Census of Quirinius

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The Census of Quirinius was a census of Judaea taken by Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Roman governor of Syria, upon the imposition of direct Roman rule in 6 CE.[1] The Jewish historian Josephus portrays the annexation and census as the cause of an uprising which later became identified with the Zealot movement.

The author of the Gospel of Luke uses it as the narrative means by which Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5),[2] and places the census within the reign of Herod the Great, who actually died 10 years earlier in 4 BCE.[3] It is argued that no satisfactory explanation has been put forward so far to resolve the contradiction,[4] and Raymond E Brown considered that "most critical scholars think that the author of the gospel made a mistake".[5]

The census[edit]

In 6 CE Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (51 BCE-21 CE), a distinguished soldier and former Consul, was appointed Imperial Legate (governor) of the province of Roman Syria. In the same year Judea was declared a Roman province, and Quirinius was tasked to carry out a census of the new territory for tax purposes. The new territory was one of the three portions into which the kingdom of Herod the Great had been divided on his death in 4 BCE; his son Herod Archelaus was given Judea but complaints of misrule prompted his removal and Judea and Samaria were placed under direct Roman rule, although Galilee and other areas remained autonomous.[6] The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the Jews initially complied, but Judas of Gamala "became zealous to draw them to a revolt ... and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty", claiming among other things that "this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery". The resultant Zealot movement lead to a series of violent wars, together with other miseries, which over time “brought the public to destruction”.[7][8][9]

The date of the birth of Jesus[edit]

Mary and Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic c. 1315.

The Gospel of Luke places the birth of Jesus under the reign of Herod (73 BCE - 4 BCE) - "In the days of King Herod of Judea..." (Luke 1:5) and links it to the census of Quirinius:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:1–5)

The census in fact took place about ten years after Herod's death in 4 BCE.[10] Some scholars have stated that many censuses took place over time in Judea,[11][12][13] and some biblical scholars and commentators argue that the original Greek text of Luke's gospel can be translated as "registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria," i.e. that Luke was actually referring to a census other than that of Quirinius.[14] Some biblical scholars and commentators argue that Quirinius may have had an earlier and historically unattested term as governor of Syria, or that he previously held other senior positions which may have led him to be involved in the affairs of Judea during Herod’s reign,[15][16] but Géza Vermes has described such approaches as "exegetical acrobatics,"[17] and most scholars think that the author of the gospel made an error.[5]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Gruen 1996, p. 157.
  2. ^ Edwards 2015, p. 68-69.
  3. ^ Gruen 1996, p. 157 fn.49.
  4. ^ Maisch & Vogle 1975, p. 732.
  5. ^ a b Brown 1978, p. 17.
  6. ^ Gruen 1996, p. 156-157.
  7. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews - Book XVIII ; CHAPTER 1. Retrieved online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/works/files/ant-18.htm
  8. ^ Freeman 2009, p. 4.
  9. ^ Blomberg 1995, p. 12.
  10. ^ Raymond E. Brown, An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories, (Liturgical Press, 1988), p. 17.
    For example, Dunn, James Douglas Grant (2003), Jesus Remembered, Eerdmans. p. 344. ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 Similarly, Erich S. Gruen, 'The expansion of the empire under Augustus', in The Cambridge ancient history Volume 10, p. 157.
    Géza Vermes, The Nativity, Penguin 2006, p. 96.
    W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders, 'Jesus from the Jewish point of view', in The Cambridge History of Judaism ed William Horbury, vol 3: the Early Roman Period, 1984
    Anthony Harvey, A Companion to the New Testament (Cambridge University Press 2004), p. 221.
    Meier, John P., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Doubleday, 1991, v. 1, p. 213.
    Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977, p. 554.
    A. N. Sherwin-White, pp. 166, 167.
    Fergus Millar Millar, Fergus (1990). "Reflections on the trials of Jesus". A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (JSOT Suppl. 100) [eds. P.R. Davies and R.T. White]. Sheffield: JSOT Press. pp. 355–81.  repr. in Millar, Fergus (2006), "The Greek World, the Jews, and the East", Rome, the Greek World and the East, University of North Carolina Press, 3: 139–163 
  11. ^ Bruce, F.F. Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, 1974 pp.193-194
  12. ^ Habermas, Garry R. Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1984 pp.152-153
  13. ^ Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy Lord or Legend? Grand Rapids: Baker Books 2007 pp.142-143
  14. ^ Wright, N. T. (2014). Who Was Jesus?. Eerdmans. p. 87. Retrieved 19 March 2016. 
  15. ^ Archer, Gleason Leonard (April 1982). Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House. p. 366. ISBN 0-310-43570-6. 
  16. ^ Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (1943; republished Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 87–88.
  17. ^ Géza Vermes (2 November 2006). The Nativity: History and Legend. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 28–30. ISBN 978-0-14-191261-5.