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?

REFERENCES:

[1] Finkel, Michael.  “Bethlehem 2007 A.D.” National Geographic.  December, 2007.
[2] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.” Google Books. <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=census&f=false>  Livius, Titus. The History of Rome.  Book 33, #28. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=33:chapter=28&highlight=crier>  Pliny the Elder.  The Natural History. 1.Dedication C. Plinius Secundus to His Friend Titus Vespasian. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=1:chapter=dedication&highlight=crier#note-link34>
[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>
[4] “Census.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/census>
[5] Net.bible.org. Luke Greek text. Strong, James. “apographo <583> (Greek).” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1990.
[6] NASV, NRSV, ASV, BBE, KJV.
[7] Net.bible.org. Greek text.  Strong. “aprographe <582> (Greek).”  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
[8] Hu, Shuqin. “Context in Translation.” Journal of Language Teaching and Research. 2010. Vol. 1, No. #, pp 325-325. <http://www.academypublication.com/issues/past/jltr/vol01/03/25.pdf>  “Importance of Context in Translation.” OneHourTranslation.com. 2015. <https://www.onehourtranslation.com/translation/blog/importance-context-translation>
[9] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.”  Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #8. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>  Cicero, M. Tullius.  “For Marcus Caelius.” #32. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0020:text=Cael.:chapter=32&highlight=census>  Cicero. “For Milo.” #27. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0020:text=Mil.:chapter=27&highlight=census>  Cicero. “For Archias.” #5. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0019:text=Arch.:chapter=5&highlight=censors>  Livius. The History of Rome. Book 9, #19. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026:book=9:chapter=19&highlight=census>  Livius. The History of Rome. Book 43, #14. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=43:chapter=14&highlight=censors>
[10] Net.bible.org. “proserchomai <4334>”; “telones <5057>; “telonion <5058>”; phoros <5411>; “kensos <2778>”.
[11] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.”
[12] “incense.”  Merriam-Webster.  Peck, Harry Thurston. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898). “Incensus.” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0062:entry=incensus-harpers&highlight=incensus>  Smith, W. “Censor.” Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
[13]Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  n.d.  Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. “The Registration (Census).” <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/#_ftnref3>
[14] “What is the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem?” Reference.com. 2017. <https://www.reference.com/geography/distance-between-nazareth-bethlehem-6ac7e95c8360c7c7#>  “Distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem.” DistanceFromTo.net. 2017. <https://www.distancefromto.net/between/Nazareth/Bethlehem>

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The Magi’s Provocation of King Herod

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi had been traveling on a month’s long quest to find a newborn King of the Jews.[1] All they knew, he was expected to be somewhere in Judea. It made perfect sense to start in Jerusalem with the King of Judea – Herod.

Immediately the Magi gained direct access to the King, their reputation as Magi making that possible. First words spoken by the Magi to Herod in Matthew’s Nativity account set the stage in the palace:

MT 2:2Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?(NASB, NKJV)

No doubt, it was shocking news to the reigning king who knew nothing about this royal birth. After all, this child certainly was not Herod’s son. The question assumes two facts – the child is predestined to be the King of the Jews and he has already been born. Qualifying their revelation, the Magi explained how they knew this to be true saying:

MT 2:2For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.(NKJV)

Now the second shock wave – not the star; no, it was the fact that they came to worship this newborn King of the Jews! No one worshiped the great Herod, yet these Magi traveled hundreds of miles from a foreign land emphasizing their personal conviction – what child would be worthy of such worship? The Magi left the palace without getting an answer.

Stirring the pot tends to cause people to act in peculiar ways. The Magi certainly shook things up with their declaration which undoubtedly also got the attention of everyone else in the palace.  Herod and all of Jerusalem were “troubled” by the news, translated from Matthew’s Greek text word tarasso meaning “to stir or agitate (roil water).”[2]

Throughout history palaces of kings and queens have been notoriously unable to hold their secrets. Servants came from among the general population where they still had family and friends. Many times it was the royal family members who could not keep things to themselves – good gossip is just too hard to keep a secret. Herod’s family was scandalously known for their loose lips.[3]

A newborn king of the Jews – who was the father if not from the House of Herod?  A child worthy of worship by Magi?! Now this was newsworthy! It must have been the hottest topic of conversation in Jerusalem.

Herod was widely hated so the news undoubtedly raised hopes, yet at the same time, it was just as troubling – would the new king be worse than Herod or hopefully a good king? Either way, it would be years before he would begin his reign.

For any king, especially with the personality profile of Herod this whole affair, true or not, would be an embarrassment and no king should ever be embarrassed. As the story unfolds, the King came to quickly view this child’s birth as a threat that must be dealt with such as Herod had done many times before using whatever means necessary.[4]

Processing in his mind the Magi’s alarming news, after they left the palace the King immediately assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people.”[5] Not just a select few, but all of the Jewish religious experts – the King was leaving no stone unturned as was his reputation.

Herod made it clear he believed the Magi’s proclamation by asking the chief priests and scribes to determine “where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.”[6] The King specifically asked “where” – not ifChristos was to be born using the specific Greek word for Messiah. Their consensus response: “In Bethlehem of Judea” citing the prophecy of Micah 5:2.[7]

Up to this point, the actual appearance of the star witnessed by the Magi astronomers had been only incidental information. Had the star been the most attention-getting news from the Magi, a cynical Herod would have been expected to question it, even scoff at it – he didn’t. It was a detail; however, that did not pass his attention.

Matthew’s account does not say Herod was unaware of the star event – it can only be said that he did not know the exact date. Events in the sky would likely have been a relatively petty matter to the King prior the Magi’s visit, especially considering his bigger political problems in the kingdom, with Rome, and his scheming family affairs.

Upon hearing of Micah’s prophecy from the Jewish religious experts, his focus changed. No star was mentioned in Micah’s prophecy nor recorded in the response by the chief priests and scribes although as religious experts they were likely fully aware of Balaam’s prophecy of a star coming forth from Jacob signifying a ruler of Israel.[8] Maybe they mentioned this to Herod, maybe not.

One thing is for certain, Herod had a new fixation:  when did this star appear? There could be only one reason why it was now important – knowing when the star appeared would establish a timeline.

Summoning the Magi back to the palace, Herod wanted this second meeting to be in secret. Since the word was out all over Jerusalem about the Magi’s initial visit to the palace, why did Herod want their next meeting to be secret? It strongly suggests the King had something to hide.

Herod now possessed two details of interest to the Magi – Micah’s prophecy corroborating the birth of a Jewish ruler and the general location of Bethlehem where he could be found. This information would serve as leverage to learn when the star had appeared.

One other thing… Herod wanted the Magi to report back to him with the exact location of the child under the pretense that he, too, of course could worship him. But Herod worshiped no one or thing.

In Bethlehem, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Duped by the Magi who went back to their homes by avoiding Jerusalem, the enraged and paranoid King believed he still had a threat that must be eliminated. Herod ordered all the children 2 years and younger to be killed in the district of Bethlehem based on the timing of the star’s first appearance learned from the Magi.

Hard to believe anyone could be this evil?  This is the same King who, among many murders, killed a chief priest, his second wife, her grandfather and her two sons who were strangled, and would soon execute his firstborn son by his first wife.[9] Moreover, from his death bed he would summon all the principal men of his kingdom to Jericho, lock them in the hippodrome, and give orders to have them killed so as to deny them the opportunity to gloat over his death.[10]

Does Herod’s provocation by the Magi’s declaration ring true that the Messiah, King of the Jews, had been born in Bethlehem?

REFERENCES:

[1] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” 2000. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  “Major Trade Routes of 2nd Century BCE – 1st Century CE.” Smithsonian. Map.  n.d. 2016. <http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  
[2] Net.bible.org. Matthew 2:2 Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “tarasso <5015>”  Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1990.
[3] Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XV, Ch.VII-VIII; Book XVI, Ch. VIII, XI, IX, XIII, XVI. Book XVII, Ch. I, V. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XVIII, XXII, XXIV, XXXI, XXXIII. 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
[4] Josephus. Antiquities. Book V, Ch. 1; Book XV, Ch. 1, 3, 6, 7; Book XVI, Ch.VII, VIII, X; Book XVII, Ch. IV, VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXVI, XXII, XXIV, XXVI, XXX, XXXI. “Herod the Great.” 2017. Livius.org. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great
[5] Matthew 2:4. NRSV, NKJV, NASB.
[6] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[7] Matthew 2:5. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[8] Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  Kesser.org. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>   Rich, Tracey R.  “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Ch. III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Ch. XI; Book XVII, Ch. IX.
Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXII, XXVII, XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Ch. VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXXIII.

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Five Big Promises God Made at Mt. Sinai About “the Place”

Mt. Sinai is famed as the place God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses. What many may not realize is that God also made five big promises at Mt. Sinai about “the place” that were key to the Israelites’ destiny and to the future Messiah.

The place – what were these promises?  God promised to lead the Israelites to the land that He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the place for their descendants to possess; the place to establish a kingdom of the nation of Israel; the permanent place for His Name to dwell; the exclusive place for Israel to observe the Passover; and the place for the judgement seat of Israel.[1]

God just didn’t say exactly where the place would be. Great faith in these promises was required for a fledgling nation of people who had just fled the only life they had ever known – slavery in Egypt.

Spies on a recon mission found the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan to be occupied with many enemies, their kings and their militaries. Moving to that place seemed an impossible task, especially for a ragtag nation of former slaves without a military. In fact, doubts and lack of faith by the Exodus generation at Mt. Sinai would cost them from seeing God’s promised land.[2]

A kingdom required a king and his dominion over a land with boundaries, but the Hebrews were a people isolated in the desert wilderness without a king or a country. Everywhere they would trek, the local inhabitants would go to war to defend their lands to keep out the Israelites. Every kingdom had a seat of the Throne, the monarchy’s base of power, which for security reasons must be located in a fortified city protected by a military. If there was no king, no land, and no fortified city for the Throne, how could there be a kingdom?

For a permanent place for the Name of God to dwell required a temple to replace the temporary Tabernacle tent and its Holy of Holies. A temple also required protection from heathen enemies inside a defensible, centralized city. Fundamental to a theocracy, this temple had to be located in the nation’s capital.

According to the Law, the Passover was to be celebrated at its appointed time requiring the sacrifices to be offered by the priests of God at the central place of worship. For a perpetual place to observe the Passover required a permanent sacrificial alter in close proximity to the Temple with enough open space surrounding it to accommodate tens of thousands of people and priests.

A high court to judge the most important and most complicated cases of the nation in the place God chose, by its definition, was to become the judgement seat of Israel.  As the highest court in a theocratic government, it had to be located in close proximity to the seat of the Throne and the Temple.[3] This highest court was part of the hierarchal judicial system structure previously implemented by Moses.

None of these promises seemed like even the remotest reality to the Israelites who, after 400 years, were starting from scratch after escaping from under the harsh rule of Pharaoh. Yet against all odds over the coming centuries, these five prophetic promises did become a reality.

Israel conquered its enemies and took possession of the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where each of the 12 tribes of the sons of Israel were allotted their own land apportionment. Israel’s now formidable military protected the nation even before the establishment of a kingdom.

A king, the most famous in Hebrew history, was born in Bethlehem in the lineage of Judah fulfilling the royal prophetic blessing of Judah by his own father, Israel. The giant slayer, King David, conquered and occupied the fortified city of Jebus or Salem, soon thereafter called Jerusalem. The city became the seat of the Throne of David over the kingdom of Israel.

King Solomon, son of David, built the Temple still known to this day as the Temple of Solomon, its Western Wall remnants a most holy place for Jews today.[4] This new Temple was consecrated and blessed by Solomon where the first sacrifices offered on its permanent alter were burned by fire sent down from heaven.[5]

The Passover was observed at its appointed time with the sacrifices offered by the priests of God on the permanent altar at the new Temple.[6]Annual pilgrimage to The Passover would resume after the Babylonian captivity at the Second Temple until Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome.

Lastly, the judgement seat of Israel, the highest court in the land for both civil and criminal cases, was established in the capital city of Jerusalem. Civil cases were judged in the Hall of Judgement, initially decided by the famed wisdom of Solomon, on the porch of the King’s palace.[7]

Built into the northern wall of the Temple was the Chamber of Hewn Stone. It served as the meeting place for the 70 elders of Israel, later to become known as the Great Sanhedrin.[8] In a theocratic government where God’s Law serves as the criminal code, the highest level of criminal offenses, including some capital death cases, were judged in this Chamber.[9]

God’s five big promises at Mount Sinai laid the ground work for the appearance of the House of David and the subsequent prophecies of the Messiah tied specifically to its legacy. Once the Throne of David legacy was established, over the coming centuries prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah and Micah would reveal specific prophecies announcing the Messiah would come from the House of David, son of Jesse, of the Tribe of Judah, the son of Jacob.[10]

Isaiah’s prophecy of “My Servant” described a cruel sacrificial-type judgement resulting in a death verdict which, during the period of the Second Temple, could only be rendered in the judgement seat of Israel, Jerusalem.[11] Zechariah’s prophecy predicted God would comfort the descendants of David in the city of Jerusalem as they mourned over the death of the one whom they had pierced, their depth of mourning as for the death of a first born only son.[12]

With 100% accuracy of fulfillment of all five big promises made by God at Mt. Sinai about “the place” – from the Exodus to King Solomon’s reign, which in turn fulfilled the prophetic promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah – what are the odds it was all just an extraordinary coincidence?[13]

REFERENCES:
 [1] Genesis 17, 22, 35, 49; Exodus 23, 33; Deuteronomy 12, 16, 17.
[2]  Numbers 14.
 [3] Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1, 17, 19; Numbers 11.
 [4] 1 Kings 6; 2 Chronicles 3.
 [5] I Chronicles 6; Leviticus 9; Nehemiah 11.
 [6] II Chronicles 8.
 [7] 1 Kings 3, 4, 7.
[8] Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1, 17; Numbers 11; I Chronicles 19.  Shachter and Freedman.  “Introduction to Sanhedrin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Ariel, Yisrael. “The Chamber of the Hewn Stone.” The Temple Institute.  2014.  <https://www.templeinstitute.org/illustrated/hewn_stone_description.htm>  Ariel, Yisrael. “Blueprints for the Holy Temple.”  <http://www.templeinstitute.org/blueprints-for-the-holy-temple.htm
[9]  Schoenberg, Shira. “Ancient Jewish History: The Sanhedrin.” 2017.  <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-sanhedrin>   Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “ Sanhedrin.”   
[10] Isaiah 7, 9; 11; Jeremiah 23, 33; Zechariah 3, 6, 12.
[11] Isaiah 52-53. Sanhedrin 16a, 17a. Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “Sanhedrin.” Josephus.  Antiquities. Book IV, Chapter VIII.14; Book XX, Chapter IX.4.  “Ancient Jewish History: The Beit Din.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2017.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-beit-din>
 [12] Zechariah 12.
 [13] 2 Chronicles 6.

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