Passover and the Gospels – Are They In Sync?

Moses defied Pharaoh some 3500 years ago in Egypt ending with the 10th plague, death of the firstborn.[1] Hebrews were spared when the angel of death passed over their homes bearing the blood of the sacrificial lambs over their doorposts.

God declared His act of salvation was to be observed annually by the Hebrews to “sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God “in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.”[2] Strict requirements appear in books of the Law of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[3]

Gospels detail the final days of Jesus of Nazareth surrounding his  trial, execution and resurrection where the setting is the annual Passover observance in Jerusalem. Interwoven throughout are 21 references to the Passover by name and 6 references to either “the feast” or “the festival.” Are the Gospel accounts consistent with Jewish legal requirements? Not everyone agrees.[4]

Passover began at twilight of Nissan 14, the day when the Pascal Lamb had been sacrificed, marking the beginning of Nissan 15 when the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be eaten.[5] A key distinction, Jewish days begin at twilight while Western societies begin the new day at midnight.[6]

Many elements with significance and meanings are associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[7] Like its name says, bread was made without leaven, known as “the bread of affliction.”[8] Over time, leaven came to be considered synonymous with “corruption.” In fact, a Passover preparation requirement was to ensure no leaven could to be found anywhere in a Jewish household going into Passover week.

Most Western societies would consider this evening meal to be the dinner event for the day of Nissan 14 while the first meal of the next day would be breakfast. The Law of Moses, however, considered the evening Feast of Unleavened Bread to be the very first meal of Nissan 15.

Roasted lamb from the Pascal sacrifice offered earlier that day of Nissan 14 became the main course.[9] It was literally a feast intended to feed 10 to 20 people; a festive and joyous occasion to celebrate God’s deliverance from bondage – freedom.[10] Any leftovers by midnight were to be promptly burned.

Sunrise brought the initial daylight hours of the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, along with the daily necessities still to come. People were busy with required and traditional activities including meals and sacrifices.

Jewish Talmudic law defined the sacrifices for each day including the meal plan for the first day of Passover. An entire tractate in the Babylonia Talmud entitled Chagigah is devoted to addressing the various expectations and requirements.[11] Two Chagigah sacrifices were actually associated with the Passover.[12]

First was the optional Chagigah sacrifice that could be offered on Nissan 14 as an optional festal offering intended to supplement the Paschal sacrifice ensuring there would be enough meat to feed a large Passover company.[13] It was “in all respects equal to the paschal sacrifice itself” expected to provide for “the duty of enjoying the festival.”[14]

If this optional festal sacrifice was to be offered, it was to occur before the Pascal sacrifice so that there was no interruption between it and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[15] Like the Paschal lamb, it had to be consumed by midnight with any leftovers to be burned.

By tradition, the second Chagigah sacrifice was traditionally offered on Nissan 15, the first day of Passover, coming to be called exactly that, the Chagigah. It was to be offered under different circumstances than the first with a different purpose and rules. As an obligatory, private “peace offering,” it was to be offered by an individual at the Temple with the assistance of a Priest who became a beneficiary to it.[16]

A portion of the sacrifice was to be given God, a portion to the Priest as a tithe for his own meal, and the remaining portion of meat was to be taken home by the offeror for his own Chagigah meal.[17] For this reason, a priest had a vested personal interest to assist in the sacrifice.

Meat from this obligatory Chagigah sacrifice was to be prepared during the afternoon and served before evening as the main course of the first meal of Passover day.[18] It was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night – the first and second days of Passover, Nissan 15 and 16, and the night in between.

Things get interesting as it relates to the Gospels’ accounts describing the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, especially John 18:28.[19] After the “Last Supper,” the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus was arrested and put on trial that night. During the trial, Jesus was taken by the Jewish leadership to Pilate at the Praetorium where the priests refused to enter, as referenced in John 18:28, “so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”[20]

Entering the Praetorium was one of those things that could place a priest in a state of defilement.[21] Although John does not explain the reason for the defilement, one possibility was due to the Jewish legal concept known as “abortus” – touching a dead body or home that once contained a dead body (the presumption of a Gentile’s home).[22]

After sunset, a ritualistic purification bath by the priest absolved the defilement; however, it was too late. Meat from the Chagigah sacrifice offered on the first day of Passover was to be prepared and cooked that same day before evening.[23]

A priest who was “defiled” could not offer any sacrifice that day meaning he would not receive his lawful portion of the Chagigah sacrificial meat for his own meal.[24] For a priest whose personal financial support came directly from his duties performed at the Temple, it was a major incentive not to be in a state of defilement on the first day of Passover.

Evening began the second day of Passover, Nissan 16, with the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf also known as the Omar offering. It was required to be offered on the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.

Are the Gospel references to the Passover during the final days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in agreement with Jewish Law defined in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, and the Talmud?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Exodus 8-12. Roth, Don. “What year was the first Passover?” Biblical Calendar Proof. 2019. <http://www.biblicalcalendarproof.com/Timeline/PassoverDate>
[2] Deuteronomy 16. NASB.
[3] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[4] Wells, Steve.&nbsp; <u>The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible</u>. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified? <http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html>  “101 Bible Contradictions.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <https://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html> [5] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” pp 66 – 67, 71-72. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[6] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 71.
[7] “Passover.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11933-passover> Rich, Tracey R. “Pesach: Passover.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm>  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “Present Ritual not the Same as the New Testament Times.” pp 74-75.
[8] Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16.  “Leaven.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9694-leaven>  Rich. “Pesach: Passover.”
[9] Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” p 75.
[10] Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John; chapters 18-19 commentary.  <https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-18.html> Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71, 76, 79, 81-82.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus.1850. Book VI, Chapter IX.3.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. p 1324. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf
[11] Talmud Bavli. Sefaria. Trans. William Davidson. n.d.  <https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud>
[12] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Three Things.” pp 70-71.
[13] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1324.
[14 The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter VI. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t03/psc09.htm> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1324.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71.  Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John chapters 18 & 19 commentary.
[15] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter V.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 79.
[16] Leviticus 3. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1383-85. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70.  Streane, A. W, ed.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. 1891. Chagigah 7b, Gemara. Pages 35 – 36. <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>
[17] Leviticus 7.  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  pp 147-148.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 41, 82.
[18] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[19] Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1384.
[20] NASB.
[21] Numbers 9. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p. 83.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Tohoroth.” #2. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/tohoroth.html>  “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[22] Leviticus 22.   Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1383-1385.
[23] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim. Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[24] Leviticus 22; Numbers 9, 19. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The First Day of the Feast” pp 82-83, 85, 130-131, “Appendix.” pp 130-131.  “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12358-priest>  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  p 148. 

Quirinius, Governor of Syria When Jesus Was Born?

Quirinius – if not for his name found in the Gospel of Luke, he would be all but forgotten. His name presents probably the greatest challenge to validating the five tight date parameters established by Luke and Matthew for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth – Caesar Augustus, his census decree, Quirinius governing in Syria and a celestial star event.

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

Matthew’s Gospel first says Herod was King when Jesus was born; later Luke confirms Herod as King and adds the limiting parameters of Quirinius governing in Syria and a census decreed by Augustus.[1]  Problem – Herod’s reign and Quirinius governing in Syria do not overlap in the timeline of secular history.

In his day Quirinius (Cyrenius in Greek) was a famous, powerful Roman Consul, the highest Senate rank achievable.[2] His resume included stints as a provincial governor in Crete & Cyrene, Galatia, Pamphylia, possibly Asia and was a war hero for his military victories – all prior to 4 BC.[3]

Jewish history views Quirinius quite differently, known as the infamous governor of Syria who in 6 AD imposed the Roman provincial taxation that triggered a Jewish revolt.[4] It understandable how the contemporary reading audience of Luke would easily recognize a reference to Quirinius.

Luke 2:2 offers three clues about Quirinius. It does not say Quirinius took the census – it only says that Quirinius was governing Syria. It suggests there was more than one census associated with Quirinius. And it contains a rarely used Greek word.

“This census first took place…” if there was a first apographe registration associated with Quirinius, there had to be a second.[5] Common author of the Gospel of Luke and the Books of Acts makes a second reference to an apographe registration:

ACT 5:37 “After this man [Theudas], Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census [apographe], and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.” NKJV

Luke’s scenario is benign and implies the oddity that Mary also had to register.[6] By contrast, the Acts scenario is circumstantially different – it sparked a revolt. Neither is associated with a Roman lustrum census last taken in 8 BC.

Unique to the Gospels is Luke’s twice-used word hegemoneuo, a special form of hegemon. Two words with different definition distinctions, yet both are typically translated into English as “governor.”

Greek hegemoneuo is not a noun, a title name; rather it is a verb meaning “to act as ruler” as in acting with the authority of a governor.[7] Its root word hegemon, appearing 19 times in the New Testament, is a name title, a noun meaning ““a leader, that is, chief person (or figuratively place) of a province: — governor, prince, ruler,” usually translated as “the governor.”[8] Think of an administrator vs. the administration.

Luke and Acts use the hegemon title reference 8 times, but only Luke exclusively uses hegemoneuo just twice to describe the acting roles of both Quirinius and Pilate. Appearing in very close proximity: [9]

LK 2:2 “This census first took place while Quirinius was governing [hegemoneuo] Syria.”

LK 3:1 “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor [hegemoneuo] of Judea…” (NKJV)

Pilate was a Procurator, a Roman Prefect, not a Legate governor of a Roman province who was appointed by Caesar requiring Consul rank.[10] Pilate’s responsibilities included Roman financial affairs and vested judicial power over life and death decisions – a governor.[11] Quirinius is described using exactly the same word, hegemoneuo.[12] In the eyes of the Jews, the Roman distinctions of rank made little difference because both had virtually the same fearful absolute Roman governing authority.

Luke is not alone in treating the procurators acting as governors – so did Josephus and Caesar Augustus. Josephus made numerous references to “Saturninus and Volumnius…the presidents of Syria.”[13] Saturninus was the legate governor and Volumnius was the procurator.

Caesar, in a letter sent to Herod referenced by Josephus, instructed the King to seat three Syrian judges for the murder plot trial of Herod’s two sons. Augustus called out by name Saturninius and Pedanius as the two “presidents” of Syria, and the procurator Volumnius: [14]

“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.” – Wars

In effect there were three governing authorities in Syria toward the end of Herod’s reign – 2 presidents and a procurator.[15] A few years later, Varus and Sabinus independently rushed to Jerusalem after Herod died to secure his estate.

“Varus, the president of Syria,” according to Josephus, also identified Sabinus as both “Caesar’s procurator” and “Caesar’s steward for Syrian affairs”[16] Who was the other “president” at the time of Herod’s death? Josephus didn’t say.

Secular history recognizes Saturninus as the legate Roman governor of Syria circa 9-6 BC.[17] Varus was legate governor from at least 6-4 BC, perhaps into 3 BC and possibly again in 1 BC leaving a complete gap in 2 BC.[18]

Independently, several 19th century historians tackled the Quirinus enigma.[19] Not all were in complete agreement in their conclusions and timelines; however, their research results were in relative agreement that Quirinius served in a governing capacity in Syria prior to his infamous 6 AD governorship.[20]

Some historians concluded that Quirinius first governed in Syria sometime during 6-1 BC; more notably others narrowed the time frame to the years of 3-2 BC.[21]  No definitive secular historical evidence could be found by any of these historians that positively identifies a governor of Syria during the years of 3-2 BC, thus Quirinius as governor could not be definitively ruled out.[22]

Two 20th century archeological discoveries of ancient inscriptions may provide the strongest evidence that Quirinius governed twice in Syria. Research by Dr. Gerard Gertoux concluded these two inscriptions identify Quirinius as the governor of Syria during the 3-1 BC timeframe.[23] One called out Quirinius by name…two times:

“Q[uintus] Aemilius Secundus s[on] of Q[uintus], of the tribe Palatina, who served in the camps of the divine Aug[ustus] under P. Sulpicius Quirinius, legate of Caesar in Syria, decorated with honorary distinctions, prefect of the 1st cohort Aug[usta], prefect of the cohort II Classica. Besides, by order of Quirinius I made the census of 117 thousand citizens of Apamea.”– Titulus Venetus inscription [24]

Gertoux makes the case that the Quirinius census registration of Apamea, Syria, was part of the special census taken in 2 BC as part of the Breviarium of Augustus. Further, such a census would have required the assistance of King Herod in Judea. Specific to Apamea, it could not have been the 8 BC lustrum of the Roman Empire nor could it be the 6 AD taxation that was exclusive to Judea.

Quirinius cannot be ruled out by any secular historical record as governing in Syria during the 6-1 BC time; instead just the opposite – research by multiple historians indicate Quirinius did govern in Syria at some point during those 5 years. Is Luke’s reference then corroborated that Qurininius governed in Syria at the time of a census registration decreed by Caesar Augustus while Herod was alive?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2. Luke 1-2.
[2] KJV. Kurenios <2958> Net.bible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2958>
[3] Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  Titulus Venetus (CIL III; ILS 2683).  Inscription. p 9.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>   Consuls.” History of Ancient Rome. 2018. <http://www.unrv.com/government/consuls.php>   “Senatorial Provinces.” History of Ancient Rome. 2018. <http://www.unrv.com/government/senatorial-provinces.php>  “Consul.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/cn-cs/consul/consul.html>  “P. Sulpicius Quirinius.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/su-sz/sulpicius/quirinius.html>  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. 1850. Book XVIII., Chapter I.1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[4] Acts 5.  Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 1981. pp 151-156.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters I-IV.
[5] NRSV. Luke 2. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “protos” <4413>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com>
[6] Smallwood. The Jews Under Roman Rule. p. 152.  Ando, Clifford. A Companion to the Roman Empire.  Ed. David s. Potter.  pp 178-179, 186.  2006.  Academia.edu. <https://www.academia.edu/649274/The_Administration_of_the_Provinces>  .
[7] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemoneuo <2230>”  Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV; Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapters IX, XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI.  Josephus. The Life of Flavius Josephus. n.d.  #9, #17.  Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII.3. Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #22.
[8] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemon <2232>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV; Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX; XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI..  Josephus. Life. #9, 17.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #22.  “Pontius Pilate.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/person/pontius-pilate>  “legate.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/legate-Roman-official>
[9] Josephus. Wars. Chapter IX.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter XI; Book XVIII, Chapter V. “Tiberius.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/tiberius>
[10] “Pontius Pilate.” Livius.org.  “legate.” Encyclopædia Britannica.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXIV.6, Book II, Chapter VIII, XIV. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter III,  Book XVII, Chapters IV & XX; Book XVIII, Chapter III; Book XIX. Chapter XIX; Book XX, Chapter I.
[11] “Procurator.” Livius.org.  “Governor (Roman).” Livius.org. <http://www.livius.org/gi-gr/governor/governor.html>  “Procurator.” Merriam-Webster. 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/procurator> “Procurator.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/procurator>
[12] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 Greek text, footnote #5; “hegemoneuo <2230>”; “hegemon <2232>”; “hegemoneuo #2230” (Greek Word Study).  (Thayer); “hēgemoneuo <2230>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2230.html>
[13] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapters IX, XI; Book XVII, Chapter IX-XI; Book XX, Chapter XVIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXI; Book II, Chapter II.  Antiquities.  Josephus. Life. #11.
[14] Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapter XI.
[15] Ramsay, William M.  “Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?”  2010. Biblehub.com. Chapter 11. <http://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/index.html>
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapter IX; Book XVII Chapters, IX, X.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter II.
[17] “Syria.”  Regnal Chronologies.  Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology. 1990. Chapter 5.  <http://nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm>   Schurer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.1890. <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false>
[18] “Ancient History Sourcebook: Res Gestae Divi Augusti, c. 14 CE.” Davis, William Steams, ed. 1912. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/14resgestae.asp>  Ramsay.  Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?  Chapter 11. “Syria.” Regnal Chronologies. n.d. <http://web.raex.com/~obsidian/Syria.html#Syria> Schurer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1, page 351.  Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem: The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 10. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11%3E%20%3Chttp://web.archive.org/web/20170111193244/http://www.askelm.com/star/star001.htm>
[19] Davis, J. “Quirinius.” Schaff. History of the Christian Church, Volume I. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” Chapter 2, Sec 16.  Ramsay.  Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? Chapter 11.
[20] Schaff.  History of the Christian Church, Volume I. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” Chapter 2, Sec 16.    Davis, J.. “Quirinius.”  Sieffert, F. “Census.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. II:  Basilica – Chambers. 1952. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc02/htm/iv.vi.ccxxx.htm>
[21] Davis, J. “Quirinius.”  Schaff. History of the Christian Church, Volume I. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” Ramsay. Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? Chapter 11. Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals.109 AD. Book III. Trans. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, <http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html>  Davis, J.. “Quirinius.”  Smith, William.  A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1857. “Vice’sima.” <https://archive.org/stream/schooldictionary00smituoft#page/n9/mode/2up/search/publicani>  “Cilicia.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering.  2018. <http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/cilicia/cilicia.html>  “Cilicia.”  UNRV History |The Roman Empire. 2017. <http://www.unrv.com/provinces/cilicia.php>  “Cilicia.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering.  2014.  <http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/cilicia/cilicia.html>  Mommsen, Theodor. The Provinces of the Roman Empire from Caesar to Diocletian. Volume 1. 1887. Chapter VIII., pp 347 – 397. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_WAKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=asia%20minor&f=false>  Boak , Arthur Edward Romilly.  A History of Rome to 565 A. D. 1921. p 277. 2010. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32624/32624-h/32624-h.html>  Schurer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1, pp 351-354.  “Syria.” Regnal Chronologies.  “Varus, Quintilius.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14647-varus-quintilius>  Doig. New Testament Chronology. Chapter 5.
[22] Schurer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1, pp 352-353.  “Syria.”  Regnal Chronologies.  “List of Roman governors of Syria.”  Wikipedia.com. 2018.  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_governors_of_Syria>   Sieffert, “Census.”  Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  p 8.
[23] Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” pp 3-5.  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015. p 1. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod>
[24] Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  Titulus Venetus (CIL III; ILS 2683).  Inscription. p 4.

An Unusual Roman Census Decree By Caesar Augustus

Traditional Nativity stories refer to the “census” decreed by Caesar Augustus. It was the motivation for Joseph to take Mary in her eighth month of pregnancy to Bethlehem 90-miles away when Gospels of  Matthew and Luke say she gave birth to Jesus of Nazareth. Secular historical timelines present a conflict with these Gospels.

LK 2:1-3 “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.” NASB

Surprisingly the word “census” is not used in some of the Gospel English translations. One reason is that nowhere in the original Greek texts is found the Latin word censēre .[1] In a parallel comparison, the translated English word “census” appears only once in any of the four voluminous works by Josephus, an Antiquities reference to a census taken by Moses.[2]

Derived from the Latin word censēre is the English word “census” whereas the only possible Greek equivalents are the two words, apographo and apographe, with very similar meanings.[3] By definition, as a verb, apographo means an activity to “write off (a copy or list), i.e. enrollment.” The noun, apographe, means “an enrollment, by implication an assessment,” the actual registry data produced by the enrollment activity.

As a verb, apographo the activity, is used in Luke 2, verses 1 and 3 while the noun, apographe the registry document, is used in verse 2. Both Greek words have been interchangeably translated in English Bible translations using variations of five different words – “census,” “registered,” “enrolled,” “numbering,” and “taxed.”[4]

Applying the Greek definitions to Luke’s account, Augustus issued a decree for an enrollment activity in verse 1. The actual enrollment register (list) documentation was completed while Quirinius was governing in Syria in verse 2. Everyone had to travel to his own city for the enrollment activity in verse 3.

Backdrop to the historical context are the multiple facets associated with a Roman censēre where enumeration of Roman citizens was the prized objective. Augustus took three lustrum Roman censuses during his 44-year reign.[5] In Caesar’s own words:

“I made a census of the people with Marcus Agrippa as my colleague. I conducted a lustrum, after a forty-one year gap, in which lustrum were counted 4,063,000 heads of Roman citizens. Then again, with consular imperium I conducted a lustrum alone when Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius were consuls (8 B.C.E.), in which lustrum were counted 4,233,000 heads of Roman citizens. And the third time, with consular imperium, I conducted a lustrum with my son Tiberius Caesar as colleague, when Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius were consuls (14 A.C.E.), in which lustrum were counted 4,937,000 of the heads of Roman citizens.” – The Deeds of Augustus

Roman lustrums involved a lesser known religious component. A sacred ceremony at the conclusion of a lustrum involved the Censor offering a sacrifice to the god Mars on behalf of Rome’s citizens.[6]

Taxation comes into play because data collection from a censēre was typically used to determine a tax valuation, an assessment or appraisal. A Roman procurator was then responsible for actual tax collection activities managed through local authorities.[7]

Abuses of tax collection were rife, a natural consequence of the Roman tax collection system. Publicani purchased franchise rights to collect taxes through an auction held in Rome.[8] A franchise inherently involves making a profit, but Rome didn’t care about how the proceeds were collected as long as the government received its expected revenue. This opened the door to dishonest and abusive behaviors to collect more revenue than was necessary by the franchise owner’s tax collection agents known as publicans, the despised tax collectors of the Gospels such as the Disciple Matthew.[9]

Syncing Luke’s account with the Augustus census in 8 BC does not come without controversy concerning historians, religious scholars, and detractors who take varied and opposing positions. According to Luke, the birth of Jesus occurred when Quirinius governed in Syria making the year 8 BC too soon under known or possible historical scenarios.

Further complicating the picture is the controversy surrounding the date of Herod’s death. Herod had to be alive in as referenced in Matthew’s account establishing this limiting parameter, corroborated in Luke who added two more parameters – the “census” and Quirinius factors.[10]

Secular historical calendars place Herod’s death in 4 BC. This year is determined from the printed accounts of Josephus’ Antiquities on which the secular timeline is reckoned. The calculation is based on the anchor date of the 20th year of the reign of Tiberius.[11]

Investigation by historian buff David Beyer on the Antiquities content included travel to major world libraries holding handwritten copies predating the first printings that came as a result of the invention of the Gutenburg press in 1544.[12] He discovered all existing handwritten manuscripts of Antiquities actually say Herod’s death occurred during the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year. Recalculating, the 2-year difference translates into Herod’s death occurring in 2 BC or early 1 BC – not 4 BC.[13]

Building on Beyer’s discovery, Dr. Earnest Martin’s research points to a special set of circumstances in 2 BC.[14] Rome was in the height of its glory commemorating the 750th anniversary of its founding and was the same year as the Silver Jubilee reign of Caesar Augustus.

Inspired by the circumstances of 2 BC, the Senate bestowed upon their emperor the honor of Pater Patriae, the “Father of the Country.” Augustus considered it to be one the highlights of his reign listed in The Deeds of Divine Augustus. To underscore this honor, prompted by the Senate, Augustus decreed a “registration” to be taken of the entire Roman Empire claiming allegiance to him as Pater Patriae.[15]

Dr. Gerard Gertoux conducted independent research where the results corroborate the findings of Beyer and Martin. Dr. Gertoux concluded that Luke’s “census of the world” occurred in 2 BC and was not for taxation purposes. Gertoux determined that Caesar’s motivation for the “census” was to quantify the entire resources of Rome as part of his breviarium totius imperii eventually to be read at his funeral along with the unveiling of his Res gestae divi Augusti (The Deeds of Divine Augustus).[16]

Research evidence produced by Beyer, Martin and Gertoux establishes a 2 BC timeline for a special “census” registration decreed by Augustus that occurred before the death of King Herod in late 2 BC or early 1 BC. These findings are consistent with the three dating parameters documented in the accounts of Matthew and Luke – Augustus, his census decree, and during Herod’s reign.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of Luke’s reference that a registration decree was issued by Augustus has nothing to do with history and is best presented with a question. How likely is it that Joseph would risk taking Mary, a young pregnant teenage girl, away from her comfortable home and family on a difficult, treacherous week’s long journey on the back of a donkey to Bethlehem 90 miles away knowing it was quite possible that Mary could give birth in the wilderness along the way – unless the Town Crier’s announcement gave them no other choice?[17]

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Census.”  Merriam-Webster. 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/census
[2] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 3, Chapter 12.4. 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>
[3] Luke Greek text. Net.bible.org. “apographo <583>” and “aprographe <582>.” n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com>
[4] NASV, NRSV, ASV, BBE, KJV
[5] Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). #8. Trans. Thomas Bushnell. 1998. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>
[6] “Lustrum.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/concept/lustrum>
[7] Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. pp 151-152. http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 1901. 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. “Censor”, “Publicani” and “Vectigalia.” <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 “Procurator.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/concept/procurator>
[8] Smallwood.  The Jews Under Roman Rule. p 152.
[9] Matthew 9; Luke 5. Smith, W. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. “Censor.” “Publicani” and “Vectigalia.”
10] Matthew 2; Luke 1. Smallwood. The Jews Under Roman Rule. Appendix E, p 568.
[11] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.6 and V.4.  Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 34, no 2. 1983. pp 526-531. <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf> Schurer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1. 1890. pp 464-465, footnote 165. <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false> Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology. 1990. Chapter 4.<http://nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm>
[12] Chase, Jeffrey S. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” n.d. <http://www.cs.duke.edu/~chase/cps49s/press-summary.html>
[13] Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” pp 90-93, 95-96.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false> Wolfram, Chuck. “The Herodian Dynasty.” 2004. <http://web.archive.org/web/20151013221102/http:/freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cwolfram/herod> Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 13. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11
[14] Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  n.d.  pp 6-7. <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>
[15] Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #35.  “pater patriae.”  Nova Roma. 2017. <www.novaroma.org/nr/Pater_Patriae_(Nova_Roma)>  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/pater-patriae> Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 13.  Mosley, John. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Reprint from Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981> Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” p 7.
[16] Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  pp 6-7.  Davis, William Steams, ed.  Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources. Vol. II: Rome and the West. 1912-13. pp. 166-172. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/14resgestae.asp>  Schaff, Philip. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.”  History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. 1890. Chapter 2, Sec 16.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.II_1.16.html>
[17] “Distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem.” DistanceFromTo.net. 2018. <https://www.distancefromto.net/between/Nazareth/Bethlehem> “What is the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem?” Reference.com. 2017. <https://www.reference.com/geography/distance-between-nazareth-bethlehem-6ac7e95c8360c7c7#> Bing.com/maps. Modern day mileage calculation from Bethlehem to Nablus (Nazareth) <https://binged.it/2mNpBy8>