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. Mention of 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.

All five events – Caesar Augustus, his census decree, Quirinius governing in Syria, the reign of King Herod plus a celestial star event– could have only happened during the 2 BC timeframe, the year when secular history cannot fill in the gap with Quirinius.

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

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

Matthew’s Gospel says Herod was King when Jesus was born; later Luke confirms Herod as King and adds the limiting parameters of Quirinius governing in Syria, a census decreed by Augustus and the Star.[1] Problem – Herod’s reign and Quirinius governing in Syria do not overlap in the 4 BC timeline of secular history; however, evidence now strongly suggests Herod death occurred the years of 2 -1 BC.

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 in 6 AD who imposed the Roman provincial taxation that triggered a Jewish revolt.[4] It understandable how the contemporary Jewish reading audience of Luke would easily recognize a reference to Quirinius and why the author delineated two registration events.

If there was a first apographe registration associated with Quirinius, “This census first took place…” there had to be a second one.[5] Indeed, the common author of the Gospel of Luke and the Books of Acts makes a second reference in Acts 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, corroborated by Matthew, 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 that have different definition distinctions, yet both are typically translated into English as “governor.”

Greek hegemoneuo is a verb meaning “to act as ruler” as in acting with the authority of a governor.[7] Its root word, hegemon, is a noun appearing 19 times in the New Testament; a name title meaning “a leader, that is, chief person (or figuratively place) of a province: — governor, prince, ruler,” usually translated as “the governor.”[8] 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 appointed by Caesar requiring Consul rank.[10] Pilate’s responsibilities included Roman financial affairs and vested judicial power over life and death decisions, essentially possessing the authority powers of 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 Roman 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] In effect there were three governing authorities in Syria toward the end of Herod’s reign – 2 presidents and a procurator.[15]

“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

A few years later with Herod’ death, Varus and Sabinus separately rushed to Jerusalem to secure his estate. “Varus, the president of Syria,” according to Josephus who 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] Secular historical evidence cannot confirm the Roman governor of Syria during the years of 3-2 BC.[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.

Research by multiple historians indicate Quirinius did govern in Syria at some point during the  years of 6-1 BC. Does this evidence corroborate Luke’s statement that Quirinius governed in Syria at the time of a census registration decreed by Caesar Augustus while King Herod was alive?

 

Updated November 21, 2021.

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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>  Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Consuls; Crete and Cyrenaica.” <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624
[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.  Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Berytus.” <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624
[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.  Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Judaea.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624>
[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.  < https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1; 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.  Bunson. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Consuls.”
[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.

Jesus of Nazareth – a Real Historical Figure?

Media pop culture today widely treats Jesus of Nazareth as a real historical figure. Evidence can be seen in many forms such as the 2013 History Channel mini-series The Bible and its adaption into the 2014 major motion picture release of Son of God. The next year followed with the 2015 NBC mini-series A.D.: Beyond the Bible picking up where the Gospels ended with the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

National Geographic published in 2015 the hard cover book Jesus: An Illustrated Life where its website promo begins by saying “Two thousand years after his death, Jesus of Nazareth remains one of history’s most influential and fascinating figures.”[i] The 2016 spin-off magazine special edition entitled The Story of Jesus states “Jesus of Nazareth remains one of history’s most influential and fascinating figures.” The premise of both is based on the factualness of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem during the end of King Herod’s reign; his Roman crucifixion at Jerusalem, and the claims of his Resurrection that spawned a new religion.

Decades earlier the magazine US News & World Report ran as its cover story on April 16, 1990, “The Last Days of Jesus:  The new light on what happened.” The article was based on the premise that Jesus was a real person who lived, died and quite possibly rose from the dead.

Movies, books and magazines do not necessarily prove Jesus was a true historical figure. Did Jesus really exist – was he a real historical figure? While many may react by thinking this is a dumb question, there are those who are skeptical with some who adamantly insist that he never existed at all and, as a consequence, Jesus cannot then be the Son of God.

Of those who do not believe the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, that small percentage still translates into millions of people. Many consider themselves to be agnostics or atheists, but not all. On what do they base their belief that Jesus never existed?

Theories loosely center on some manner of Christian conspiracy ranging from a passive form of legend that developed over centuries to a full blown conspiracy where Christian activists created a fictitious messiah figure.[ii] Quotes from the promo webpage for the aptly named book, The Christ Conspiracy by D. M. Murdock, are examples of these views:[iii]

“Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it.” – C. Dennis McKinsey

“The gospel story is an artificial, non-historical work. It has been fabricated from source materials that can be identified and traced to their incorporation into the gospels. There is not a particle of hard evidence that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ ever existed.” – Harold Leidner

Standing opposed to these charges are diverse sources outside the Bible reaching from today back through the centuries to within just a few years after the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. They come from Roman era historians and a Greek celebrity; non-Christian major religions – even some atheists. 

Virtually all the sources that corroborate the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth are antagonistic toward Christianity. When opposing forces agree on a common point of information, it becomes the strongest form of a truth because both sides have essentially established – willingly or reluctantly – that it is a fact. It is a strategy used by courtroom lawyers who artfully attempt to extract common points of truth from the witnesses who testify in a trial. Using the testimony of their opposing witnesses, they extract truths and establish facts that strengthen their own cases.

Some sources do not directly discuss the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but in denouncing or criticizing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, they have conceded by inference that he was born, lived and walked this earth. Others refer to the crucifixion of Jesus, a recognition that he once lived in order to be put to death.

Credentials of each of these sources are key to weighing the integrity of their statements or positions in-spite-of their antagonism. One is the highly recognized Roman historian of the Jews, Josephus, himself a former Jewish Pharisee priest and military General. Others include prominent Roman historical figures. Perhaps the most credible sources are two other major religions, Judaism and Islam.

Setting all the evidence of those sources aside, there is one overarching impression to consider. The personage of Jesus has made such an impact on the world over the past 2000 years up to this very day – as can be witnessed weekly if not daily in current news stories – the name of Jesus of Nazareth still causes religious tensions, political turmoil, persecution, brutal atrocities of martyrdom and wars to be fought.[iv]

What are the odds that all these consequences are the result of a false premise, one that says Jesus was not a real person? To many, these things alone attest to the fact that something profound happened involving a historical figure two thousand years ago that forever changed history; nevertheless, some will still continue to believe it is all a myth. Was Jesus of Nazareth a real person?

 

Updated September 1, 2021.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[i] Isbouts, Jean-Pierre. “Jesus: An Illustrated Life.” National Geographic Society. 2015. <http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Illustrated-Life-Jean-Pierre-Isbouts/dp/1426215681/ref=sr_1_1/185-6473608-4923818?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1462376067&sr=1-1&keywords=national+geographic+jesus>
[ii] Gauvin, Marshall J. “Did Jesus Christ Really Live?” (ca. 1922).  Infidels.org. <http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/marshall_gauvin/did_jesus_really_live.html>
Ron Csillag. “For scholars, a combustible question: Was Christ real?” TheStar.com. 2008. <http://www.thestar.com/article/557548
“Was Jesus a Real Man?” The Atheist Apologist. 2010. <http://www.atheistapologist.com/2010/06/was-jesus-real-man.html>
“Historicity of Jesus.” New World Encyclopedia. 2012.  <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Info:Main_Page>
Roussos, Ioannis. “On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.” Atheist Foundation of Australia. <http://atheistfoundation.org.au/article/on-the-historicity-of-jesus-christ rel=”nofollow”>
Rich, Tracey R. “Looking for Jesus?”, JewFAQ.org. <http://www.jewfaq.org/search.shtml?Keywords=what+about+Jesus>
Wolchover, Natalie.  “Proof of Jesus Christ?  7 Pieces of Evidence Debated.” 2013. LiveScience.com.  <http://www.livescience.com/38014-physical-evidence-jesus-debated.html>
Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. 1895.  “Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.”  Online Books Page. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[iii]  Murdock, D.M. aka S., Acharya.  The Christ Conspiracy.  Advertisement.  <http://www.truthbeknown.com/christ.htm rel=”nofollow”>
[iv]   Chiaramonte, Perry. “Christian persecution seen in more locations across the globe, new report shows.” February 02, 2017. <http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/02/02/christian-persecution-seen-in-more-locations-across-globe-new-report-shows.html>