Saturday, April 11, 2015

The lowdown on the census of Quirinius

The material on the Quirinius census should change forever the way this topic is dealt with by scholars. The problem is well known: Luke presumably made a mistake when he stated that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was governor of Judea when a census was taken that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. However, it is “known” from Josephus that Quirinius did not come to Judea until A.D. 6. The approach of FATP is once again to start by examining the text. Luke does not strictly say that Quirinius was governor; the verb used means that he had governmental authority, not necessarily that he was the official governor of the province. After establishing the proper understanding of the text, Roman records are cited that are consistent with an empire-wide census taking place in 3 B.C. More significantly, Josephus gives contradictory information regarding Quirinius. He dates the coming of Quirinius to Judea just after the exile of Archelaus (A.D. 6) in Antiquities 18.1,2 (18.1.1) and 18.26 (18.2.1), but these passages also say that one of the acts after his coming was to depose the high priest Joazar from office. Joazar was installed by Herod the Great a few weeks before his (Herod’s) death in response to the golden eagle crisis, because Joazar cooperated with authorities in the matter of a census, and with Herod regarding his handling of the golden eagle incident. This made Joazar extremely unpopular with the people, and after the death of Herod they demanded that Joazar be removed from the high priesthood. This was done within a few months of Herod’s death, which means that Joazar, Quirinius, and the census are all associated together in the time shortly before the death of Herod and the time immediately thereafter, contradicting the A.D. 6 date for the coming of Quirinius to Judea. The internal contradictions of Josephus in these matters were pointed out years ago by Zahn, Lodder and other scholars, but new insights that help in unraveling the contradictory accounts of Josephus have been given by Dr. Steinmann’s colleague John Rhoads. FATP devotes 11 pages to sorting out the correct order of events and explaining why Josephus made the mistakes that he did in dating Quirinius and the census. These pages may require several readings to understand all the issues, but once this is done it is clear that the preponderance of evidence favors the enrollment associated with Quirinius to have been in 3 B.C., and perhaps continuing into early 2 B.C.

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