Quirinius, Governor of Syria When Jesus Was Born?


Quirinius – if not for the Nativity account in the Gospel of Luke, his name would be all but forgotten. Governance of Quirinius presents probably the greatest challenge to validating the five tight date parameters established by Luke and Matthew for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

In his day Quirinius (Cyrenius in Greek) was a famous, powerful Roman Consul, the highest Senate rank achievable.[1] Included in his resume are 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.[2]

Jewish historical views of Quirinius are quite different. To the Jews, he is known as the infamous governor of Syria who in 6 AD imposed a Roman provincial taxation triggering a Jewish revolt.[3] Understandably, the contemporary Jewish reading audience of Luke would easily recognize a reference to Quirinius.

Luke confirms Matthew‘s statement that Herod was King when Jesus was born. Tightening the timeline, Luke adds two more defining parameters bringing the total to four – Caesar Augustus, his census decree, the reign of King Herod plus a celestial star event. Evidence shows all scenarios align with the 2 BC timeframe leaving Quirinius as the X-factor.[4]

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)

Two observations about Quirinius can be pulled from Luke 2:2. “This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.” Aside from the governance of Quirinius, if there was a first registration associated with Quirinius, “This census first took place…” there had to be a second one.[5]

Indeed, there is a second reference. The Books of Acts, the common author of the Gospel of Luke, makes a second reference to a “census”:

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)

Bringing clarity in the Greek text, the verse contains a rarely used Greek word noun, apographe, meaning “a register; enrollment.” Muddling the situation, English Bible versions translate apographe using five different words – “census,” “registered,” “enrolled,” “numbering,” and “taxed.”[6]

Comparing the two events, Luke’s registration scenario is benign while the Acts scenario is circumstantially different – it involved an uprising. Neither scenario is associated with a Roman lustrum census that was last taken in 8 BC, according to Augustus’ own documented declaration.[7]

According to secular history, a conundrum is posed because Herod’s death year and Quirinius governing in Syria do not sync with the 4 BC timeline. Evidence now strongly suggests Herod’s death occurred during 2 -1 BC potentially changing the equation.

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

Greek hegemoneuo means “to act as ruler” as in acting with the authority of a governor, a verb.[8] Root word is hegemon, a noun meaning “a leader, that is, chief person (or figuratively place) of a province: — governor, prince, ruler”[9] Luke and Acts uses the hegemon title reference 8 times and the word is used 19 times in the New Testament.

Just twice and only in Luke does the author exclusively use the verb hegemoneuo. Appearing in very close proximity in the text, the word is used to describe responsibilities of two different rulers, Quirinius and Pilate:[10]

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 Prefect and a Procurator in a Roman province appointed by Caesar, not a legate “governor” which required Consul rank.[11] Responsibilities included Roman financial affairs and vested judicial power over life and death decisions, essentially possessing the authority powers of a governor.[12]

Using exactly the same word hegemoneuo, the word is used to describe the responsibilities of Quirinius.[13] In the eyes of the Jews, the Roman distinctions of rank made little difference because both virtually had the same fearful Roman governing authority.

Not alone is Luke treatment of Romans in a governing position in Syria – so did Caesar Augustus and Josephus. Augustus recognized three governing authorities in Syria toward the end of Herod’s reign – two presidents and a procurator.[14]

Caesar, in a letter, instructed Herod 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.[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 of the Jews

A few years later upon Herod’ death, Varus and Sabinus separately rushed to Jerusalem to secure his estate. Josephus identified “Varus, the president of Syria” and Sabinus as “Caesar’s procurator” and “Caesar’s steward for Syrian affairs.”[16]

Josephus also made numerous references to “Saturninus and Volumnius…the presidents of Syria. ” Saturninus was actually the Roman legate governor and Volumnius was the Roman procurator.[17]

Secular history recognizes Saturninus as the legate Roman governor of Syria circa 9-6 BC.[18] Varus was the Roman 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.[19]

Question:  who was the other “president” at the time of Herod’s death? Josephus didn’t say.

Independently, several 19th century historians tackled the Quirinus enigma. Not all were in complete agreement with their conclusions and timelines. Their varied research results were in relative agreement on one point – all agreed Quirinius served in a governing capacity in Syria prior to his infamous 6 AD Roman legate governorship.

Some of these 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.[20]

Two 20th century archeological discoveries of ancient inscriptions may provide the strongest evidence that Quirinius governed twice in Syria. Research by historian expert Gerard Gertoux concluded these two inscriptions identify Quirinius as the governor of Syria during the 3-1 BC timeframe.[21] One called out Quirinius by name…twice:

“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 (English translation) [22]

Gertoux makes the case that Quirinius took a special census in 2 BC as part of the Breviarium of Augustus. This census could not be referring to the 8 BC lustrum of the Roman Empire exclusive to Rome nor the 6 AD taxation census taken by Quirinius that was exclusive to Judea. Further, he concluded, a census in Apamea would have required the assistance of Judean King Herod.

Multiple historian’s research indicates Quirinius did govern in Syria at some point during the years of 6-1 BC. Archeological evidence narrows the time frame even more.

Does 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 December 22, 2023.

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[1] KJV. Kurenios <2958> Net.bible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2958&gt
[2] 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>
[3] 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.
[4] Matthew 2. Luke 1-2.
[5] NRSV. Luke 2. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “protos” <4413>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com> Smith, William; Wayte, William; Marindin, G.E., Ed. A Dictionary  of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1890. “apographe.”
[6] Acts 5:37. BibleHub. com. lexicon. “582.” n.d. < https://biblehub.com/lexicon/acts/5-37.htm>  “G0582.” LexiConcordance..com. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0582.html>  Smith, William; Wayte, William; Marindin, G.E., Ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1890. “apographe.” <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=register&f=false> Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Censor; Census.” <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624
[7] 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>
[8] 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.
[9] 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> Carrier, Richard C. “Herod the Procurator:  Was Herod the Great a Roman Governor of Syria?” 2011. p. 7. <https://www.academia.edu/1203990/Herod_the_Procurator_Was_Herod_the_Great_a_Roman_Governor_of_Syria?email_work_card=view-paper
[10] 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>
[11] “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.
[12] “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>
[13] 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>
[14] 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>
[15] 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>
[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] 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.
[18] “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>
[19] “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>
[20] Davis, J. “Quirinius.” Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. I.  n.d.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” “The Census of Quirinius.” pp 101-104. 13 July 2005 <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc2.i.html>  <https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1/hcc1.i.II_1.16.html>  Ramsay.  Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? Chapter 11.
Schaff. History of the Christian Church, Volume I. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” Chapter 2, Sec 16.  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>  Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals.109 AD. Book III. Trans. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, <http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html>  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.  Schurer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1, pp 352-353.  “List of Roman governors of Syria.” Wikipedia.com. 2018. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_governors_of_Syria>   Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” p 8.  Bunson. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Consuls.”
[21] 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>
[22] Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” Titulus Venetus (CIL III; ILS 2683).  Inscription. p 4.

Jews, Muslims & Atheists Have One Thing In Common


What if two of the world’s major religions and at least some atheists, all strong adversaries of Christianity, all agreed on a common fact about Jesus of Nazareth? One fact is common to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and at least some atheists – the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Agreement by avowed antagonists towards Christianity can provide a completely different validation perspective. If any adversary could prove that Jesus never existed, rest assured they would certainly do it. When opposing forces agree on a fact, it becomes the strongest form of evidence. 



Writing of the Quran was completed in 632 AD and became the scriptural foundation for Muslims over the 1500 years since. It may come as a surprise to many that the Quran recognizes Jesus as a historical figure. The Quran makes reference to him in 28 separate verses including 22 that reference “Jesus, Son of Mary,” such as this verse: [1]

“Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.”[2]

To be clear, the Quran does not say that Jesus is the Son of God, only that he is the “son of Mary.” However, the Quran does teach that Jesus was a prophet mentioned in the same company with Noah, Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.[3] To be born of Mary and to be named with the greatest prophets, Jesus had to have lived just as did these other great religious figures.

Connections between Judaism and Jesus or Yeshua are like a U-shaped magnet – inseparable yet with polar opposites that forever repel each other. The existence of Jesus of Nazareth, who was himself a Jew, cannot be denied by Judaism where he is treated as a very real person in its Scriptural and historical reference materials.

The Jewish Encyclopedia published in 1912, republished online as JewishisEncyclopedia.com, makes many references to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its article, “Jesus of Nazareth,” not only does it acknowledge the existence of Jesus, The Jewish Encyclopedia goes further – it sets the date of his birth at “around 2 BC” and his death in the year “3789 (March or April, 29 AD).”[4] Specifically commenting about the accuracy of the Gospel of Luke about Jesus’ existence:

“The whole picture of John the Baptist and of Jesus as bearers of good tidings to the poor has the stamp of greater truthfulness.”[5]

In its biography of “Jesus of Nazareth,”The Jewish Virtual Library estimates the date for the death of Jesus by crucifixion between 27 and 36 AD.[6] Encyclopedia Judaica states matter-of-factly that the four New Testament Gospels themselves are reliable, historical records of an actual historical Jesus:[7]

“The Gospels are records about the life of Jesus. John’s Gospel is more a treatise reflecting the theology of its author than a biography of Jesus, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke present a reasonably faithful picture of Jesus as a Jew of his time… The Jesus portrayed in these three Gospels is, therefore, the historical Jesus.” – Encyclopedia Judaica 

Throw into the mix another group that is antagonistic towards all religions – atheists. Self-described atheist blogger, Tim O’Neill, specializes in historical reviews and atheism. With a Master of Arts degree in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania, he is a member of both the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics.

In his 2-part webpage article “An Atheist Examines the Evidence for Jesus,” O’Neill decimates the theories of a mythic origin of Jesus. For example, O’Neill says that a false idea of a mythical crucified Messiah creates so many problems needed to support the myth, the idea becomes so unrealistic that it could only mean the Bible account is true:[8]

“It’s hard to see why anyone would invent the idea of a crucified Messiah and create these problems. And given that there was no precedent for a crucified Messiah, it’s almost impossible to see this idea evolving out of earlier Jewish traditions. The most logical explanation is that it’s in the story, despite its vast awkwardness, because it happened.”

Islam, Judaism and at least some atheists have one thing in common with Christianity – they affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was a true historical figure. At the center of the open debate, the question percolates instead on who exactly was Jesus of Nazareth…just a trouble-making Jewish preacher; or a prophet of God; or actually the Son of God? The starting point is accepting that Jesus did, in fact, walk this Earth – did he?


Updated June 28, 2023.

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[1] Quran. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. n.d. <http://search-the-quran.com>  “The Descriptive Titles of Jesus in the Quran (part 1 of 2): “The Messiah” and “a Miracle.”’ IslamReligion.com. 2014.  <http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/230>  Basic Facts. Best of Amsterdam. image. 2015. <https://www.bestofamsterdam.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Basic-Facts.jpg
[2] Quran. Ale-‘Imran 3:45-51. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
[3] Al-Ahzab: 33:7. Al-Baqara 2:136. An-Nisa 4:163, 171. Aal-e-Imran 3:84. Al-Maeda 5:75.
[4] “The New Testament.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>  
[5] “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “Flavius Josephus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.
[6] “Crucifixion.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2014. American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org>
[7] “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. p 246.
[8] O’Neill, Tim. “An Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus (Part 2 of 2). StrangeNotions.com. <http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-2-of-2>

Jesus of Nazareth – a Real Historical Figure?


Media today widely treats Jesus of Nazareth as a real historical figure. Evidence can be seen in many forms such as via NBC, National Geographic and The History Channel.

Premises of these media presentations 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.

The History Channel mini-series The Bible in 2013 became the adaption into the 2014 major motion picture release of Son of God. The next year this was 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.[1]

National Geographic in 2015 published 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.” 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.”[2]

New York Times reported decades earlier in 1977 an article entitled Jesus of Nazareth which was then turned into a 6 hour TV episode that later aired on NBC.[3] US News & World Report magazine ran as its cover story on April 16, 1990, The Last Days of Jesus: The new light on what happened 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. While many may react by thinking the historicity of Jesus is an established fact, there are those who are skeptical with some adamantly insisting he never existed at all and, as a consequence, Jesus cannot then be the Son of God.

Of those skeptics 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.

Theories against the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth fall into two basic areas. One is based on a passive form of legend that developed over centuries about a figure known as Jesus.

Another theory is loosely centered on some manner of Christian conspiracy where Christian activists created a fictitious messiah figure, some believing it is a full blown conspiracy.[4] Quotes from the promo webpage for the aptly named book, The Christ Conspiracy by D. M. Murdock, are examples of these views:[5]

“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 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 sources; major, non-Christian religions – even some atheists.

Credentials of these historical sources are important in weighing the integrity of their statements in-spite-of their antagonism. One is these 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 such as Tacitus and Suetonius. Perhaps the most credible sources are two major world religions, Judaism and Islam.

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 crucified.

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. Trial lawyers use this strategy to artfully extract common points of truth from witnesses to establish factual information. Using factual testimony of their opposing witnesses, they strengthen their own cases.

Over the past 2000 years up to this very day, the personage of Jesus of Nazareth has and continues to make a monumental impact on the world stage. Continually seen in current news stories, the name of Jesus still causes religious tensions, political turmoil, persecution, brutal atrocities of martyrdom and wars to be fought.[6]

What are the odds that all these consequences are the result of a false premise, one that says Jesus was not a real person? Something profound happened involving a historical figure two thousand years ago that forever changed history – even calendars – nevertheless, some will still continue to believe it is all a myth. Was Jesus of Nazareth a real person?


Updated November 11, 2022.

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[1] “The Bible.” A&E Television Networks, LLC. 2022. <https://www.history.com/shows/the-bible>  “Son of God.” IMDb.com, Inc. 2022. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3210686> “Beyond AD.” NBCUniversal Media, LLC. <https://www.nbc.com/beyond-ad/about>  “Jesus of Nazareth. Amazon.co.UK. image. 2011. <https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61mjpUpOKcL._AC_SL1051_.jpg
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