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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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?


[1] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” 2000. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  <>  “Major Trade Routes of 2nd Century BCE – 1st Century CE.” Smithsonian. Map.  n.d. 2016. <>  
[2] Matthew 2:2 Greek text. <> 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. <
[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. <
[5] Matthew 2:4. NRSV, NKJV, NASB.
[7] Matthew 2:5. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[8] Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” n.d. <>   Rich, Tracey R.  “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <
[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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Jerusalem – the Most Improbable City on the World Map

An ancient, world-famous city with no source of natural wealth or strategic value – no harbor, no navigable waterway, no major trade routes, militarily isolated with valleys on all four sides, not even a natural water source within its walls – Jerusalem, an improbable city in the desert.[i] How could Jerusalem play a role in weighing the possibility that Jesus is the Son of God?

Happenings of great religious significance began at the place about 1000 years before the future city would ever come to be called Jerusalem. Its entire existence is based almost solely on its religious heritage. A 2000-year history leading up to the era of Jesus of Nazareth produced a legacy of kings, births, deaths, prophecies, angels, sacrifices, blessings, war, exile and restoration. Were these various happenings somehow leading to a particular point in time?

It began when one day God instructed Abram to move to an unnamed location. By faith, he and his family resettled in a strange land near Salem.[ii] During these years, God blessed Abram, changed his name to Abraham and promised that he would become the father of a great nation.[iii] His miraculous son, Isaac, would be born as the first step in fulfilling God’s promise.

Isaac would pass on his father Abraham’s blessing to his own son, Jacob, in-spite-of his deception to steal the birthright blessing from his older paternal twin brother Esau. Fleeing for his life from Esau, it would not be until 20 years later when Jacob decided to return home near Salem. The night before returning from exile to the land of Abraham, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.[iv]

Many years later, Israel along with his 11 sons and their families moved to Egypt under the protection of his long lost son, Joseph, who had become the second most powerful man next to Pharaoh. Over the next 400 years the 12 tribes of the Children of Israel became slaves of Egypt.

Meanwhile, during the absence of the clan of Israel, the Jebusites occupied Salem, the city now being known as Jebus.[v]

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt through the parted Red Sea to Mount Sinai where he received the Law from God. Not just the Law,  it also included prophecies in the form of promises of future blessings, protection from their enemies, and the place. Five big promises in the Law were tied to the place – a new homeland; establishment of a kingdom; a permanent dwelling place for His Name; a permanent place to observe the Feasts; and the judgment seat of Israel. God just didn’t yet say exactly where the place would be.[vi]

As a visual sign of His promise, God sent an angel in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to lead them to the place that He had already chosen for their new homeland. It would be the first of the five big promises that came to be known as “The Promised Land.” Hinting at the specific location of the place, God twice called out the occupants of Salem – the Jebusites:[vii]

EX 23::20, 23 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.… “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites…”(NASB)

EX 33:1-2 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’” I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (NASB)

God predicted to Moses the Hebrews would one day want a king to rule them like the other nations. When that time came, God promised to guide Israel in choosing their king from among their own people.  It would become the second of the five big promises tied to the place.[viii]As predicted, centuries later the people did exactly that – they wanted a king like the other nations – but the people chose their own first king, Saul, by casting lots.[ix]

As time would bear out, the people’s choice failed. Saul did not seek God’s guidance and it would cost him the lives of himself and his three sons on the battlefield. With Saul’s failed kingship and death, this time Israel accepted God’s choice anointing as their king, David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem.[x]

Promise of a kingdom for Israel had only been partially fulfilled. David was a king without a throne and he had an eye on Jebus that was still occupied by the Jebusites. Every attempt by the fledgling nation of Israel to defeat the Jebusites up to this point had been unsuccessful.[xi]

David, the giant slayer, had become famous as a skilled warrior while serving in King Saul’s army. He gathered the people of Israel from the surrounding areas to form a large army, went to war with Jebus and took the city. Salem – Jebus – now was called the City of David. Soon thereafter, the city encompassed the Mounts Moriah and Zion and become known as the City of Jerusalem, the throne of David.[xii]Jerusalem, a city with no logical reason for existence became the city of the kingdom of David.

An interwoven trail of blessings, testing of faith, much drama, prophecies made and fulfilled over the course of a millennia climaxed with the glory days of Jerusalem under King David. It would be short lived – the end of David’s reign marked the beginning of the nation’s deterioration that spiraled out of control to the point it would eventually all be lost when Jerusalem was exiled to Babylon.

A comeback for Jerusalem a millennium after David’s reign reached its height of glory under King Herod when Jesus of Nazareth, born of the royal lineage of David, appeared on the scene. Six prophecies by three prophets predicted that the Messiah would come from the House of David.[xiii]

Lucky for a charlatan named Jesus or was it part of God’s plan for the Messiah?

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[i]“Jerusalem .”  New World Encyclopedia.   “Jerusalem Archaeological Sites: Biblical Water Systems.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2014. 
[ii] Genesis 11-15.  “Historical Timeline.” The Biblical Zionist. 2009.  <>  Uittenbogaard, Arie. “Salem meaning | Salem etymology.”  <> Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book VI, Chapter X.
[iii] Genesis 17.
[iv] Genesis 32, 35.
[v] I Chronicles 11; Judges 1, 19; Joshua 15; Psalms 76
[vi] Exodus 23, 33; Deuteronomy 12, 17.
[vii] Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C. “Laws relating to conquests” ref. Ex. 23:20-33.
[viii] Deuteronomy 17.
[ix] I Samuel 10
[x] I Chronicles 11
[xi] I Chronicles 11
I Chronicles 17. Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, Book VII, Chapter III.1-2.
[xiii] Isaiah 9 & 11. Jeremiah 23 & 33. Zechariah 3 & 6.