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Caesar Augustus – Beyond the Nativity Story

Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, is well-known for being named in the Nativity story of Luke, but he was also a factor in other aspects of the story of Jesus of Nazareth:[1]

MT 2:1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…”

LK 2:1-3 “…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)

Adopted son of Julius Caesar, his birth name of Octavius was officially changed by the Roman Senate in 27 BC to Augustus meaning “the exalted one.” At that time, the Senate granted him full powers as Emperor of Rome, then reigning as Caesar until his death in 14 AD.[2]

Previously, Octavius was one of three Roman triumvirate rulers with Marcus Lepidus and Marc Antony.[3] It disintegrated when Antony split off to join forces with his lover, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, to challenge the rule of Rome ending with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Octavius won, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Herod convinced Augustus to allow him to retain his crown as Judea’s king rather than be executed for his former allegiance to Antony and Cleopatra.[4]

In a drama that had future implications to the Nativity story, Herod had put two of his sons on trial for a murder plot against him. Cleverly, Herod asked Augustus for his official guidance documented by Josephus:[5]

“With these directions Herod complied and came to Berytus [Beirut] where Caesar had ordered the court to be assembled…The presidents set first, as Caesar’s letters had appointed, who were Saturninus, and Pedanius, and their lieutenants that were with them, with whom was the procurator Volumnius also…after whom sat the principal men of all Syria…”

Caesar named two Syria province Presidents and a Procurator as judges – three at the same time with governing responsibilities in Syria.[6] It opens the door to solving the secular historical timeline conundrum posed by Luke citing Quirinius governing Syria in the BC era a few years later when Jesus was born while Herod was king.

Commencing with the thirteenth consulship of Augustus on February 5, 2 BC, the Roman Senate celebrated his Silver Anniversary as Emperor.[7] To mark the occasion, Augustus was proclaimed Pater Patriae, the “Father of the Country,” an honor he included in his self-authored “The Deeds of the Divine Augustus” (Res gestae divi Augusti).[8]

Historians in modern times have uncovered evidence the 2 BC Silver Anniversary was marked by a special census of the entire Roman Empire. It was not one of the three Roman lustrum censuses Augustus claimed in The Deeds – one of two problematic historical Nativity timeline difficulties.  The closest lustrum to the birth of Jesus was taken in 8 BC several years earlier.

Dr. Earnest Martin’s research points to the special set of circumstances in 2 BC concluding that Augustus decreed a “registration” to be taken of the entire Roman Empire claiming allegiance to him as Pater Patriae.[9] From a different perspective, historian Gerard Gertoux also makes the case that Luke’s “census of the world” was not for taxation purposes; rather, it was a new type of “registration” census taken in the BC era by Quirinius in the Syria province, which included Judea at that time.  This registration census was intended to quantify the resources for the Breviarium, part of Augustus’s will to be read at his funeral along with the unveiling of Res gestae.[10]

Once more Augustus played into the timeline enigma of Luke’s reference to a census taken by Quirinius while Herod was king. Rome had annexed Judea as a province in 6 AD and Augustus assigned Quirinius as governor of Syria along with Procurator Coponius to implement the new Judea provincial tax laws. The resulting Jewish tax revolt is well-documented in history and mentioned in the Book of Acts.[11]

The longstanding problem for historians – the 6 AD taxation census under Quirinius cannot be tied to the timeline where Herod’s death and the birth of Jesus of Nazareth occurred no later than 1 BC.[12] That difficulty is resolved by Gertoux’s finding of the “registration” census administered by Quirinius in the Syria province while Herod was still alive.

Herod’s death again drew Caesar Augustus into circumstances impacting Jesus of Nazareth. The succession of the kingdom to Herod’s son, Archelaus, was challenged by his brother Antipas, who appealed to Caesar.[13]

Augustus decreed the former Judean kingdom to be ruled by the three surviving sons of King Herod – half by Archelaus as ethnarch and  the remaining half divided among Philip and Antipas as tetrarchs. Herod Antipas was also known as just Herod in the Gospels whose tetrarch realm was Galilee.[14]

Do connections to the historical life of Augustus increase the credibility of the Gospels or play into the claim by skeptics that the Gospels are a fabrication?


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[1] Luke 2. “Augustus.” Ed. Jona Lendering. 2014.  <>  Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. 14 AD. Internet Classic Archive. 2009. <>
[2] Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. n.d. Book II. Chapter 94. University of Chicago|Bill Thayer.  2016.  <>  “Augustus.”  UNRV History |The Roman Empire.  United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <>  Augustus.”
[3] “Second Triumvirate.” 2015. <>
[4] “Augustus.” UNRV.  “Did Caesar and Cleopatra really have a son?”  The Ancient Standard. 2010. <>  Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews.  Book XIV, Chapter 14; Book XV, Chapters V-VI. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  Google Books. n.d <>  Smith, Barry D. “The Reign of Herod the Great, King of the Jews (37-4 BCE). Crandall University. 2010. <>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVI, Chapter XI.  Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  Google Books. n.d <>   “Herod the Great – King of the Jews.” Bible History Online. 2016. <>
[6] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapters 9, 10; Book XVI1, Chapters 1, 5. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter 27.
[7] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 12. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. <>   Adams, John Paul.  “The Roman Festival Calendar:  Julio-Claudian Additions.”  California State University – Northridge. 2009.  <>   Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” n.d. <>
[8] Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). The Internet Classics Archive.  2009.  <>   “pater patriae.”  Nova Roma.  2007.  < >  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica.  2017.  <> Martin.  The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 13. <>  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d.  <>
[9] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. “pater patriae.”  Nova Roma.  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica.  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.”
[10] Davis, William Steams, ed. “Ancient History Sourcebook: Res Gestae Divi Augusti, c. 14 CE.” 1912. Fordham University. <>  “Augustus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2017.  Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews.  Book XIV, Chapter III.  Josephus.  Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter XVIII.  Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 1854. University of Chicago. n.d. <>
[11] Mathew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25. Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. p151. 1981. Google Books.   <>
[12] Adams, John Paul. “Roman Census Figures.” California State University – Northridge. 2010.  <>  Davis, John D. “Quirinius” (Quirinus), cwui-rin’i-us, Publius Sulpicious.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 1953.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2004. <>  Schaff, Philip.  “Chronology of the Life of Christ.”  History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. 1890.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <> Ramsay, William M. “Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?” 2017. n.d. <> Sieffert, F. “Census.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 1952. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2004. <>
[13] Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IX-X.
[14] Matthew 2, 14; Mark 3, 6, 8, 12; Luke 3, 9, 13, 23; John 14; Acts 12.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapters VI, XII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.

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