Was Jesus Accursed By God When He Was Crucified?

Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the fact that serves as proof for Judaism that he is not the Messiah. Jewish belief holds that a person who is hanged is accursed by God; therefore, Jesus was accursed by God disqualifying him as the Messiah:[1]

“The very form of his punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognize could suffer such a death; for “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. xxi. 23), ‘an insult to God’ (Targum, Rashi).” – JewishEnclopedia.com

Scriptural basis for this belief is found in the Law of Moses, Book of Deuteronomy. Very plainly it says that anyone who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God:

  1. DT. 21:23 “his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.(NKJV)

Connecting “tree” and “cross” is made through translations of the Deuteronomy Hebrew text word `ets meaning “a tree or wood timber.”[2] Some 300 years before Jesus was crucified, Jewish Hebrew translators of the Septuagint LXX used the Greek word xulon meaning “tree” or “wood.” Jewish and Christian Bibles alike nearly all translate `ets as “tree” or “pole.” [3]

Crucifixion involved a victim being hanged from its wood cross-timber beam on an upright pole. Therein lies the synonymous connection of the Deuteronomy Law to a cross being a “tree” or “pole.”[4]  

Thousands of Jews were crucified by the Romans.[5] Some were executed as judicial punishment for committing commonly recognized crimes such as murder, robbery and insurrection, a form of treason.

Many Jews including priests, however, were crucified for more sinister reasons such as simple hatred, spitefulness, terrorism, deterrent effect, or merely for entertainment. Jews of the Roman era could not conceivably have viewed these hapless victims of crucifixion as being accursed by God.[6] In fact, Jewish practice was to take great care in burying the crucified Jews before sunset:[7]

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” – Josephus, Wars

Hanging of a victim was not intended to be the Jewish form of execution; rather, death was to be accomplished first by stoning, then the corpse was to be hanged. The hanging was not intended to humiliate obviously because the person was already be dead. The Babylonian Talmud defines the capital punishment: [8]


“All who are stoned are [afterwards] hanged. (Soncino)


“The rabbis taught: It reads [Deut. xxi. 22]: “And he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.”” (Rodkinson)

“The rabbis taught: If the verse read, “If a man committed a sin, he shall be hanged,” we would say that he should be hanged until death occurs, as the government does; but it reads, “He shall be put to death and hanged,” which means he shall be put to death and thereafter hanged.” (Rodkinson)

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified like other Jews by the Romans – hanged from a cross until dead. Following customary Jewish practice, his body was taken down from the cross and buried with care by none other than two prominent Jewish Council members.[9]

What is then different about the crucifixion circumstances of Jesus than the other crucified Jews – something that would cause Judaism to view only Jesus as being accursed by God? The answer lies in the full context of the Deuteronomy Law:

DT 21:23 “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree…for he who is hanged is accursed of God. (NKJV)

The difference – a person to be hanged on a tree was to have committed an offense deserving of death, so reprehensible the individual was accursed by God. So egregious, death alone was not enough – the corpse was to be hanged publicly whereby all would know the nature of the crime. Talmud Mishnah and Gemara defined those capital offenses as being two: [10]


“… the sages say:  only the blasphemer and the idolater are hanged. (Soncino)

“…but thou shalt surely bury him the same day for he is hanged [because of] a curse against God, – as if to say why was he hanged? – Because he cursed the name [of God]; and so the name of the name of Heaven [God] is profaned.(Soncino)


“The sages, however, say: that as with a blasphemer who has denied the cardinal principle of our faith (i.e., he does not believe in God), the same is the case with an idolater who denies the might of God…” (Rodkinson)

Caiaphas and other Jewish Council members found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be I AM.[11] Execution should have been by stoning, followed by hanging. Problem was, Rome had prohibited executions by the Jewish theocracy.[12]

An exception to Jewish Law was required to justify the Roman crucifixion of Jesus – hanged on a tree – as signifying he was accursed by God for committing blasphemy. Without the exception, there is no justifiable connection. Sanhedrin 43a in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud Soncino edition references an exception in the case of Jesus of Nazareth – “Yeshu, the Nasarean”: [13]


“…On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [#34 the Nasarean] was hanged…But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!.…With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].’”

An exception provides the necessary loophole. After Jesus was judged to be guilty of blasphemy, it can then be said the Jewish Council handed over Jesus to be executed and hanged on a tree, albeit by Rome; therefore, Jesus was accursed by God. 

Rome did not recognize the Jewish crime of blasphemy posing another problem. The Jewish Council, instead, handed Jesus over to the Roman government under the accusation of failure to pay taxes and insurrection.[15] Either crime could result in the same desired result – crucifixion.[16]

Jesus was indeed judged by the Roman government for insurrection. However, neither Tetrarch Herod nor Procurator Pilate found any guilt in Jesus despite admitting to Pilate that he is a King.[17]

Not guilty of any Roman crimes, Pilate still condemned Jesus to crucifixion at the behest of the Jewish Council. In the end, it was political influences that came to bear in Pilate’s judgment to crucify Jesus compelling him to wash his hands saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”[18]

Does the crucifixion of Jesus actually mean that he was accursed by God only because he was hanged on a wooden cross? Or does Judaism view Jesus to be accursed by God for the blasphemy of admitting he is I AM.?

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[1] “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> “God Cannot die!” TorahOfMessiah.com. 2012. <https://web.archive.org/web/20140331233206/http://www.torahofmessiah.com/godcantdie.html>
[2] “H6086.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d.  http://lexiconcordance.com/search6.asp?sw=6086&sm=0&x=42&y=16> Benner, Jeff.  “Mechanical Translation of the Torah.” Deuteronomy 21:23. <http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mtt/D21.html>
[3] Net.bible.org. Deuteronomy 21:22, Hebrew text “`ets <06086>”  “Septuagint text, Greek “xulon <3586>” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3586Bible Hub. 2017. Deuteronomy 21:22. <http://biblehub.com> Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Septuagint.”  Septuagint.Net. 2014.  <http://septuagint.net>  “Septuagint.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.  Benner, Jeff A. “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center.  2013.  <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/31_masorite.html> Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex.”  USC West Semitic Research Project.  2012 <http://archive.is/WP0w> The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Devarim – Deuteronomy, Chapter 21. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9985#showrashi=true> Benner, Jeff, “Mechanical Translation of the Torah.” 2017. Deuteronomy 21. <http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mtt/D21.html>
[4] The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Mishnah IV Gemara. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htmSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 46b Gemara.<https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html
[5] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapters V, XIII, XIV; Book IV, Chapter V; Book V, Chapters VI, XI. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapter VI.2. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[6] Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter XI.
[7] Josephus. Wars. Book IV, Chapter V.
[8] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 45b. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Chapter VI, Mishna V.
[9] Matthew  27:57-61. Mark 15:42-47. Luke 23:50-56. John 19:38-42.
[10] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 45b – 46a. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Chapter VI, Mishna V.
[11] NASB. Luke 22:67-70. CR Matthew 26:63-65; Mark 14-63-65.
[12] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapters IX. The Complete Works of Josephus. n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[13] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein, Isidor. “Introduction to the Seder Nezikin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Shachter & Freedman. “Introduction to Sanhedrin.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin Chapter VI, Folio 43a. Greenberg, Eric J. “Jesus’ Death Now Debated by Jews.” Jewish Journal. 2003. Reprinted from The Jewish Week.  <http://jewishjournal.com/news/world/8546>
[14] Soncino Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a; footnote #34; “Glossary” > “Baraitha” and “Tanna, Tana.”  Epstein. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Visotzky, Rabbi Burton L. Sage Tales – Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud. 2011. p153. <https://books.google.com/books?id=pMJYU2DTZ4UC&pg=PA153&lpg=PA153&dq=Talmud+exception+for+Jesus+of+Nazareth&source=bl&ots=ir-xCPF6a0&sig=_Nx3mW86y5dgWQWtuQmV-VidP6w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimzZi8yNvZAhXH44MKHf5AAEsQ6AEIXjAG#v=onepage&q=Talmud%20exception%20for%20Jesus%20of%20Nazareth&f=false
[15] Luke 23:1-3.  
[16] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XX, Chapter V.  Josephus.  Wars. Book II, Chapters V, XIV. Ashby, Carol. Life in the Roman Empire. n.d. “Crime and Punishment.” <https://carolashby.com/crime-and-punishment-in-the-roman-empire>
[17] Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3, 13-15; John 18:33-38.
[18] NRSV, NASB.  Matthew 27:24; Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:11-15; Luke 23:20-25; John 19:4-15. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI. Chapters II, VI; Book XVII, Chapter XIII; Book XIX, Chapter V-VI. Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

“I AM” – a Blasphemy or the Truth?

High Priest Caiaphas asked Jesus of Nazareth a direct question, “”Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus answered ‘I Am.’”[1] To Caiaphas and other Jewish leaders, it was self-incriminating prima facie evidence – standalone proof – of blasphemy. Leviticus Law defined blasphemy to be a capital offense, death by stoning:

LV 24:16 “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (NASB)

As the backdrop, the son of an Egyptian father and Israelite mother had been apprehended for the offense of blasphemy. In the first and only documented judgement for blasphemy in the Old Testament, the Tanakh, the offensive son was judged by God Himself through Moses:

LV 24:13-15 Then the LORD said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.

LV 24:23 “… and they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him. The Israelites did as the LORD commanded Moses. (NIV)

What exactly constituted the act of blasphemy? It was not until centuries later that the legal question was answered in the Babylonian Talmud:

MISHNAH:  “The blasphemer is punished only if he utters the [The Divine] Name.”(Soncino)[2]

An effort to further define the Mishnah, called the Gemara, led Jewish Rabbi sages to discuss the act of blasphemy. Considered to be so sacred, the topic required extraordinary treatment by using euphemisms in the written text.[3]

During a blasphemy trial, special rules prohibited witnesses from quoting the blasphemy, instead using the substitute name of “Jose.”[4] Only one witness was allowed to quote the blasphemy and all others were to simply say if they agreed with what they heard.

Upon hearing a blasphemy, the judges were to rend their garments, a Jewish sign of displaying heart-rending anguish or mourning.[5] Exactly the reaction of Caiaphas when he heard Jesus answer his question with “I Am.”

Great Hebrew significance of “I AM” goes all the way back to Moses and the unconsumed burning bush. Curiosity drew Moses closer when a Voice called him by name. Moses asked who was speaking and the Voice responded:

EX 3:6 “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (The Complete Jewish Bible, NASB)

The Voice identified Himself as ‘elohiym, the Hebrew plural masculine word meaning “God, divine ones, rulers, judges.”[6] (Translators added the preceding “I am” only as a clarifying literary aide.) Commanded to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, Moses asked what he should say if anyone asked who sent him? Resoundingly, the booming Voice declared:

EX 3:14-15 “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.”  God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. (NASB)

Translated as “I AM” from the Hebrew verb hayah, it means “to exist i.e. to be or become, come to pass (always emphatic)” – neither a noun nor a pronoun. God emphatically identified Himself with an on-going action verb, according to Rabbi Rashi – “I will be” – no beginning or end.[7]

I AM then gave Moses His name, YHVH, the unspeakable four letter Hebrew name of God or “Tetragrammaton.” Intended to be concealed, according to Rashi, because the Hebrew 4-letter Name is spelled without a “vav” (a Hebrew letter/symbol).[8] The ineffable Hebrew proper name of God derives from the root word hayah, “I AM.” Translated as “The LORD” in place of the unspeakable Devine Name, it appears in other Biblical references as Jehovah, God (‘elohiym), or Adonai.[9]

Jewish translators of the Hebrew-to-Greek Septuagint LXX completed in 247 BC translated the Exodus text of both “I AM” and “The LORD” into Greek as ego eimi.”[10]Jesus answered Caiaphas using these very same two Greek words.

Ego is a primary first person pronoun to be used emphatically.[11] Eimi, also to be said emphatically, is “the first person singular present indicative meaning “exist’” with characteristics of present, imperfect and future tenses.[12]

When Jesus answered Caiaphas’ question with ego eimi, he in essence declared emphatically and authoritatively, as a statement of fact:  “[Yes], I Am [presently and into the future, the Messiah, the Son of God].”

A year earlier, Pharisees also believed they had heard Jesus commit blasphemy. While teaching at the Temple, Jesus several times referred to himself as ego eimi:

JN 8:12 “…I AM the light of the world…” (Jubliee)[13]

JN 8:24 “…unless you believe that I AM, you’ll die in your sins.”(ISV)[14]

JN 8:28 “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM…”(ISV)[15]

Thinking they had a smoking gun that even the surrounding crowd could not ignore, the Pharisees accused Jesus of being possessed by a demon after he said “If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.”[16] They aptly pointed out that Abraham and the prophets had surely kept God’s word yet they were dead.[17] Jesus picked up on the reference to Abraham:

JN 8:56-58 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”(NKJV)[18]

Possibly the most astonishing statement in all the Gospels, Jesus not only said he actually knew Abraham, he had observed in real time Abraham rejoicing when he saw that the day of Jesus had arrived. Even more incredibly, Jesus explicitly said, “Before Abraham was, I Am” – ego eimi. The Pharisees picked up stones to kill Jesus, but according to John, it was not yet his time, and Jesus escaped unharmed.[19]

Facts of the case are undisputed – Jesus identified himself as I AM, the Son of God. What remains is the open question: did Jesus speak a blasphemy or the truth? If Jesus spoke blasphemy, his death sentence was truly justified according to God’s own Law.

If Jesus is the Son of God, he could not have spoken a blasphemy and as a result he was unjustly judged in his Father’s own chosen judgment seat of Israel pursuant to his Father’s own Law of blasphemy. Perhaps the greatest paradox of all time – at the Passover on the sacred Mount Moriah in the holy city of Jerusalem, Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God to the Priests and Scribes of the Temple, the House of God – coincidence?

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NASB = New American Standard Bible translation
ISV = International Standard Version translation
NIV = New International Version tranlation
NKJV = New King James Version translationn

[1] NASB. Luke 22:67-71. CR Matthew 26:63-65; Mark 14-63-65;
[2] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 55b, footnote #20. <http://come-and-hear.com/tcontents.html>   
[3] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 56a, 66a.  The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson translation. Book 8, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter VII, Mishna VI. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>
[4] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 56a, 66a.
[5] Lamm, Maurice. “Keriah – The Rending of Garments.” Chabad.org. 2018. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/281558/jewish/Keriah-The-Rending-of-Garments.htm>
[6] “<H0430>”Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com>
[7] Net.bible.org. Hebrew text. Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1990.“hayah <1961>.”  The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. 2018. Shemot – Exodus 3:14 translation & commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9864#showrashi=true>  “exist;” “be/” “become,” “transitive.” Merriam-Webster. 2018. <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[8] Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Shemot – Exodus 3:15 commentary. Benner, Jeff, The Ancient Hebrew Alphabet. 2017. “vav.” <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet_letters_vav.html>
[9] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 55b & footnote #20, 56a.   Martincic, Tom. “The Meaning of the Tetragrammaton.”  Eliyah.com.  n.d.  <http://www.eliyah.com/tetragrm.html>  “Tetragrammaton.” Dictionary.com.  <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tetragrammaton?s=t>  Marlowe, Michael. The Translation of the Tetragrammaton.”  Bible Research. 2011. <http://www.bible-researcher.com/tetragrammaton.html>     “Tetragrammation.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14346-tetragrammaton>  Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus, et. al.  The Jewish Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1912. “The Seven Names.” p 163.   <https://books.google.com/books?id=lfoOtGOcIBYC&lpg=PA594&ots=6qoCfVVUz7&dq=wave+sheaf+encyclopedia&pg=PA594&hl=en#v=onepage&q=seven&f=false>
[10] NetBible.com. Exodus 3:6 – Septuagint text; Hebrew text Myhlah <403>, ‘elohiym, the plural form of  ‘elowahh <0433>.   Biblehub.com. Exodus 3:6 Hebrew ’ĕ-lō-hê <403>, plural form of eloah. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II.1-6, 13-1. Trans. William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[11] Net.bible.org. Luke 22:70, Greek text.  Strong. “ego <1473> The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
[12] Net.bible.org. Luke 22:70, Greek text.  Strong. “eimi <1510>” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.       
[13] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary. John 8:12. BibleHub.com.  <http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/john/8.htm>
[14] Gill’s Exposition. John 8:24. BibleHub.com. <http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/john/8.htm> Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. John 8:24. BibleHub.com. <http://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/john/8.htm> Wesley’s Notes on the Bible. John 8:24. BibleHub.com. <http://biblehub.com/commentaries/wes/john/8.htm>
[15] Wesley’s Notes on the Bible. John 8:28. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. John 8:28.
[16] NASB. John 8:52.
[17] John 8:52-55.
[18] Gill’s Exposition. John 8:58. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. John 8:58. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary. John 8:58. Wesley’s Notes on the Bible. John 8:58.
[19] John 8:59.

Nazareth’s Town Crier Proclamation that Changed History

It seemed highly unlikely that Jesus would be born anywhere else other than Nazareth. The angel, Gabriel, who visited Mary announcing her supernatural conception did not instruct her to go anywhere else to bear her child so why would she think otherwise?

Mary was expected to give birth at home – most certainly not in a stone enclave used to shelter livestock in the faraway town of Bethlehem.[1] Nearly 9 months pregnant, Mary would have been looking forward to having the support of her husband, family and friends over the few remaining days when that special moment would arrive.

Suddenly, a town crier shouted out a proclamation that changed history and Mary’s destiny when he announced a decree from none other than Caesar Augustus:[2]

LK 2: 1-3 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.” NKJV

What exactly did the Town Crier proclaim that would compel Joseph and Mary to promptly leave for Bethlehem? Traditional Nativity stories cite the “census” decreed by Caesar.  Surprisingly, the word “census” is not used in many of the English Gospel translations.  

Greek for “census” is kensos meaning “tax” which does not appear in Luke’s Greek text.  Used only four times in Bible Greek texts, kensos is used exclusively by the author of Matthew, all specifically in the context of “tax” and not related to the Nativity story.[3]

Latin for “census” is the word censēre and is found nowhere in Bible Greek texts.[4] In fact, the word “census” does not even appear in either of Josephus’ Jewish history chronicles, Antiquities of the Jews or Wars of the Jews.

First and third verses of Luke chapter 2 contain the Greek word apographo, a verb meaning an activity to “write off (a copy or list), i.e. enrollment.”[5] Caesar’s decree initiated an action to make a list of the population in the Roman Empire by conducting an enrollment process. It has been translated into English in various Bible versions as “census,” “registration,” “enrolled,” “numbering,” and “taxed.”[6]

Verse 2 uses the Greek word apographe, a noun meaning “an enrollment, by implication an assessment.”[7] It refers to the documented record – a written enrollment register or listing resulting from the actions initiated by Caesar’s decree.

Translating Greek to English has its challenges and Luke’s Nativity story is a prime example. The difficulty for translators is capturing the correct distinctions in the English translation by relying, at least to some degree, on their contextual interpretation of the text.[8]

Roman censuses required an oath to be given at the time of registration and they were not just used for taxation assessments. Censuses also had several other purposes such as to enumerate the population; establish a public registry; identify who were Roman citizens; and sizing the military.[9]

Common to all five English translation variations of Augustus’ decree are the characteristics of taking an action that produced a documented enrollment registration or a listing which, regardless of purpose, required an oath and enumerated the population. All translations are thus consistent with a typical Roman census registration process.[10]

Town criers announcing Augustus’ decree informed people when and where to appear for the registration.[11] Compliance was not optional. Failure to do so was a very serious Roman offense known as incensus, the origin of the English word “incense” meaning “to arouse extreme anger or indignation.” Punishment was harsh including the possibility of loss of property, slavery, imprisonment or even death.[12]

LK 2: 4-6 “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was,that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.”NKJV

Proclamation by the town crier in Nazareth came at the tail end of months of Roman government planning and implementation throughout the vast Empire.[13] Interestingly, if the crier’s announcement had occurred just a couple of weeks earlier or later, as very easily could have happened, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth. Timing of the proclamation, instead, set in motion a unique confluence of events soon to take place in Bethlehem.

Implications of Augustus’ registration decree compelled Joseph and Mary, at the point when she was ready to give birth to their firstborn son, to endure the compounded dangers and risks of making the long 90-mile trek on foot through the steep, hilly wilderness to Bethlehem.[14] Meanwhile, Magi from a foreign country were in the process of making a month’s long journey to Jerusalem not knowing they would eventually also end up in Bethlehem…a small town where none of them had planned to be.

Had Jesus been born in Nazareth, the Magi would never have found him in Bethlehem as directed by King Herod and Micah’s Bethlehem Messiah prophecy requirement would not have been met. Was the timing of the town crier’s announcement of Caesar’s decree merely a coincidence that unexpectedly changed the birthplace of Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem?


[1] Finkel, Michael.  “Bethlehem 2007 A.D.” National Geographic.  December, 2007.
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[3] Net.Bible.org. kensos <2778>.  http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2778>; Search results, <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=greek_strict_index:2778>  Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “2778 kensos.” 1990.  “G2778.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2778.html>
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