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. 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), and places the census within the reign of Herod the Great, who actually died 10 years earlier in 4 BCE. No satisfactory explanation has been put forward which could resolve the contradiction, and most scholars think that Luke has made a mistake.
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. The contemporary 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”.
The date of the birth of Jesus
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 2:1–7)
The census in fact took place about ten years after Herod's death in 4 BCE. Some scholars have stated that many censuses took place over time in Judea, 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. 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. Géza Vermes has described such approaches as "exegetical acrobatics," and most scholars think that Luke has made a mistake.
- Gruen 1996, p. 157.
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- Gruen 1996, p. 157 fn.49.
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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.
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