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.
[2] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.” Google Books. <>  Livius, Titus. The History of Rome.  Book 33, #28. <>  Pliny the Elder.  The Natural History. 1.Dedication C. Plinius Secundus to His Friend Titus Vespasian. <>
[3] kensos <2778>.>; Search results, <>  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. <>
[4] “Census.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017. <>
[5] Luke Greek text. Strong, James. “apographo <583> (Greek).” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1990.
[7] 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. <>  “Importance of Context in Translation.” 2015. <>
[9] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.”  Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #8. <>  Cicero, M. Tullius.  “For Marcus Caelius.” #32. <>  Cicero. “For Milo.” #27. <>  Cicero. “For Archias.” #5. <>  Livius. The History of Rome. Book 9, #19. <>  Livius. The History of Rome. Book 43, #14. <>
[10] “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.” <>  Smith, W. “Censor.” Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
[13]Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  n.d.  <>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. “The Registration (Census).” <>
[14] “What is the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem?” 2017. <>  “Distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem.” 2017. <>

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Chain of Custody – Could the Body of Jesus Have Been Stolen?

Oldest of the challenges against the Resurrection is the charge that the crucified body of Jesus of Nazareth was stolen from the tomb. Standing in strong opposition is the chain of custody over the evidence jointly established by the Roman government and the Jewish council.

Procurator Pilate granted the mutilated body to Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish council. He along with Nicodemus, another prominent Jewish council member, took it to Joseph’s own unused tomb for burial.

The pair quickly prepared the body for burial witnessed by women from Galilee, two identified by name – Mary the mother of Joseph or Jose and Mary Magdalene.[ii] Joseph then rolled a stone in front of the tomb entrance – confirmation by the two Jewish Council members that Jesus was dead.

What did or didn’t happen between the time Jesus was laid in the tomb at dusk on Friday, Nissan 15, until the following Sabbath morning, Nissan 16, is a complete gap in the timeline of the Gospels. It offers an opening for skeptics to say the body was stolen from the tomb that first night, although not the same alleged theft in the timeline described by Matthew before sunrise Sunday morning.

Those who most certainly would not have wanted to be corroborating witnesses became just that. The Jewish leadership declared to the Roman government that the body of Jesus was still in the tomb Saturday morning, Nissan 15… 

MT 27:62-64 The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”(NET)

Top level Jewish leadership approached Rome’s jurisdictional authority of Judea – Pilate – to state their concern implying it could also be a problem for him. As a Roman Procurator whose governing capacity included serving as a judge, Pilate had to weigh the truthfulness of their claim as well as the potential political consequences.

First was the declaration that the corpse of Jesus was lying in a tomb that Saturday morning. Unusual from a Roman perspective, not one of the Jews. Rome had little regard for crucified victims according toJosephus; however, Rome did allow the Jews’ custom to bury their crucified dead:[iii]

“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.”[iv]

Pilate most likely considered other factors, too. False witness in the Roman Empire was a capital offense so how likely was it they would risk lying? [v]What if the corpse had already been stolen and then it turned up later? That would be the last thing the Jewish leaders would want to have happen making the validity of their declaration even stronger.

Weighing the credibility and truthfulness of their testimony and concluding they were telling the truth that the body of Jesus was still in the tomb, an irritated Pilate issued a terse decision:

MT 27:65-66 “Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”(NASB) 

Pilate issued what was, in essence, a Roman court order to station koustodia, a company of guards, at the tomb and secure it they best way they knew how. Together, the chief priests, Pharisees and the koustodia placed a seal on the tomb as an additional security measure.

Pilate’s Roman authority was required to deploy the koustodia making them accountable to him; however, because some of the guards later ran to the chief priests after the events at the tomb on Sunday morning, it suggests at least some koustodia also had a form of accountability to the Jewish council. Was there such a thing as a Roman-Jewish military squad?

Josephus described a “seal” process involving a combined Jewish-Roman military style squad led by a “Roman captain of the temple guards.” The Roman captain, who resided in the Tower of Antonia adjacent to the Temple, was assigned to a contingent of armed Temple guards.[vi]

It was this Roman captain’s role to match his seal ring with a matching seal ring possessed by the Temple leadership to verify the integrity of the seal, in this case, used to secure the Chief Priest’s vestments worn at the Jewish festal sacrifices. This seal process was temporarily in place only from the death of King Herod until Vitellius became  president of Syria in 35 AD – the period of years virtually coinciding with the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth.[vii]

Placed at the scene of the tomb holding the body of Jesus or Nazareth that Sabbath morning are the contingent of chief priests and Pharisees (probably including stealth followers, Joseph and Nicodemus) to witness the seal being placed on the tomb and the posting of the koustodia. Jewish leadership left with full confidence the sealed tomb would remain secure for three days following his crucifixion alleviating their anxiety that someone might steal the body of Jesus.[viii]

Archenemies of Jesus obtained a Roman judgement confirming that the chain of custody over the body of Jesus was legally in tact from the Roman crucifixion, to his burial, until the incredible events at the tomb at sunrise Sunday morning. With an unbroken chain of custody over the body of Jesus, what is the possibility his body was stolen?


NET = NetBible translation; NASB = New American Standard Bible translation
Gospel references: Matthew 27-28, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19.

[i] Pearce, Jonathan MS. “Matthew and the guards at the tomb.” 2012. < rel=”nofollow”> “Gospel Disproof #38: The guards at the tomb.” 2014. < rel=”nofollow”>
[ii]  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V. 1883. n.d. <>
[iii] Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book IV, Chapter VIII;
Google Books. n.d. <
[iv] Josephus.  Wars. Book IV, Chapter V.
[v] Jahnige, Joan. “The Roman Legal System.” KET Distance Learning. 2017.>  Adams, John Paul. “The Twelve Tables.” 2009. California State University – Northridge. <>
[vi] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI; Book XX, Chapter I.  Wars.  Book II, Chapter XVII; Book V, Chapter VI.
[vii] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI; Book XX, Chapter I.  Smith William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1857. “L. Vitellius” (#5); “C. Cassius Longinus” (#18), and “L. Cassius Longinus” (#19). n.d. <>  Smith, Mahlon H.  “Lucius Vitellius.” 2008.   <>  “Lucius Vitellius.” Ed. Jona Lendering.  20John Simkin14.  <>
[viii] “koustodia”, G2892l (Strong) “#2892 κουστωδία koustodia;” “strategos <4755> and “speira <4686>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d.  <>

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