.

  • I hesitate to think that we, at our millennia-removed distance, are more likely to be correct than someone writing about events within living memory. Even if that living memory is 70 years ago. The documents that survive two millennia tend to be fragmented and somewhat random, and we fill in the gaps almost without realizing it. And then someone decides to build a hotel and the resulting dig changes history once again...

    But as for the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem, that's easy. Assume that Joseph is the son or grandson of a Bethlehemite. He comes to Nazareth, possibly to work in nearby Sepphoris, a place that needed builders and was important enough to absorb a lot of them (this would be rather like my grandfather moving to Detroit to work in the auto industry--where he met my grandmother). Problem solved.

    It would also account for why he took a heavily pregnant woman on the road with him--if he thought to rely on the kindness of relatives, this wasn't completely mad--and if we take καταλύματι to refer to a guest room rather than an inn, which it can be, linguistically, I understand, it suggests they tried the relatives first, with less than ideal results.
  • Telford wrote: »
    The purpose of a census was taxation. For this they needed to find out who lived where. I see no reason why Joseph would need to go to Bethlehem unless it was to fulfill prophecy

    That's because you expect decisions by unthinking bureaucrats in central administrations to make sense when actually implemented on the ground.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    edited February 22
    My take is that Luke, knowing that Jesus had been raised in Nazareth, also had the story of a birth in Bethlehem. So he had to provide an explanation for why a couple from Galilee was so far south for the birth of their first-born. He probably had heard of a census under Quirinius around about that time and so put two and two together. We need to remember that he had no access to official records and was writing about events possibly 70+ years before.

    We can know now, with our access to historical records that he didn't have, that his dating was incorrect. Furthermore, there is no evidence at all that people had to move "back home" for any census. In short, the Quirinius dating reference cannot stand up to detailed investigation.

    My problem with this take on Luke’s methodology is that it is at odds with his own description of his working practice.

    The significance of internal evidence of reliance upon direct testimony, and of contemporaneous historiographical practice in relation to those who had directly experienced the events recorded is well explored by Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (the second edition responds to some of the reactions to the first edition).

    The history of criticism of the historicity of Acts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (because it contradicted then popular theories about the growth of Christianity and the Church) is that points which were picked on as fictional or simply intended to add verisimilitude were subsequently found to be supported by the archaeological record.

    Could Luke and his sources have been wrong about a decree going out from Augustus, and about how it was responded to in Palestine? Yes, of course they could. Is it more likely that 1900 years after the event, we have a truer view of what happened? IMO, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary I prefer to accept Luke’s account.
  • If you're going to query the Quirinius census, there are a few other issues that are a little problematic.

    Firstly, Augustus would not have put out a decree that all the world should be enrolled (Luke 2:1), although the "Roman imperial theology always talked of a predestined rule over the "whole world" and the "inhabited earth". But counting the entire empire all at once was a tad impractical and unlikely to be decreed. According to Borg and Crossan in The First Christmas
    Taken metaphorically, of course, conquering for occupation and then counting for taxation was simply Rome's manifest destiny and imperial program for "the whole world". We even wonder if Luke, who knew quite a lot about the Roman and Empire and its processes, could ever have intended that sentence literally?

    A local census is likely to have been an event in 6CE following the removal of Herod the Great's son Archelaus as the indirect, or client, ruler of Judea and the replacement of him by direct Roman control. As
    ... was usual in such a situation, there followed a "first registration", that is census for taxation, of the southern Jewish homeland (p147 SPCK 2007 paperback edition)
    and was 'conducted by the Syrian governor Publius Sulpicius Quirinius'

    However, that does not square with both Gospel accounts from Luke and Matthew that Jesus was born in the time of King Herod of Judea, which rule ended in 4CE, and the account in Matthew of the flight to Egypt following the visit of the Magi, 2 years later.

    And there are further complications when you consider Luke's account of movement from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from the tax area of Galilee under Herod Antipas where no census was required, for a census, where people were required to be "at home", in one fixed abode for the count, when movement would have added to the chaos.

    Borg and Crossan argue that the census and taxation has a metaphorical correctness, Jesus was born under Roman rule and that affected everything. Earlier in the book (p57) they suggest that our understanding of the Christmas story has developed over time. Originally the Christmas story was read in the context of Christianity. Post WW2 the reading moved to interpret the Christmas story within Christianity within Judaism and currently we are interpreting the Christmas stories within Christianity within Judaism within the Roman Empire

    Borg and Crossan compare and contrast Matthew and Luke and the stories they are telling in the context of the world at the time. They suggest that
    ... in Luke's Christmas story, Caesar Augustus brought "the whole world", as he claimed under the peace of the Roman Empire - the Pax Romana, which was also the Pax Augustana. What, then, is this new peace announced as the good news of Jesus's birth as Savior, Messiah and Lord? What is the content of this alternative - granted, once again, that any final answer must come not just from this overture, but only from the entire life story to follow?

    How does Christ differ from Caesar? How does the Roman imperial theology differ from early Christian theology? It will not do just to keep repeating claims without content or titles without interpretation - because they are the same for both sides.

    Both proclaim that it started in heaven. For Augustus it was Jupiter's "good pleasure" in Aeniad 1.283 and for Jesus it was "God's favor" in Luke 2:14. ... Both visions announce the gospel of peace on earth and proclaim it as a new creation, a whole new start for the human race. And both link that gospel to the divine conception of a predestine savior. (p165)

    There argument continues with these comparisons and the first section of the book discusses the context of the world of the time, a general overview, and the second half discusses the Biblical accounts, step by step and looks at the messages of the Gospellers.
  • That last paragraph should read:
    There Their argument continues with these comparisons and the first section of the book discusses the context of the world of the time, a general overview, and the second half discusses the Biblical accounts, step by step and looks at the messages of the Gospellers.

    I do know the difference between their and there, honest. Dratted distractions.
  • I hesitate to think that we, at our millennia-removed distance, are more likely to be correct than someone writing about events within living memory. Even if that living memory is 70 years ago. The documents that survive two millennia tend to be fragmented and somewhat random, and we fill in the gaps almost without realizing it. And then someone decides to build a hotel and the resulting dig changes history once again...
    This
    BroJames wrote: »
    The history of criticism of the historicity of Acts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (because it contradicted then popular theories about the growth of Christianity and the Church) is that points which were picked on as fictional or simply intended to add verisimilitude were subsequently found to be supported by the archaeological record.
    and this were what I was referring to here:
    The arguments that begin with "Luke's account is not in accordance with known facts..." in my (amateur) experience usually come down to giving some other source more credence than Luke without any justification and/or an argument from silence. (I.e. no other source mentions it).

    As I also said, there is an interesting discussion to be had here. However, I think we need to acknowledge and deal with the in-built biases first.

    There is, of course, a section of Church tradition that takes the Gospel accounts as, well gospel! The assumption is that Luke must be right because it's in the Bible. I come from that tradition. Equally and less well acknowledged is a stream of critical scholarship that starts from the opposite position; "Luke is unreliable because it's from the Bible and thus displays a Christian-bias." As I said, so much of the critique of Luke is superficial but gets undeserved credibility (as far as I can tell) because it fits with this view. A lot of New Testament Scholarship is critical - which is fine - but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is correct.

    I do not know the evidence well enough to be in any way authoritative but I would love to hear from those who know better than me - which is why I think this thread has so much potential - if we can move beyond the superficial discussion.

    At the risk of creating another Biblical Inerrancy thread (it's been a year or two...) I do think the textual analysis of the New Testament is important here. One thing that is inarguable is that the early church believed that the texts that became the NT were especially important. This, of course, does not mean that they are more true than any other but it does mean that the early church looked after them very carefully such that they were preserved and copied with a much higher degree of accuracy and attention-to-detail than is typical of other ancient sources. What's my point? Simply this; we know that the version of Luke I read today (allowing for translation) is the same as the early Church used. It's irrelevant whether I think the Gospel is sacred or not, the early Church did and thus took special care to preserve the text. In itself that doesn’t make Luke right but he begins from a place of having a much better pedigree than other contemporary writings.

    I understand why people state that the Gospel accounts are not reliable because they contain accounts of miracles. That's a reasonable position but it often rests on an unacknowledged premise. The contrary position that the Gospel writers simply recorded what they believed to be true and noted the miracles precisely because they were miraculous is at-least as valid. If you want to maintain that miracles are impossible then it is valid to argue that Luke (in this case) simply recorded what he believed was true and the explanation was beyond him. I happen to believe in the miracles as well but that's beside the point.

    What's my point? Simply this; there is no good reason not to take Luke as accurate and contemporary (I.e. within a generation or two) at first glance and thus where Luke differs from other sources or evidence we should weigh that fairly rather than simply assuming Luke is wrong.

    19th and 20th century scholarship would seem to suggest that rejecting Luke out of hand is an error.

    AFZ

  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited February 22
    Here is a bit of wild speculation textual-critical scholarship:
    1. Assumption: Luke's Nativity is (or is attempting to be) factual whereas Matthew's Nativity is legendary / pious fiction. Justification:
      • People in Matthew are mostly impelled by miraculous things (the Star, various dreams) whereas in Luke they are mostly impelled by natural events (the shepherds were nearby because they were watching their flocks, Mary and Joseph went to Nazareth because of the census);
      • The flight into Egypt in Matthew is an obvious inversion of the Exodus; there isn't the same literary callback in Luke.
    2. In Luke, the Annunciation happened while Herod was King. But Luke never implies that Mary conceived immediately after the Annunciation.
    3. When Luke says 'It happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree', this immediately follows a verse describing John the Baptist growing up. So it is not obvious that the Nativity takes place in the same timeframe as the Annunciation.
    4. Luke never says that Herod was around at the time of Jesus' birth - it is Matthew who makes them contemporary, for which see point (1).

    In other words, there is no contradiction in Luke - the Annunciation took place when Herod was king, and the Nativity took place much later when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
  • Hmm.

    I've always thought (or been told) that Our Blessed Lady became pregnant at the very moment of the Annunciation, or at least at the moment of her acceptance...

    The idea of there being a considerable gap - more than 9 months - between the Annunciation and the Nativity is interesting, and maybe that is indeed what happened...

    Gabriel says *You will conceive...*, but he doesn't say when...
  • It's certainly the case that Matthew goes out of his way to present Jesus as a New Moses - saved from a slaughter of innocents, being in Egypt then getting called out back to the Promised Land, later on delivering a fresh perspective on the Law from a mountain. So, I can see why a pious fiction could have crept into his nativity account to allow him to cast Herod in the role of evil ruler ordering the slaughter of children in parallel to Pharaoh. Though the star and Magi don't seem necessary for that particular bit of pious fiction (which looks more like an attempt to liken the birth of Jesus to Greek and Roman myths). That would be sufficient to cast the chronology there into doubt, and so I agree that giving the chronology in Luke more weight makes sense.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    ... if we take καταλύματι to refer to a guest room rather than an inn, which it can be, linguistically, I understand, ....

    ^T%he word καταλυμα occurs in Luke 22:11
    ...and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ ”
  • Borg and Crossan suggest that for Matthew Jesus is the new Moses, as @Alan Cresswell says above, with many parallels in the text, including Midrash texts of Exodus. They describe the magi as Matthew's own creation (p143) and the westward leading star as "Matthew's most obvious allusion to Roman imperial theology and the birth story of Julian tribal family from Venus and Anchises through Aeneas to Julus and thereafter." (Previous chapters had dealt with Roman mythology including Venus leading the Trajans to Italy).
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited February 22
    Was Luke right or wrong about Quirinius? I’ve found the question briefly discussed in a couple of books, but I’d like to know more. Anybody?

    I suppose it depends on your threshold for "right". We've got two different stories for the nativity of Jesus and they disagree with each other on some key factual points.

    Luke's version (rough summary):
    During the Quirinius census (6 CE) Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Mary gives birth to Jesus. There being no convenient lodgings the newborn is placed in a manger. Angels (first one and then many) announce the birth to nearby shepherds who then go marvel/gawk at the infant Jesus and spread the word of what they'd experienced. At eight days old Jesus is circumcised. The family then goes to Jerusalem to perform the necessary sacrifices for post-birth purification and the consecration of a firstborn son. After a few more joyous prophecies, the family returns to Nazareth.

    So far nothing inherently contradictory other than the fact that Roman censuses didn't work like that. The Romans wanted to know where you lived now, not where your great-great-grandparents had lived a century or two ago. For example, if you were a Cilician living Rome they'd want to know where to send your tax bill in Rome, not where your ancestors used to live in Tarsus. In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).

    Matthew's version (even rougher summary):
    Joseph gets a vision not to be too concerned about the fact that his "virgin" bride is pregnant. Jesus is born in Bethlehem during the reign of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE). Wise men/kings/Magi from the east visit Herod asking for the newborn Jewish King. Herod asks these wise men/kings/Magi to find this baby king for him. The wise men/kings/Magi find Jesus by following a star, give him some very symbolic gifts, and then ghost Herod because they'd been warned in a dream that he was up to no good. Joseph also gets a prophetic dream at this time and takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt, where they wait for Herod to die. Eventually Joseph receives yet another dream that Herod had died and it's safe to go home, but since Herod's son Achelaus (reign 4 BCE - 6 CE) was ruling Judea the family goes to Nazareth instead of back to Bethlehem.

    So two different versions with almost no overlap. Points of agreement:
    • Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
    • Jesus' mother was Mary and Mary's husband was Joseph.
    • While Jesus was growing up he lived in Nazareth.

    That's it. Pretty much every other detail is different between the two versions. This is only a problem if you think they should match perfectly. A lot of attempts to reconcile them have the kind of desperate credulity, wild assumptions, and question begging commonly found in attempts to reconcile the first two chapters of Genesis.
  • Eutychus wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    The purpose of a census was taxation. For this they needed to find out who lived where. I see no reason why Joseph would need to go to Bethlehem unless it was to fulfill prophecy

    That's because you expect decisions by unthinking bureaucrats in central administrations to make sense when actually implemented on the ground.

    This could use a "swallow and put your drink down" warning.
  • It's certainly the case that Matthew goes out of his way to present Jesus as a New Moses - saved from a slaughter of innocents, being in Egypt then getting called out back to the Promised Land, later on delivering a fresh perspective on the Law from a mountain. So, I can see why a pious fiction could have crept into his nativity account to allow him to cast Herod in the role of evil ruler ordering the slaughter of children in parallel to Pharaoh. Though the star and Magi don't seem necessary for that particular bit of pious fiction (which looks more like an attempt to liken the birth of Jesus to Greek and Roman myths). That would be sufficient to cast the chronology there into doubt, and so I agree that giving the chronology in Luke more weight makes sense.

    Matthew works so hard to show the fulfillment of prophecy that he even makes prophecies up just to fulfill them.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    BroJames wrote: »
    My take is that Luke, knowing that Jesus had been raised in Nazareth, also had the story of a birth in Bethlehem. So he had to provide an explanation for why a couple from Galilee was so far south for the birth of their first-born. He probably had heard of a census under Quirinius around about that time and so put two and two together. We need to remember that he had no access to official records and was writing about events possibly 70+ years before.

    We can know now, with our access to historical records that he didn't have, that his dating was incorrect. Furthermore, there is no evidence at all that people had to move "back home" for any census. In short, the Quirinius dating reference cannot stand up to detailed investigation.

    My problem with this take on Luke’s methodology is that it is at odds with his own description of his working practice.

    My problem with Luke's description of his methodology is that it's at odds with the human lifespan when it comes to the Nativity. The Nativity is, by definition, the event of Jesus' life most remote in time from the author of Luke. Writing somewhere between 80 CE and 110 CE (and most likely somewhere in the 85-90 CE range) living witnesses who were adults at the time of Jesus' birth must have been getting pretty scarce. Luke's ability to investigate such accounts would have been limited.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    BroJames wrote: »
    My take is that Luke, knowing that Jesus had been raised in Nazareth, also had the story of a birth in Bethlehem. So he had to provide an explanation for why a couple from Galilee was so far south for the birth of their first-born. He probably had heard of a census under Quirinius around about that time and so put two and two together. We need to remember that he had no access to official records and was writing about events possibly 70+ years before.

    We can know now, with our access to historical records that he didn't have, that his dating was incorrect. Furthermore, there is no evidence at all that people had to move "back home" for any census. In short, the Quirinius dating reference cannot stand up to detailed investigation.

    My problem with this take on Luke’s methodology is that it is at odds with his own description of his working practice.

    My problem with Luke's description of his methodology is that it's at odds with the human lifespan when it comes to the Nativity. The Nativity is, by definition, the event of Jesus' life most remote in time from the author of Luke. Writing somewhere between 80 CE and 110 CE (and most likely somewhere in the 85-90 CE range) living witnesses who were adults at the time of Jesus' birth must have been getting pretty scarce. Luke's ability to investigate such accounts would have been limited.

    Or to put it another way:

    The text of Luke suggests access to sources that would mean it was written around 50-60 AD. Other analysis would date it to around 85 AD.

    Reasons for accepting one date over another are...

    ?


    Do you see my point?

    The key really is in the detail. Why should I accept a later date rather than an earlier one? Or vice versa?

    AFZ
  • Or, in the period 50-60AD, Luke met many first hand witnesses and heard their stories. He remembered these, and included them when he wrote is Gospel 20 or 30 years later.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    There's no strong reason for arguing that Luke-Acts is not written by a Pauline companion, and the introduction to Luke invites us to see it as a work written because the author had 'carefully investigated everything from the beginning'. Not that he had investigated everything in order to write the work. Thus his investigation of the infancy stories could easily significantly pre-date the production of the gospel. This would suggest an earlier date than the suggested 85-90 range. There is no compelling reason for a date as late as 90, or even 80. It's a fair enough possibility that he is writing in the late 60s or early 70s, and drawing on investigations made over an extended period before that.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    edited February 22
    mousethief wrote: »
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    The purpose of a census was taxation. For this they needed to find out who lived where. I see no reason why Joseph would need to go to Bethlehem unless it was to fulfill prophecy

    That's because you expect decisions by unthinking bureaucrats in central administrations to make sense when actually implemented on the ground.

    This could use a "swallow and put your drink down" warning.

    When you live in a country with a bureaucracy that's directly descended from and/or directly inspired by that of the Roman Empire, certain Scriptures are much easier to relate to.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Or, in the period 50-60AD, Luke met many first hand witnesses and heard their stories. He remembered these, and included them when he wrote is Gospel 20 or 30 years later.
    Why 20 or 30 years later ? Is there a reason for this ?

  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Or to put it another way:

    The text of Luke suggests access to sources that would mean it was written around 50-60 AD. Other analysis would date it to around 85 AD.

    Reasons for accepting one date over another are...

    ?

    Does the text of Luke suggest its date of composition, or is that an inference some readers make based on Luke's self-reported claims of his own reliability? As far as I know there's nowhere in Luke where the author cites his sources for any particular bit of information.

    To take another example, the Orphic Hymns claim to have been written by Orpheus in the Heroic Age of Greece (c. 1400-1300 BCE) but other analysis indicates they were composed more than a thousand years later during the late Hellenistic/early Roman period (c. 300-100 BCE). Most of us are happy to go with the scholarly consensus on this because we don't have an emotional investment in the exact date of composition of the Orphic Hymns the way some people have biases regarding dates of composition for the Gospels.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    An argument can be made that Luke’s references to Mary are an indication that she is one of his sources in a way which is consistent with contemporaneous with historiographical practices of his day.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).
    Do we know if there were different tax rates depending on where you were domiciled? Could Joseph have been seeking a cushy tax break by registering in Bethlehem? The concept that Joseph was showing an early capitalist spirit by engaging in tax dodges adds so much to my mental picture of him!
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Or to put it another way:

    The text of Luke suggests access to sources that would mean it was written around 50-60 AD. Other analysis would date it to around 85 AD.

    Reasons for accepting one date over another are...

    ?

    Does the text of Luke suggest its date of composition, or is that an inference some readers make based on Luke's self-reported claims of his own reliability? As far as I know there's nowhere in Luke where the author cites his sources for any particular bit of information.

    To take another example, the Orphic Hymns claim to have been written by Orpheus in the Heroic Age of Greece (c. 1400-1300 BCE) but other analysis indicates they were composed more than a thousand years later during the late Hellenistic/early Roman period (c. 300-100 BCE). Most of us are happy to go with the scholarly consensus on this because we don't have an emotional investment in the exact date of composition of the Orphic Hymns the way some people have biases regarding dates of composition for the Gospels.

    Indeed.

    But what are the reasons for a later date for Luke? Are they more or less compelling than this and other similar arguments:
    BroJames wrote: »
    An argument can be made that Luke’s references to Mary are an indication that she is one of his sources in a way which is consistent with contemporaneous with historiographical practices of his day.

  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Hedgehog wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).
    Do we know if there were different tax rates depending on where you were domiciled? Could Joseph have been seeking a cushy tax break by registering in Bethlehem? The concept that Joseph was showing an early capitalist spirit by engaging in tax dodges adds so much to my mental picture of him!

    There weren't different tax rates, but if the tax man is looking for you in Bethlehem the odds are pretty good that he won't find you if you're actually in Nazareth. Absent tracking technology, photo IDs, or even heritable family names it can be hard to keep track of folks.

    "Joseph of Bethlehem? No, you've got the wrong guy. I'm Joseph of Nazareth."
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    edited February 22
    Crœsos wrote: »
    So far nothing inherently contradictory other than the fact that Roman censuses didn't work like that. The Romans wanted to know where you lived now, not where your great-great-grandparents had lived a century or two ago. For example, if you were a Cilician living Rome they'd want to know where to send your tax bill in Rome, not where your ancestors used to live in Tarsus. In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).

    Sorry @Crœsos, I missed this earlier, but the comment of mine @mousethief picked up on was not wholly tongue in cheek. Of course Luke's account may not be accurate, but I find it entirely plausible that some official somewhere thought that a tax census based on the original family domicile made some sense viewed from a distant Roman tax office somewhere*. Lots of national legislation here, including on pandemic management, is ridiculously Paris-centric and misguided from a non-Parisian perspective.

    Besides, lots of people here choose to stay on the electoral roll in their parents' village rather than in the big city where they work, so much so that (pandemic-free) election weekends traditionally see significant levels of travel over some distance to go back home and vote. And I would guess society at the time of Jesus' birth was generally much less mobile than today's.

    ==
    *this policy decision turning out to be misguided in practice might also explain why there is no trace of it in the official record...
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Hedgehog wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).
    Do we know if there were different tax rates depending on where you were domiciled? Could Joseph have been seeking a cushy tax break by registering in Bethlehem? The concept that Joseph was showing an early capitalist spirit by engaging in tax dodges adds so much to my mental picture of him!

    There weren't different tax rates, but if the tax man is looking for you in Bethlehem the odds are pretty good that he won't find you if you're actually in Nazareth. Absent tracking technology, photo IDs, or even heritable family names it can be hard to keep track of folks.

    "Joseph of Bethlehem? No, you've got the wrong guy. I'm Joseph of Nazareth."
    Pity. I was rather warming to the image of Joseph taking young Jesus aside and saying: "Now always remember, son, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's---but look for the loophole. Take care of the aurei and the sestertii will take care of themselves."
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    So far nothing inherently contradictory other than the fact that Roman censuses didn't work like that. The Romans wanted to know where you lived now, not where your great-great-grandparents had lived a century or two ago. For example, if you were a Cilician living Rome they'd want to know where to send your tax bill in Rome, not where your ancestors used to live in Tarsus. In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).

    Sorry @Crœsos, I missed this earlier, but the comment of mine @mousethief picked up on was not wholly tongue in cheek. Of course Luke's account may not be accurate, but I find it entirely plausible that some official somewhere thought that a tax census based on the original family domicile made some sense viewed from a distant Roman tax office somewhere. Lots of national legislation here, including on pandemic management, is ridiculously Paris-centric and misguided from a non-Parisian perspective.

    Besides, lots of people here choose to stay on the electoral roll in their parents' village rather than in the big city where they work, so much so that (pandemic-free) election weekends traditionally see significant levels of travel over some distance to go back home and vote.

    That's a lot of supposition, guesswork, and spurious analogizing, but Imperial Rome wasn't some pre-literate civilization we have to piece together out of pot sherds and educated guesses. They kept extensive records and we know how Roman censuses worked.
  • My understanding (probably wrong) is that the main thing wanted from a census was to get a decent idea of how many people were in a given area, and hence how much tax could be collected from that area. Not like the modern idea of registering as an individual taxpayer. The actual collection of taxes was closer to a mafia operation than modern tax bureaucratic exercise.

    Travelling significant distances to register somewhere different from your home and place of business would be more like a deliberate act to throw a spanner in the works of the system by getting the numbers in both locations wrong. An act of mass civil disobedience with people descending on Bethlehem to show the Romans that they weren't going to have this tax collecting thing all their own way.
  • Hedgehog wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).
    Do we know if there were different tax rates depending on where you were domiciled? Could Joseph have been seeking a cushy tax break by registering in Bethlehem? The concept that Joseph was showing an early capitalist spirit by engaging in tax dodges adds so much to my mental picture of him!
    Moving cross-country would be a choice of paying tax directly to the Roman Empire in south Judea, if the Quirinius census is correctly identified, as against the local client ruler in Bethlehem.

    There are differences and similarities between the accounts in Matthew and Luke. They both agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Luke started with Mary and Joseph moving from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then back to Nazareth, Matthew has them starting in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt and returning to Nazareth. Both sound like ways of understanding how Jesus of Nazareth happened to have been born in Bethlehem and then moved to Nazareth, accounted for by Matthew and Luke within their own framework of their message to their communities.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    The purpose of a census was taxation. For this they needed to find out who lived where. I see no reason why Joseph would need to go to Bethlehem unless it was to fulfill prophecy

    That's because you expect decisions by unthinking bureaucrats in central administrations to make sense when actually implemented on the ground.

    This could use a "swallow and put your drink down" warning.

    Yes indeed!
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    BroJames wrote: »
    My take is that Luke, knowing that Jesus had been raised in Nazareth, also had the story of a birth in Bethlehem. So he had to provide an explanation for why a couple from Galilee was so far south for the birth of their first-born. He probably had heard of a census under Quirinius around about that time and so put two and two together. We need to remember that he had no access to official records and was writing about events possibly 70+ years before.

    We can know now, with our access to historical records that he didn't have, that his dating was incorrect. Furthermore, there is no evidence at all that people had to move "back home" for any census. In short, the Quirinius dating reference cannot stand up to detailed investigation.

    My problem with this take on Luke’s methodology is that it is at odds with his own description of his working practice.

    My problem with Luke's description of his methodology is that it's at odds with the human lifespan when it comes to the Nativity. The Nativity is, by definition, the event of Jesus' life most remote in time from the author of Luke. Writing somewhere between 80 CE and 110 CE (and most likely somewhere in the 85-90 CE range) living witnesses who were adults at the time of Jesus' birth must have been getting pretty scarce. Luke's ability to investigate such accounts would have been limited.

    I just.don't.get.this. Look, if I wanted to investigate something that happened 90 years ago (so in 1930, then), I can go and talk to ordinary living human beings who heard from their parents (neighbors, cousins, what have you) what went on then. If it was a notable event (and the nativity stories would both be notable events, at least for those who knew the family), I would expect it to be handed down at least that one single generation. Hell, I know about my grandfather's younger brother who got drunk in a bar one night and got MARRIED to some random person and had to be hauled out of trouble by the seat of his pants by my grandfather, and that must have happened in the 1920s or 30s, and everybody is dead now, and nobody cares, except it's a colorful little bit of scandal--rather like Mary's pregnancy, come to think of it...

    Add in the miracles, and anybody who heard of them is likely to have passed the story down at least to their kids--even if they thought it a smokescreen set up by that scandalous neighbor family.

    Add in Christian faith, because you know believers are going to go and scour people's memories for what they can get, and pass that on.

    I'd say there are grounds for Luke having a considerable amount of at-one-remove testimony. And centenarians do exist. Assuming the date you give for Luke starting his research (not his writing) is correct.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    He remembered these, and included them when he wrote is Gospel 20 or 30 years later.
    Why 20 or 30 years later ? Is there a reason for this ?
    A reasonable hypothesis about the writing of the Gospels is that when the generation that knew Jesus began to die those who knew them produced written account to preserve their teachings.
    It also seems that the matters at the top of the Gospel writers' minds reflected the state of Judaism immediately before and subsequent to the revolt against the Romans and subsequent destruction of the Temple in and around AD 70, though to some extent that is a hall of mirrors where a major part of the evidence for the state of Judaism is the New Testament so interpreted.

  • Or, in my case the "20 or 30 years" was simply the interval needed to bridge the gap between the eye-witness date of 50-60AD and the suggested 80-90AD date of writing.
  • Indeed, all good points. It comes back to sceptics looking to discredit Luke over-reaching. Luke may well have been written at a later date and that may compromise his access to sources. However, what is the evidence to support that?

    I am a little frustrated with this topic (not the thread). When it comes to an area of medicine (or quite a bit of science, for that matter) I know where to look for the evidence so I can weigh it myself and put it together.

    In terms of the Biblical history, I know nowhere near enough about the ancient texts or the archaeological discoveries and I cannot speak Greek. This makes it very hard for me to investigate fully.

    Intellectual honesty compels me to face my own biases thus making me even more anxious to understand the evidence so I can challenge and test my own preconceptions.

    AFZ
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Hedgehog wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    In other words there was no reason for Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (unless he was trying to engage in some form of tax fraud).
    Do we know if there were different tax rates depending on where you were domiciled? Could Joseph have been seeking a cushy tax break by registering in Bethlehem? The concept that Joseph was showing an early capitalist spirit by engaging in tax dodges adds so much to my mental picture of him!

    There weren't different tax rates, but if the tax man is looking for you in Bethlehem the odds are pretty good that he won't find you if you're actually in Nazareth. Absent tracking technology, photo IDs, or even heritable family names it can be hard to keep track of folks.

    "Joseph of Bethlehem? No, you've got the wrong guy. I'm Joseph of Nazareth."

    I'm pretty sure they didn't make you up a bill and mail it to your address. Chances are they relied on local authorities to ID people since they would know everyone--thus all the references to tax collectors all over the place. Which is one more reason I suspect Joseph of coming from a (recent) Bethlehemite family.
  • Eutychus wrote: »

    Sorry @Crœsos, I missed this earlier, but the comment of mine @mousethief picked up on was not wholly tongue in cheek. Of course Luke's account may not be accurate, but I find it entirely plausible that some official somewhere thought that a tax census based on the original family domicile made some sense viewed from a distant Roman tax office somewhere*. Lots of national legislation here, including on pandemic management, is ridiculously Paris-centric and misguided from a non-Parisian perspective.

    Besides, lots of people here choose to stay on the electoral roll in their parents' village rather than in the big city where they work, so much so that (pandemic-free) election weekends traditionally see significant levels of travel over some distance to go back home and vote. And I would guess society at the time of Jesus' birth was generally much less mobile than today's.

    Don't know if it's worth noting that the Jews were used to pilgrimage--theoretically they were supposed to traipse down to Jerusalem three times a year, every man jack of them, though I don't suppose for a moment that was the reality at Jesus' time. But still, there's precedent.

  • Indeed, all good points. It comes back to sceptics looking to discredit Luke over-reaching. Luke may well have been written at a later date and that may compromise his access to sources. However, what is the evidence to support that?

    I am a little frustrated with this topic (not the thread). When it comes to an area of medicine (or quite a bit of science, for that matter) I know where to look for the evidence so I can weigh it myself and put it together.

    In terms of the Biblical history, I know nowhere near enough about the ancient texts or the archaeological discoveries and I cannot speak Greek. This makes it very hard for me to investigate fully.

    Intellectual honesty compels me to face my own biases thus making me even more anxious to understand the evidence so I can challenge and test my own preconceptions.

    AFZ

    This is exactly why I went to learn Greek, and why I still do my best to keep up with the archaeology, culture, etc. I don't trust people. Which is probably a personal failing, but there you go.

    I do know that it is never wise to discount the (wo)man on the scene in favor of accounts from people who are removed from it by thousands of years and miles, as well as cultural and language barriers. If they say something that is on the face of it hard to believe, it's usually best to reserve judgment until we know more. Unless, of course, they have a track record of making crap up, or they are writing in a genre that positively expects that sort of thing, as with the Orphic Hymns mentioned above.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    He remembered these, and included them when he wrote is Gospel 20 or 30 years later.
    Why 20 or 30 years later ? Is there a reason for this ?
    A reasonable hypothesis about the writing of the Gospels is that when the generation that knew Jesus began to die those who knew them produced written account to preserve their teachings.
    It also seems that the matters at the top of the Gospel writers' minds reflected the state of Judaism immediately before and subsequent to the revolt against the Romans and subsequent destruction of the Temple in and around AD 70, though to some extent that is a hall of mirrors where a major part of the evidence for the state of Judaism is the New Testament so interpreted.

    It is generally accepted that the writer of Luke followed up by writing Acts and refers to his presence with Paul on his travels. The problem I have is that Acts is an unfinished story. If Peter and Paul died during Nero's persecution should it not have been mentioned ? Could it be that Luke also died in the persection before he could finish the story thus making Acts before 64AD and the gospel of Luke even earlier?

  • It's an interesting question. I suppose one could argue either that Luke had brought the story up to his present day, and stopped therefore: or that something happened to the man at that point (arrest? heart attack?) and the manuscript went unfinished. Though there's a certain air of "I'm done for now" in my judgement that makes me suspect the first option.
  • I must admit that I remain puzzled by the determination shown sometimes to "prove" Luke right over Quirinius. At the end of the day, it's a minor point of dating and doesn't really affect the reliability of Luke's testimony in any way. It seems to make more sense to me to say "this census of Quirinius didn't happen when Herod the Great was alive" than to force hypothetical solutions that can seem a little far-fetched. The evidence we have is that Quirinius (almost certainly) wasn't governor of Syria when Jesus was born. We also have no evidence that any census taken by Quirinius (or by any one else, for that matter) required people to travel to their "home" town.

    I've recently been reading "The First Christmas" by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, which I would heartily recommend (although it's not as good as their book on Holy Week, "The Last Week"). Here are some of the points they make:

    The birth of Jesus under the rule of Herod the Great, which ended in 4 BCE, cannot have taken place under the census of Quirinius, which started in 6CE.

    The Roman taxation census is best known from the copious records in the dry sands of Egypt. It was done by one’s own household (idia) and absence from home to avoid the census was a crime. The only relocation ever required was to be “at home,” that is, in one fixed abode, for the count. You were counted where you lived, worked, and paid your taxes. What is described by Luke in that third point would have been, then or now, a geographical impossibility, a bureaucratic nightmare, and a fiscal disaster.

    Joseph lived in the north under Herod Antipas of Galilee, and any taxes would have been paid there and not in the south, which alone had passed under direct Roman control. Quirinius had no direct authority over Galilee.

    Mary would not have been required to appear personally with Joseph even if we imagine a situation where he himself had to do so. Registration by household was the responsibility of the head of the household.
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