CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

It is Christmas time and so time for skeptics to grinch their way into our celebrations by trying to spread Christmas doubt. I have responded to such attempts in the past, which my co-blogger BK was nice enough to reproduce here. More recently, the good folks at Triablogue have been doing some fine posts on the Nativity as well. They have helpfully put together two posts, one on Matthew and one on Luke, that link to their previous posts on the respective infancy narratives. These links include several references to the recent work by Jason Engwer on neglected evidence related to Luke's census.

11 comments:

Thanks Layman. That portion is coming up next week in KoS, of course. {g}

Jason E's work at Triablogue is good, but doesn't seem to have gotten around to addressing evidence of a census set up by Augustine; and this is avowedly what Luke appears to be addressing (not a census put up by Herod, for his pal Augustine or otherwise.) I noticed that you had been intending to address that, too; did you?

(Note: early Christian expectations of census records at Rome could be considered to be based on trusting the scriptural record. But even the people in a position to check on things, might have been mistaking the 6CE census as being the other census, especially insofar as it was by hearsay (i.e. John Chrystostom). To give an example, it is not very probable that Julian the Apostate would have meant that the newborn Jesus registered himself along with Joseph and Mary on a Roman census. But it makes some sense to his wording, for a 10-year-old Jesus to have done so.)

JRP

Thanks for the links and the encouragement.

Regarding what Jason Pratt said about the potential for ancient sources to mistake the 6 A.D. census for an earlier one, I agree that that's a significant possibility that should be kept in mind. I mentioned it in the second segment of my series on the census, in the context of discussing some comments Origen made. And I don't assign as much weight to a source like John Chrysostom as I do to a source like Justin Martyr on the subject of census records. I address some of the relevant distinctions in part four of the series, including in the comment section.

Concerning the comments of Julian the Apostate, it should be noted that he refers to what "you [Christians] admit", so it seems unlikely that Julian was referencing a later census in which Jesus was old enough to knowingly register Himself, such as the 6 A.D. one. Would such a young person have been responsible for registering himself? I don't know, but my initial impression is that it seems unlikely. I think it's reading too much into Julian to take his reference to "he registered his name" in the manner you've suggested, Jason. Assuming that Julian gave much thought to such details in his wording, perhaps he just meant that Jesus "registered his name" in a passive sense, in the sense of causing the name to be registered by being there.

Besides, if Julian and/or others had made the effort to research Jesus' involvement in another census, then it would be even more difficult for critics to explain why objections to the historicity of Luke's census don't appear in the early sources. Were people investigating or discussing Jesus' involvement in a census that occurred when He was around ten years old, but they didn't give as much attention to the Lukan census or didn't notice the alleged problems with the Lukan account when they looked into it?

Jason P.,

I tend to favor the explanation that Luke refers to an earlier registration than the infamous 6 A.D. one, but that his grammar was confusing to some (especially later scholars) and so the natural assumption was to link it to the more famous event. I have written much of this out, but still was looking for some relevant sources. I also want to review Jason E.'s work more closely.

I just checked R. Joseph Hoffmann's rendering of the passage in Julian the Apostate, and he has "with his father and mother his name was enrolled" (Julian's Against The Galileans [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Press, 2004], p. 118). That rendering doesn't involve the problem Jason Pratt is referring to. It should also be noted that the translation I initially cited, by Wilmer Cave Wright, has a note referencing Luke 2:2 at this passage in Julian. So, it appears that the man who rendered Julian in that manner didn't take the wording as inconsistent with the infancy census. See endnote 72 at:

http://tertullian.org/fathers/julian_apostate_galileans_1_text.htm

I think it's likely that Julian was referring to the census of Luke 2, when Jesus was an infant, since that better explains Julian's reference to a census that's "admitted" by Christians. The wording of the passage in Julian is consistent with the infancy census, for reasons I've explained in this post and my earlier one. And I doubt that both Julian and the Christians he was responding to were so familiar with the distinction between the infancy census and the 6 A.D. census as to allow Julian to recognize that distinction and cite it as something his Christian opponents in general would "admit". What they would more likely be expected to "admit" is an account in a document they recognized as scripture (Luke).

And how would a 6 A.D. census explain how Jesus "registered his name", if we take that phrase as Jason Pratt suggested? From what I know of ancient censuses, a ten-year-old child, much like a slave, probably would have been registered by an adult responsible for his care. So, neither the infancy census nor the 6 A.D. census would involve something along the lines of Jesus' physically going to a census official, speaking with the man, etc.

Chris Price wrote:

"I also want to review Jason E.'s work more closely."

I hope you do, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with. As I said in the series, this is a complex issue, and there are many potentially relevant passages in the patristic literature, spanning many thousands of pages. I was primarily addressing the earlier sources, but there's surely a lot of material I haven't come across in the later sources and perhaps some in the earlier ones.

Some of the New Testament and patristic scholars I wrote to when doing my research either didn't respond or sent a response saying that they weren't familiar enough with the subject to comment on it. But the ones who did respond and were willing to comment on the subject agreed with my perception that there was no early questioning or denials of the historicity of the Lukan census. My impression is that there hasn't been much attention given to this sort of data.

Jason E,

A slight (but maybe crucial) distinction: there would be a difference between mistaking a 6AD census for one that did-or-didn’t take place earlier, and mistaking official Roman records from the 6AD census as being evidence that the census spoken of by Luke had occurred. I did remember you discussing the former as a question of dating Jesus birth. (e.g. only Epiphanius, at the end of the 4th century, related any tradition, and that by a heretical sect, which would have come close to matching Justin’s mid-2nd c round-numbering-taken-as-literal by Richard Carrier et al--and then Epiphan, when discussing the same group elsewhere, represented them as holding to the 4BC date after all!) I still don’t remember you discussing the latter possibility: i.e. that people knew secondhand of real census records dating to the 6AD census but (being at secondhand) were mistaking thtem for Roman records dating to a census at the time of Herod.

(In passing, the Julian evidence, whichever way it should be read, sure counts as positive evidence against the Jesus-was-only-a-mythical-figure-later-historicized-in-Gospel-docs-composed-mid-2nd-century theory! But it may not count for as much weight in favor of that as we could wish.)

Anyway, I just went back and looked at your second entry, and your comments on Origen certainly do not address what I was asking about. It addresses an important topic, but not that topic. “Either he believed that the census of 6 A.D. was in some sense a continuation of an earlier census process or he didn't study the census well enough to recognize that the census described in Josephus and Acts 5 occurred about a decade after Jesus' birth.” Either way, this is not about whether Origen was thinking of Roman docs that happened to be from the 6AD census instead of from a Herodian census ten-ish years earlier. (Or even vice versa!)

Nor did I see any other discussion about this topic in your second entry when I went back to look again just now. Nor did I see discussion of this topic in your fourth entry, either, when I went back to look again at that entry again. Nor in the comments to part 4, either.

(Just to clarify, I think your series has a lot of good analysis and data. I didn’t see this particular possibility discussed, though. It has relevance to the question of whether the Herodian census was officially a Roman census under Augustine affecting all the Empire--which is what Luke is certainly saying--or whether the census was a local one run by Herod.)

{{Concerning the comments of Julian the Apostate, it should be noted that he refers to what "you [Christians] admit"}}

You reported (quoting accurately from Wright’s translation of “Against the Galileans”) that Julian wrote, “Even Jesus, who was proclaimed among you, was one of Caesar's subjects. And if you do not believe me I will prove it a little later, or rather let me simply assert it now. However, you admit that with his father and mother he registered his name in the governorship of Cyrenius.”

Hoffman (as you checked) renders this “[However, you admit that] with his father and mother his name was enrolled [in the governorship of Cyrenius].”

Obviously, there is some distinction between the two translations--as you agree, since you note that this rendering doesn’t involve the problem I am referring to. (Not that I think it is a problem, exactly; I’m just trying to assess the data properly.)

In lieu of further study of the text directly in the Latin or whichever language rescension the text exists in (which I am not in a position to do myself), may we provisionally agree on the authority of these two translators that the grammar might be rendered either way? If so, then the question of which way to relevantly render the grammar might feasibly be said to be connected to Julian’s intentions in that paragraph.

So, was Julian’s concern here to make counter-apologetic use of the admitted fact that Jesus was born under Herod during a governorship of Kyrenius? Or was his concern here to demonstrate that Jesus was a subject of Caesar, in some fashion he thought was conducive to his own apologetical interests?

If Julian’s goal was to use a birth in the time of Herod as a point for his (anti-Christian) apologetic, then we could maybe count this as being perhaps a witness that he thought such documents existed in the records. (It depends on what use he thought he could make of Jesus being born in the time of Herod. Though again why he would bother to foreshadow this as a reference when the Christians already agreed to it, as it occurs to him to remind them, is unclear.)

But if his goal was to make use of Christ’s subjection to Caesar as a point for his (anti-Christian) apologetic (e.g. a god, much less the God, wouldn’t do such a thing), then any registration would do for that (though especially one where Christ was considered old enough to be writing under his own recognizance); and his insistence that they (the Christians) admitted to a registering under the governorship of Kyrenius wouldn’t have to be more precise (especially if Julian is being splenetic, as he occasionally gives evidence of being--the same paragraph, for example, begins with him saying that he has no idea why he had digressed off into the previous point. {g}) If it comes to that, he need not have been intending to prove his point here by reference to census records; he need only have been planning to make reference to some social agreement of subjection (such as putatively might be drawn from the Caesar-coin remark, or Jesus’ behavior under Pilate. Though as it happens, either Julian never got around to it, or we lack more material that he wrote later which might contain that point--apparently the latter.)

So, how would you gauge Julian’s goals here, then? Because to me, it looks as though his goals are the latter (Christ subjecting Himself to Caesar looks bad for Christianity), not the former (Christ being born in the day of Herod looks bad for Christianity).

{{Would such a young person have been responsible for registering himself? I don't know, but my initial impression is that it seems unlikely.}}

Would a ten-year-old, on a trip with his father, have been unable to write his own name to a register sheet? Even if this had been done under Joseph’s authority, it still would have served what (to me) seems to have been Julian’s purpose: to mock the idea that a living god (much moreso the Living God) would have admitted subjugation to another authority.

(I agree about the legal status equivalent to slavery, btw--St. Paul makes some important theological points along this line a couple of times, one of them regarding the humility of Christ--but again, Julian would have thought this served his apologetic point, too, if I am reading his intentions correctly from his own text.)

{{I think it's reading too much into Julian to take his reference to "he registered his name" in the manner you've suggested, Jason.}}

On the contrary, I think it fits his agenda exactly: Julian is trying to make a point about Jesus submitting to Caesar. I suggest that this gives us a solid clue in which direction to render the grammar, as well.

{{Besides, if Julian and/or others had made the effort to research Jesus' involvement in another census, then it would be even more difficult for critics to explain why objections to the historicity of Luke's census don't appear in the early sources.}}

True enough. Though in the case of Julian, his whimsically sporadic topical arrangement might not have suggested or “inspired” (his term) that line of objection. In any case, we don’t know how he planned to demonstrate to the Christians that Jesus was subject to Caesar. It might not have been through census records at all; he presents his reference to the registration as an ad hoc point that Christians would have to agree about (so why would he bother affirming it by records later?) The thrust is that Jesus submitted to the authorty of Caesar, such as via (Christians themselves agreed) the delegated authority of Kyrenius (aka Quirinius). When exactly this happened looks to be completely beside the point for Julian.

{{Were people investigating or discussing Jesus' involvement in a census that occurred when He was around ten years old, but they didn't give as much attention to the Lukan census or didn't notice the alleged problems with the Lukan account when they looked into it?}}

We don’t actually have all that many surviving witnesses to critical opposition, so the argument from silence here might be weaker than expected. Still, on the other hand, it is true that where we have a lack of silence (primarily from Christian apologists) they are not giving indication that a charge of ‘no census in Herod’s day’ is a debating point they’re having to respond to (even when speaking on other closely related topics including points they recognize to be under disputation.) I am not entirely sure how much weight to allow for it, but it’s something to keep in mind in Luke’s favor (sort of).

But any analysis of the situation needs to keep in mind the priority of the undisputed facts or high probabilities. There was a worldwide census set up by Augustine which, in Palestine, was regulated under Kyrenius in 6AD. Would Joseph and Mary and Jesus have registered for this? Highly probably yes. (For that matter, unless He just skipped out of it, Jesus very probably registered for the next one or two censuses as well!) Would this or these records be kept in Rome? Highly probably yes. Would just anyone have access to them? No. Could petition for a report from them be requested and answered? Very probably yes.

After this, probabilities start to drop some, I suppose. Assuming for purposes of argument, though, that requests about validating Jesus’ birth under a census taken in Herod’s day, were sent to the exchequer (by whomever), how probable is it that the person or persons (over generations) in charge of the records would misunderstand the request and give a positive answer regarding the 6AD Kyrenius census? To me this seems plausible; even if records from a previous Herodian census (taken when one or another Kyrenius had joint-military-governorship of the region, as we have evidence of I believe) were also present in the archives somewhere. It wouldn’t take much for a standard reply to be set up to inquiries, in order to keep from having to dig through the records every time someone sent in a request: yes, Jesus of Nazareth was registered with his father Joseph and mother Mary as being born in Bethlehem (perhaps even in the final year of Herod) and the registration occurred in the first Imperial census, commanded by Augustus and carried out regionally by Kyrenius the Hegemon of Syria.

In this case, two disparate pieces of data would be conflated--not out of desire to mislead, but by accident. Nor would the two conflated pieces be contradictive of some census having been taken under Herod--unless that (Herodian) census was not really an Imperial edict across the Empire set up by Augustus, which is what Luke is certainly saying.

Again, this has to be kept clearly in mind as an actual (not hypothetical) piece of data for the case: Luke is very obviously talking about a census of ‘the civilized lands’ (i.e. the Roman Empire) set up by Augustus, and is talking about Joseph and the very pregnant Mary going down to Bethlehem to register for this census; and he puts this in the time of Herod (by implicative use of his language later he has to mean Herod the Great, not one of Herod’s sons--unless the prologue was added at some later date by someone other than Luke, which I certainly don’t argue in favor of but still need to mention as a defeater theory for identifying Herod with Herod the Great in the prologue); and he is linking this in some way to a census run by a hegemoneuontos of Syria named Kyrenius.

The main problem with the theory that Luke intends to identify this with a local census run by Herod, even to please his pal Augustus, is that Luke explicitly identifies the census as being Imperial in scope and in origin.

The main problem with the theory that Luke intends to identify this with a census run by Kyrenius in +/-6AD, is that Luke says that this occurred back during the reign of Herod. (The unclear grammar of {haute_ apographe_ pro_te_ egeneto} is inconclusive in any direction. The inclusion of a {he_} in front of {apographe_} in some late texts, such as represented in Green’s Textus Receptus compilation, is interesting, but of no help--the UBS doesn’t even bother mentioning it as a potentially significant variant.)

In any case, any theory about Luke being exactly accurate as to his information here, requires accounting for the (actual and undisputed, not hypothetical or suggested or disputed) reference to this census (for which Joseph is on the road with his wife and unborn son) being initiated across the Empire by Augustus, in Herod’s day.

There is (or seems to be) a lack of positive argumentation in this direction in your (otherwise admirable) consideration of data. Reference to evidence for an Imperial census (in scope and origin) dating to the days of Herod is not exactly attested in the data you mentioned. Or, if it is, then this needs to be made clearer.

Chris (Layman),

{{I tend to favor the explanation that Luke refers to an earlier registration than the infamous 6 A.D. one}}

Me, too!--for reasons adduced above. {g} But it would have to be to an Imperial census in scope and origin; so there are reasons more than Luke's confusing grammar for ‘later scholars’ to link it to the more famous event. But then, why is that event ‘more famous’? Because people generally understood that one to be the first Imperial census. (Didn’t they? Or is that an inference on our part from silence otherwise?) But Luke is clearly saying the first Imperial census occurred in the day of Herod instead.

JRP

Jason Pratt wrote:

"I still don’t remember you discussing the latter possibility: i.e. that people knew secondhand of real census records dating to the 6AD census but (being at secondhand) were mistaking thtem for Roman records dating to a census at the time of Herod."

I didn't directly address that issue, but I did address it indirectly in the process of discussing other subjects. Remember, the earliest appeal to a census record (in Justin Martyr) appeals to that record on the subject of Jesus' birthplace, not the historicity of the census. The same is true of one of the later appeals to a census record (by the unknown author of chapter 9 of Tertullian's An Answer To The Jews). Apparently, then, it was thought that the record referred to Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace in some manner. It's more likely that Jesus and His family would have been in Nazareth in 6 A.D., not Bethlehem. Why would a census record from 6 A.D. mention Bethlehem in a way that suggested Jesus' birth there? A census around the time of Jesus' birth makes more sense of the inclusion of that type of information. And if the census record included some information relevant to dating, such as giving the year in which the record was composed (for example, see the census record discussed in Paul Maier, In The Fullness Of Time [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1997], p. 4), then that dating would have to have been misunderstood under the scenario you describe above. It's possible that some sort of misunderstanding occurred, that one person or multiple people misread one or more items in the census record, but assuming such mistakes shouldn't be our default position.

You write:

"In passing, the Julian evidence, whichever way it should be read, sure counts as positive evidence against the Jesus-was-only-a-mythical-figure-later-historicized-in-Gospel-docs-composed-mid-2nd-century theory!"

I agree.

You write:

"Anyway, I just went back and looked at your second entry, and your comments on Origen certainly do not address what I was asking about."

I didn't know that you only wanted to address the issue of whether a census record from 6 A.D. might have been mistaken for a record of an earlier census. Your initial post mentioned mistaking "the 6 A.D. census" for an earlier one, without specifying that you were only addressing whether a census record was misinterpreted. You cited Julian the Apostate as an example of what you were addressing, and Julian doesn't discuss a census record.

You write:

"If it comes to that, he [Julian the Apostate] need not have been intending to prove his point here by reference to census records...In any case, we don’t know how he planned to demonstrate to the Christians that Jesus was subject to Caesar. It might not have been through census records at all; he presents his reference to the registration as an ad hoc point that Christians would have to agree about (so why would he bother affirming it by records later?)"

You might be misunderstanding my use of Julian. I didn't cite Julian in the context of census records.

You write:

"So, how would you gauge Julian’s goals here, then? Because to me, it looks as though his goals are the latter (Christ subjecting Himself to Caesar looks bad for Christianity), not the former (Christ being born in the day of Herod looks bad for Christianity)."

I don't think Herod is part of Julian's argument. He mentions Caesar in the immediate context, not Herod, and the subject he was addressing was Jewish subjection to Rome.

You write:

"Would a ten-year-old, on a trip with his father, have been unable to write his own name to a register sheet? Even if this had been done under Joseph’s authority, it still would have served what (to me) seems to have been Julian’s purpose: to mock the idea that a living god (much moreso the Living God) would have admitted subjugation to another authority."

The issue isn't whether a ten-year-old could write his own name. Rather, the issue is whether a ten-year-old child (or a slave, for example) would normally be expected to register himself. The data I've seen suggests that it's more likely that a parent would do the registering.

But, again, even if a ten-year-old would normally register himself, neither of the two translations of Julian that I've cited is intended to lead to your conclusion. Hoffmann's rendering doesn't lead to your conclusion, and Wright's translation is accompanied by a footnote that mentions Luke 2. You're taking Wright's translation in a way he doesn't seem to have had in mind. Your interpretation also seems unlikely in that it implies knowledge of a distinction between the 6 A.D. census and the infancy census both by Julian and by Christians in general. Supposedly, knowledge of such a distinction was so widespread that Julian could appeal to what Christians "admitted" about a census under Quirinius that Jesus participated in later in life. I doubt that there was widespread Christian "admission" of such a thing. I think it makes more sense to read Julian as referring to the census of Luke 2, which would explain why Wright includes a footnote referencing that passage.

You write:

"On the contrary, I think it fits his agenda exactly: Julian is trying to make a point about Jesus submitting to Caesar. I suggest that this gives us a solid clue in which direction to render the grammar, as well."

He's discussing Jewish subjection to Rome. He cites Jesus as an example, presumably because Jesus is the leader of Christianity. He says that he'll later prove that Jesus was subject to Rome. He then says that, for the time being, he'll just state that Christians acknowledge that Jesus was registered in a Roman census. Under the Christian view of Jesus (what Christians would "admit"), participation in either census would represent a choice to submit to Rome in some sense. The infant Jesus is God incarnate in the eyes of a Christian. He chose to enter the world at the time of a census, even using that census to bring Himself to the place where the Messiah was to be born.

You write:

"When exactly this [subjection to Rome] happened looks to be completely beside the point for Julian."

I agree.

You write:

"In this case, two disparate pieces of data would be conflated--not out of desire to mislead, but by accident."

As I mentioned earlier, such mistakes are possible, but we shouldn't assume such a scenario as our default position. Different people cited census records for different reasons. Some did cite a record when discussing the historicity of the census, but others cited a record when discussing Jesus' birthplace or birthdate. And if there was any checking of such records in the fourth century and beyond, Christians likely would have had better access to such records at that point, if the records still existed. As I explained in my series, though, we don't have much information by which to make these judgments. I assign the most weight to Justin Martyr's account in the second century, but even that account has more significance on other issues (the genre in which Luke was writing, etc.) than it does on the issue of whether such a government record existed.

You write:

"There is (or seems to be) a lack of positive argumentation in this direction in your (otherwise admirable) consideration of data."

I didn't intend to go into details of that nature. A lot of different interpretations of Luke 2 have been proposed, and the extra-Biblical sources don't have much to say about some of the details of the text and context.

You write:

"Reference to evidence for an Imperial census (in scope and origin) dating to the days of Herod is not exactly attested in the data you mentioned."

I was addressing what the extra-Biblical sources say. If they don't address a particular subject, then my series shouldn't be expected to address that subject. And the sources don't have to make "references to evidence" in order for their testimony to be considered evidence.

I agree with you that some issues relevant to the census aren't addressed much or at all in my series. I only intended to address some of the data, that which we find in some extra-Biblical sources that are often neglected. I agree with you that it would be helpful if these sources addressed issues such as the ones you've raised in more detail. And I appreciate your compliments regarding the series. I hope other people will take up the issues I've raised, develop them further, and correct me wherever I'm wrong. I am disappointed, though, that scholars haven't already addressed these extra-Biblical sources in more depth. I hope that will change.

In closing, I want to comment on something you said in response to Chris:

"But then, why is that event ‘more famous’? Because people generally understood that one to be the first Imperial census. (Didn’t they? Or is that an inference on our part from silence otherwise?) But Luke is clearly saying the first Imperial census occurred in the day of Herod instead."

Darrell Bock writes:

"As Hoehner (1977: 18) suggests, a previous census patterned after Jewish models most likely produced no reaction and may not have been worthy of Josephus's attention. In addition, it seems clear that part of the grounds for the revolt in A.D. 6 was Archelaus himself, who was unpopular in the region. Rome wanted to confirm its presence visibly, and his support of a Roman-like census would anger those who opposed Rome. It was the Roman presence in a Roman-like census accepted by a Jewish figurehead that produced rebellion. Such a negative reaction to the A.D. 6 census should not be surprising if Roman authority was emphasized and the Roman model of census-taking was followed. Thus, the innovation may not have been the census as such, but its offensive form that more strongly reflected Roman sovereignty." (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], p. 906)

Bock also discusses some other relevant information, such as the fact that there are other censuses that Josephus doesn't mention in other contexts. But, regarding what he discusses in the quote above, I think he's correct in noting that two similar actions can produce different results in different contexts.

This issue is also addressed by Brook Pearson in an article Chris Price refers to in one of his posts on the census:

http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2004/12/could-there-have-been-earlier-census.html

If you don't have the Pearson article, ask Chris for it. He gave me a copy of it in Word format, and I assume that he still has it. If not, I can send it to you.

Jason E.,

Yes, the reason I believe the 6 A.D. census was more known, was because of its role in precipitating unrest in the region. It may have been seen as the first direct exercise of Roman authority over the province.

Jason (E),

Before I talk about the feasibility of Jesus signing something Himself in 6AD, let me preface by clarifying that I am not thinking in terms of Julian specifically having such a record in mind that he has seen and wants to talk about. I’ll discuss this later below.

{{It's more likely that Jesus and His family would have been in Nazareth in 6 A.D., not Bethlehem. Why would a census record from 6 A.D. mention Bethlehem in a way that suggested Jesus' birth there?}}

On the other hand, why didn’t they stay in Nazareth in any case and take the census? Because, Bethlehem was where Joseph’s people were from. If he goes there for a Herodian census decreeing that people have to go to their birthplace, then he’s going to go there to register in 6AD, too, when the same terms are required. So would Jesus, by the same registration logic (once He comes of age), having been born there. Joseph registers saying (in effect) ‘yep I was born here.’ Where else is Jesus supposed to register saying (in effect) ‘yep I was born here’ if the decree says you have to go back to where you were born? Is He supposed to claim He was born in Nazareth and register there instead??

Admittedly, Joseph would probably sign for any dependents, insofar as authority goes. Consequently, while Jesus is still a dependent (as Mary would continue to be, plus any subsequent children), Joseph would list himself, her (and where she was born), Jesus (and where He was born), and the other brothers and sisters (presumably born in Nazareth--and required to register themselves there once they come of age, at least the brothers.)

But if Jesus (acting as a young apprentice to Joseph, or heck just on a road trip during a holiday season to see Joseph’s parents and family) goes along with Joseph during a census, there’s nothing specifically preventing Him (that I know of--the apostate Julian’s religious caveats notwithstanding!) from signing His own name on the record under Joseph’s. I can think of a lot of 10-year-old boys who would think it proper to follow Dad in doing so. (Especially since, in Jewish thought, the time of formal adulthood would be not far down the line. Ideally, Jesus needs to know what’s involved in doing this sort of thing before He goes through the bar mitzvah or whatever 1st century equivalent, not after.) The registrar would primarily care about whether it was done formally under Joseph’s claim to paterfamilias (or the Jewish equivalent thereof under Roman law), not about whether a near-adult boy signed it himself.

{{Rather, the issue is whether a ten-year-old child (or a slave, for example) would normally be expected to register himself.}}

On the other hand, would a precocious near-adult boy being taught adult-society things, normally not want to do it himself? And if he did want to, why would the local registrar care (so long as it was still formally under Joseph as a dependent)?

All of which is frankly kind of an aside, but since we're discussing it, I attended to it first. {s}


{{And if the census record included some information relevant to dating, such as giving the year in which the record was composed... then that dating would have to have been misunderstood under the scenario you describe above.}}

Or the request would have to be misunderstood by whatever functionary was in charge of answering such requests. Or the functionary, trying to be comprehensive, would have had to have sent out an inadvertently conflating answer (which is the scenario I actually gave an example of.)

{{assuming such mistakes shouldn't be our default position.}}

True; but if it helps account for the actual (not hypothesized) data, such a mistake can be reasonable to hypothesize for theoretical purposes. In this case we have Luke claiming a census of Imperial scope and origin, in Herod's day, predating what is otherwise considered to be the first Imperial census--and apparently considered to be that for some reason or set of reasons good enough for erudite translators to try making Luke's statement refer to a census before the one made by Kyrenius.

Why bother, though? Because the evidence (whatever it is) looks good enough to put Luke in error otherwise. But even though {pro_te_} can be translated in this other fashion, it doesn't fix the main problem: Luke is saying (against whatever this other evidence is, implying that 6CE was the first Imperial scope/origin census) that there was some census of Imperial scope and origin in Herod's day.

{{I didn't know that you only wanted to address the issue of whether a census record from 6 A.D. might have been mistaken for a record of an earlier census.}}

I didn’t only want to address that. In fact, I mentioned that portion parenthetically. My primary comment was, “Jason E's work at Triablogue is good, but doesn't seem to have gotten around to addressing evidence of a census set up by Augustine; and this is avowedly what Luke appears to be addressing (not a census put up by Herod, for his pal Augustine or otherwise.)”

(Note: for ‘Augustine’ in both places read ‘Augustus’--typos on my part. I was distracted when I wrote that. {wry g} Sadly, I seem to have dittoed the typo in my subsequent comment... in almost every single subsequent mention... sigh...! Embarrassing, but just read ‘Augustus’ for ‘Augustine’; I was certainly thinking of the Roman Emperor, not the post-Manichean Christian apologist. Thank God I actually got his name right in a couple of places, at least...)

Parenthetically--since the only thing I could think of offhand that you addressed that might distantly be considered to count as positive evidence of an Augustusian (Augustinian? {g}) census in Herod’s day was some occasional references to census data believed to still exist in Roman archives--I added: “even the people in a position to check on things, might have been mistaking the 6CE census as being the other census, especially insofar as it was by hearsay (i.e. John Chrysostom).”

{{Your initial post mentioned mistaking "the 6 A.D. census" for an earlier one, without specifying that you were only addressing whether a census record was misinterpreted.}}

And yet, the first and last sentences of my parenthetical paragraph, to which you are referring here, are explicitly concerned with “census records” and registration. So, when I wrote that even people in a position to check on “things” might have been mistaking the 6CE census as being the other census, I meant “census records” by those “things” which they might be in a position to check on. This seems sufficiently clear enough.

Unfortunately, I then did not make sufficiently clear why I was bringing up Julian as an example; and misunderstandings escalated from there. So I’ll discuss that topic next.


{{You cited Julian the Apostate as an example of what you were addressing, and Julian doesn't discuss a census record.}}

Well, he discusses a census registration; but true, he doesn’t seem to be discussing a census record (in some extant archival sense) for evidential sake.

My original parenthetical remark, however, didn’t require that he be doing that. It does require that you be presenting Julian as being willing to agree to a Lukan census (i.e. at least in the time of Herod, if not also of Imperial scope and origin--which is the total claim-set under contention).

I was giving an example on how a misunderstanding about references to a census could occur: it makes good sense for Julian (in relation to his present apologetic thrust) to claim Jesus signed Himself under the authority of Caesar (via Kyrenius), and makes little sense for him to be meaning a newborn baby did this. Consequently, he’s probably thinking of the 6AD census (though not necessarily in terms of that particular year compared to some particular year of Jesus’ birth), even if making an ad hoc leap to Luke’s account for purposes of getting an agreement out of the Christians. But you obviously think he has to be willing to agree to a census in the time of Herod, per se, when Jesus was a newborn baby. Which pretty much requires Julian to be thinking in terms of a newborn baby, too. (Which in turn is why you try to defend him as thinking in such terms. More on that later.)

Even people (I was thinking of functionaries, much moreso people at secondhand making inquiries of functionaries) in a position to check on such things might end up (plausibly and not unreasonably) hearing one thing, on this topic (especially when there were two Kyrenius governorships!), when the person discussing the registration actually was thinking of something else. That was my point; but in hindsight I didn’t grammatically construct the reason I was reffing Julian very well. I had a double-example in mind: Julian, given his topical thrust, makes the most sense talking about a 6AD census, but in order to get his opponents to agree with his main point he is probably sporadically conflating this with the Lukan reference which (as we know--despite what Richard Carrier would insistently have us believe {lopped g!}) is certainly not about a 6AD census. Julian’s conflation would be the first example. But in turn, this could lead other people to think that he was primarily thinking of a census in Herod’s day, not 6AD; even though that would largely nerf the thrust he was trying to make. (More on this later.)


{{You might be misunderstanding my use of Julian.}}

I think that happened when, in your first reply to me, you answered, “Besides, if Julian and/or others had made the effort to research Jesus' involvement in another census...” I hadn’t really been thinking about Julian having done the research and being prepared to plop that research on the Christians; and I didn’t realize (which I now see is true) that I hadn’t clarified exactly why I was bringing up Julian as an example for how people trying to ref one thing could be misunderstood by inquirers as reffing another thing. Consequently, when I saw that, I thought, “He thinks Julian is threatening to present something he researched concerning the census??” And so I replied in line with that. Sorry.


{{I don't think Herod is part of Julian's argument. He mentions Caesar in the immediate context, not Herod, and the subject he was addressing was Jewish subjection to Rome.}}

Consequently, then, any census would do for his reference, but especially one where Jesus could sign the page Himself. From this point all Julian has to do is half-recall (his argument generally is quite spastic, as you may be aware {g}) that Christians also agreed to a registration under Kyrenius, and boom he has his point (he thinks). If he isn’t thinking in terms of precise years at the moment (and surely you won’t make the same mistake as Richard Carrier did regarding Justin’s rounded timing reference?! {g!}), Julian need not even be thinking of a ten-year-old boy: that’s what we would consider happening at the 6AD census, but it need not be what Julian’s thinking about.

Since, in discussing Julian, we’re talking about an interlocutor who is demonstrably only about half-clever at picking up details and contexts on a moment-by-moment basis (but who is also very forcible at applying whatever he happens to pick up at the moment), I think his immediate intentions in the argument should carry more weight than his competency at picking up contexts, toward how the phrase ought to be translated. A Jesus able to sign His own name, is going to mean more to Julian than a Jesus completely unable to do anything (though doubtless Julian could make hay out of that, too, in a different though related fashion.)

{{Wright's translation is accompanied by a footnote that mentions Luke 2.}}

Unless the footnote is by Julian (which of course it isn’t), then we’re talking about Wright’s opinion as to what Julian was meaning to talk about. But Wright’s translation clearly involves Jesus Himself signing the registration, which in turn synchs more strongly than a baby being passively registered, with what Julian was trying to tag the Christians about in that paragraph. A newborn baby just wouldn’t help as much with that particular point; indeed to even make the point in regard to a newborn baby, Julian would have to be tacitly accounting for God’s intentions in sending the baby at this particular time which happens to be at a time of a census and even using the census to get Him in the proper place to be born. That’s a lot of fairly abstract thought for an off the cuff remark intended to nail the Christians on something until Julian can get around to doing what he originally intended to do with that point.


In any case, I wasn’t saying Julian didn’t have some kind of thought about Luke 2 in mind; obviously he did, to some degree. The question is to what degree. Newborn baby timing doesn’t make as much sense (especially as an ad hoc reference) as near-adult-boy timing; and Julian (who is clearly making an off-the-cuff ad hoc comment) need not be thinking about a ten-year-old boy but a young legal adult (by his reckoning).

{{You're taking Wright's translation in a way he doesn't seem to have had in mind.}}

Possibly--do we have clear reference to what Wright had in mind?? (His footnote only says “Luke 2:2”.) But what Julian (most likely) had in mind is what we’re trying to suss out here, not what Wright had in mind.

{{Your interpretation also seems unlikely in that it implies knowledge of a distinction between the 6 A.D. census and the infancy census both by Julian and by Christians in general.}}

Not really; my interpretation implies that Julian was only half-thinking about Luke 2, as what seemed a handy off-the-cuff reference at the time he was writing until he could get around to his real argument later (whatever that was going to be.) I’ve certainly seen sceptics do that before--haven’t you? {g}

If it helps clarify what I’m really talking about there, I don’t see any more evidence than you do, that Christians had some widespread knowledge of two registrations (one under Herod and one under the tetrarchy, both under Kyrenius). But neither my interpretation of what Julian was attempting, nor my proposal that inquiries about a census to archivist functionaries might receive misunderstood replies, involves a widespread knowledge about two registrations.

{{He cites Jesus as an example, presumably because Jesus is the leader of Christianity.}}

Julian knows perfectly well that Christians were claiming Jesus to be more than just the leader of Christianity; and Julian is objecting against this greater identification. In his very next sentence he asks, “But when he [Jesus] became man what benefits did he confer on his own kinsfolk?” This is asked in context of God not granting to the Jews the power and authority of Rome.

Thus the flow of his surrounding argument runs: Julian sarcastically suggests that the Gentiles were so ungrateful to the gods as to desert them for the Jews, because the gods granted sovereign power to Rome and permitted the Jews to be free for a short time only (that explanation isn’t supposed to make sense, he’s being sarcastic); he then runs down a list of OT history demonstrating that the Jews only remained solvent as their own nation for about 300 years and were constantly enslaved and paupers before and after that; Rome being the most recent and last to conquer them; and even Jesus “who was proclaimed among you” (i.e. as God, as Julian well knows) “was one of Caesar’s subjects”. So when Jesus became man (i.e. as God), did he confer benefits on his own kin? No, answer the Christians (Julian reports), because his kin refused to hearken to him. How could it be (Julian sarcastically retorts) that this heard-hearted and stubborn-necked people hearkened unto Moses but Jesus could not change their disposition despite doing great miracles among them and “as you yourselves assert made the heavens and the earth”?

So the divinity claim being made of Jesus (Julian thinks only John made it in his Gospel; which gives you an idea of how perceptive he is at analyzing texts {wry g}, but then he was raised by Arians) is never far from Julian’s mind. It’s running in close conjunction with his appeal to Jesus being subordinate to Caesar.

{{Under the Christian view of Jesus (what Christians would "admit"), participation in either census would represent a choice to submit to Rome in some sense.}}

It certainly represents a submission to Rome, one way or another, which Julian would want to make hay about either way (as I myself said in previous comments).

{{The infant Jesus is God incarnate in the eyes of a Christian. He chose to enter the world at the time of a census, even using that census to bring Himself to the place where the Messiah was to be born.}}

Which is also an extrapolation rather beyond what Julian actually wrote. Mine is simpler and more immediate; it doesn’t have to go much beyond the immediate context of how the phrase in question can (by your admission) be admittedly translated: Jesus registered Himself. (“he registered his name”) Either way is going to be embarassing to Christians in Julian’s eyes (apparently it embarassed him when he was a Christian, Arianism notwithstanding); but Jesus Himself signing the registration would be more powerful and direct as a contention in Julian’s hand.


Incidentally, I did not word my original comment very well, when I wrote that you had “never gotten around” to addressing a particular kink in the data (Luke’s claim about the Herodian census being Imperial in origin and scope). I meant that more informally, simply to mean that it didn’t happen; but I realize now that someone could read that to mean that I thought you had intended to get to that topic but never managed to. I should have been more careful in my composition there; that was completely my fault.


Darrell Bock’s reproduction of Hoehner’s 1977 argument is certainly worthy and interesting, but does not really go far in explaining Luke’s actual information in the text. I find it difficult to believe that any Empire-wide census dictated by Augustus, even in Herod’s day, would have been patterned after Jewish models, even locally (obviously Augustus had trouble believing he should do that in 6AD! {g}); nor that this would have been unworthy of Josephus’ attention. On the contrary, it would seem to fit his theme very well of explaining to his Roman overlords that Jewish ideas could be respected by the Empire even after the revolt of 70; what better evidence could he have given than an Empire-wide registration dictated by Augustus himself on Jewish models?! (Even locally as tolerance?) One might have thought he would at least compare the results of using non-Jewish models in 6CE with the relatively peaceful results of using Jewish models in 5BCE, or whenever.

Nor, incidentally, do I get the impression that Herod the Great was all that popular in the region (except in hindsight later compared to his weaker sons!), for being a highly forceful and effective (not to say increasingly insane) lackey of the Roman overlords.

If no revolt happened in autumn of 5BCE (or whenever), I can just about guarantee it wasn’t because the Jews said, in effect, ‘Oh, Augustus is treating everyone according to our principles, or at least is running his Imperial taxation among us according to Herod’s own models for taxing us; so that’s okay, we’ll cough up the dough for Herod to give him then.’ Similarly, I can just about guarantee that the distinguishing factor in 6CE wasn’t that this time Augustus was taxing the Empire, including Palestine, according to some non-Jewish model of taxation.

Hoehner’s comment would work a bit better in context of a local census put up by Herod (for sake of Roman tribute or otherwise); which (to be honest) is what I suspect he’s talking about. But Luke isn’t talking about a local census put up by Herod. He is very explicitly talking about an Empire-wide census put up at the decree of Augustus.

Consequently, I’m not sure why you quoted Hoehner (via Bock) in response to what I said to Chris. I don’t disagree that “two similar actions can produce different results in different contexts”, but I’m having problems with the notion that Jewish vs. non-Jewish models would (a) make all the sufficient difference and (b) having made so much of a difference not be worthy of Josephus’ attention in comparison with 6CE.

Also (in regard to Chris’ followup), Herod would have to work awfully hard to make an Empire-wide dictation by Caesar, not seem like “the first direct exercise of Roman authority over the province.”

Which is kind of beside the point. My question was, why do we commonly consider the 6AD census to be the first Empire-wide census dictated by Augustus (contra Luke) anyway? I honestly can’t recall why, but obviously a bunch of someones across the board think there’s a pretty strong reason! (That’s why translators keep trying to make {pro_te_} be a comparative intentionally distinct from the 6CE census, so that Luke won’t be found to be incorrect about when the first Augustus-dictated Empire-wide census was. Except that this doesn't fix the larger context problem after all.)

{{This issue is also addressed by Brook Pearson in an article Chris Price refers to in one of his posts on the census:}}

Yes, but Chris very obviously did not present Pearson as arguing in favor of an Empire-wide census dictated by Augustus in Herod’s day. Thus Chris ends out his article saying, “In a later post I will deal with the possibility that Rome itself ordered the census under King Herod.” Which is why, in my original comment, I asked Chris if he had ever gotten around to doing that. {s}

JRP

Jason Pratt writes:

"On the other hand, why didn’t they stay in Nazareth in any case and take the census? Because, Bethlehem was where Joseph’s people were from. If he goes there for a Herodian census decreeing that people have to go to their birthplace, then he’s going to go there to register in 6AD, too, when the same terms are required."

Why are we supposed to assume that "the same terms are required"?

You write:

"Where else is Jesus supposed to register saying (in effect) ‘yep I was born here’ if the decree says you have to go back to where you were born?"

Why are we supposed to believe that the census of 6 A.D. required children to go to their place of birth to register? The scholars I've read on the subject of censuses have suggested that even wives usually didn't have to register. I doubt that ten-year-old children would not only have to register, but would even have to go to their place of birth.

You write:

"Admittedly, Joseph would probably sign for any dependents, insofar as authority goes. Consequently, while Jesus is still a dependent (as Mary would continue to be, plus any subsequent children), Joseph would list himself, her (and where she was born), Jesus (and where He was born), and the other brothers and sisters (presumably born in Nazareth--and required to register themselves there once they come of age, at least the brothers.)"

If Joseph "would probably sign for any dependents", then why did you refer to Jesus going to Bethlehem in the previous paragraph? And why are we supposed to assume that the 6 A.D. census would require a listing of children's birthplaces? If siblings of Jesus were included in a 6 A.D. census return, then it would be known that the record wasn't from Jesus' infancy census. Are we to assume that the sources who refer to a census record are knowingly referring to a later census (or that the source they relied on did so)?

You write:

"But if Jesus (acting as a young apprentice to Joseph, or heck just on a road trip during a holiday season to see Joseph’s parents and family) goes along with Joseph during a census, there’s nothing specifically preventing Him (that I know of--the apostate Julian’s religious caveats notwithstanding!) from signing His own name on the record under Joseph’s. I can think of a lot of 10-year-old boys who would think it proper to follow Dad in doing so. (Especially since, in Jewish thought, the time of formal adulthood would be not far down the line. Ideally, Jesus needs to know what’s involved in doing this sort of thing before He goes through the bar mitzvah or whatever 1st century equivalent, not after.) The registrar would primarily care about whether it was done formally under Joseph’s claim to paterfamilias (or the Jewish equivalent thereof under Roman law), not about whether a near-adult boy signed it himself."

Again, why are we supposed to keep making these assumptions you're suggesting (the 6 A.D. census might have required children to register in the town of their birth, Jesus might have wanted to sign His name even though He didn't have to, etc.)? You could propose speculative scenarios like these in other historical contexts as well. But most people don't take the time or effort to do it, and for good reason. We ought to be seeking the best explanation of the data, which is a matter of probability, not certainty.

You write:

"On the other hand, would a precocious near-adult boy being taught adult-society things, normally not want to do it himself?"

I don't remember ever having a desire to go to a tax consultant with my parents, much less to sign my father's tax papers. Should we assume that ten-year-old children also sought to follow their fathers' behavior in other contexts, so that other paperwork would include children's signatures, for example? We have a lot of extant documents from antiquity. Many of the men who wrote out such documents or signed them were fathers. Do you know of many, or any, such documents that include children's signatures? None of the ancient census returns I've seen or read about have included children's signatures, as far as I know. I've seen or read about census returns with descriptions of children (and slaves), but not their signatures.

You write:

"In this case we have Luke claiming a census of Imperial scope and origin, in Herod's day, predating what is otherwise considered to be the first Imperial census--and apparently considered to be that for some reason or set of reasons good enough for erudite translators to try making Luke's statement refer to a census before the one made by Kyrenius."

Most translators don't render the term in Luke 2 as "before". And, as my series on the census shows, there doesn't seem to have been widespread objection to Luke's account in ancient times. Nothing you've said above justifies the conclusion that people were misreading census records.

You write:

"Because the evidence (whatever it is) looks good enough to put Luke in error otherwise."

What do you mean by "otherwise"? Other than what? Are you saying that Luke seems to be in error if we don't take the ancient appeals to a census record into account? If so, I reject that assertion, for reasons like the ones I've addressed in my series.

You write:

"it makes good sense for Julian (in relation to his present apologetic thrust) to claim Jesus signed Himself under the authority of Caesar (via Kyrenius), and makes little sense for him to be meaning a newborn baby did this."

Julian doesn't refer to "signing". I explained earlier why the phrase in question can reasonably be read differently than you're reading it, and I explained why the surrounding context doesn't support your interpretation.

I've found another translation of this passage in Julian by means of Google Books:

http://books.google.com/books?id=v1ga4m9vIhYC&pg=PA326&dq=julian+the+apostate,+census&lr=

That translation has "he was enrolled with his father and mother". Once again, there's no suggestion of Jesus' being old enough to sign His name.

Here's another translation:

http://books.google.com/books?id=UuSqx6hkj2kC&printsec=frontcover&dq=against+julian&lr=#PPA41,M1

This one renders the phrase as "he was registered together with his father and mother". Again, there's not any suggestion that Jesus signed His name or did any other such thing.

You write:

"Consequently, he’s probably thinking of the 6AD census (though not necessarily in terms of that particular year compared to some particular year of Jesus’ birth), even if making an ad hoc leap to Luke’s account for purposes of getting an agreement out of the Christians."

My reading of Julian, which I've now supported with a few different translations, doesn't require such an "ad hoc leap".

You write:

"A Jesus able to sign His own name, is going to mean more to Julian than a Jesus completely unable to do anything (though doubtless Julian could make hay out of that, too, in a different though related fashion.)"

But, as I've explained, we have no reason to expect Jesus to have signed a census return with His parents. And the one translation of Julian you're relying on can reasonably be read consistently with my position. The three other translations I've cited don't have the sort of wording you're appealing to. And even in the one translation you keep referencing, you now appeal to some sort of "ad hoc" inconsistency in which Julian conflates two different censuses. Since my reading is consistent with all four translations, doesn't require such inconsistency on Julian's part, and doesn't involve dubious scenarios such as a ten-year-old child signing a census return and Christians in general "admitting" that Jesus did such a thing, I think my conclusion is preferable.

You write:

"But Wright’s translation clearly involves Jesus Himself signing the registration"

No, it doesn't, for reasons I explained earlier.

You write:

"A newborn baby just wouldn’t help as much with that particular point; indeed to even make the point in regard to a newborn baby, Julian would have to be tacitly accounting for God’s intentions in sending the baby at this particular time which happens to be at a time of a census and even using the census to get Him in the proper place to be born. That’s a lot of fairly abstract thought for an off the cuff remark intended to nail the Christians on something until Julian can get around to doing what he originally intended to do with that point."

You keep assuming that Julian intended what you're deriving from one translation. And that phrase you're relying on has no equivalent in the other three translations I've cited. Julian is addressing Jewish subjection to Rome. That subjection doesn't have to be willing subjection in order to be subjection. The fact that you think that willing subjection would be a better argument doesn't justify an assumption that Julian must have had Jesus' willing subjection to a census in mind. Just before referring to Jesus, Julian references the unwilling "slavery" of the Jews under various empires.

You write:

"But what Julian (most likely) had in mind is what we’re trying to suss out here, not what Wright had in mind."

Wright chose the terminology that you keep citing. And he thought the terminology referred to Luke 2, not some census that occurred when Jesus was around ten years old. The translator didn't intend the phrase in the manner in which you're reading it.

You write:

"If it helps clarify what I’m really talking about there, I don’t see any more evidence than you do, that Christians had some widespread knowledge of two registrations (one under Herod and one under the tetrarchy, both under Kyrenius). But neither my interpretation of what Julian was attempting, nor my proposal that inquiries about a census to archivist functionaries might receive misunderstood replies, involves a widespread knowledge about two registrations."

If Jesus' ability to sign a census record made Julian's argument stronger, as you've said, then surely Julian would want his readers to recognize the strength of his argument. He refers to what "you [Christians] admit". If there wasn't widespread acknowledgment of Jesus' signing a census record, then why would Julian appeal to such widespread acknowledgment?

You write:

"Hoehner’s comment would work a bit better in context of a local census put up by Herod (for sake of Roman tribute or otherwise); which (to be honest) is what I suspect he’s talking about. But Luke isn’t talking about a local census put up by Herod. He is very explicitly talking about an Empire-wide census put up at the decree of Augustus."

I came here primarily to discuss my series on the census, not other issues surrounding the census. I'm only going to comment on those other issues briefly.

It doesn't seem that you've read the sources I cited (Bock and Pearson). And you seem to be making some incorrect assumptions about Luke 2. An association with Augustus can be close or distant. What you're referring to as "a local census put up by Herod" can be associated with Augustus if the person describing the census thinks that Augustus' decree motivated the census either immediately or by some distance of however many steps. What's needed is for some connection to exist in Luke's mind, and we don't have much information by which to judge what that connection would have been. Scholars such as the ones I've cited (in this thread and in my series) have suggested some possibilities, and you don't seem to be familiar with the nuances of their arguments. I don't think that a Herodian census done with some degree of cooperation with Rome would be perceived in the simplistic negative manner that you've suggested, and I don't think that the negative reaction to the 6 A.D. census was as simplistic as your comments have implied.

Again, though, I think we agree about much more than we disagree about. I appreciate the compliments about my series, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the issues further. I think highly of this blog and the work that all of you do. I don't think that we or the readers should make too much of our disagreements over something as minor as how to interpret a sentence in Julian the Apostate or how to best understand Augustus' role in the Lukan census.

Jason and Jason,

I see three "solutions" to the issue of the earlier registration in light of the 6 A.D. census. I was hoping to do more research, especially on one of the alternatives, but may post on the subject in more depth before leaving for Christmas vacation.

First, Herod conducts his own census, borrowing and modifying the Roman style.

The main objection to this alternative is Luke's comment about Caesar's decree about a census. I think too much is read into this comment.

Second, Herod conducts a census at Rome's direction.

The main objection to this alternative is that Judea is a client kingdom at the time and therefore would not be subject to such direct Roman oversight. But this does not hold up because there are examples of Rome ordering a client kingdom to conduct a census.

Third, the registration of 7 BC is in fact the registration referred to by Luke in Chapter 2. I have not yet read the sources on this, but some scholars have advocated it as a solution.

Jason (E),

{{I came here primarily to discuss my series on the census, not other issues surrounding the census.}}

It occurs to me that this may be at the root of a lot of confusions. I wasn’t discussing your series on the census that much, ever; including from the beginning. That also means I wasn’t criticizing your series that much, ever; including from the beginning. I’m still not, really. I will try once again to sort out the multiplicity of topics and how I was relating them together.

I know one thing on my side that certainly led to problems: in my first reply-paragraph from my previous letter, where I began “On the other hand, why didn’t they stay in Nazareth in any case”, I switched thoughts about halfway through to another topic: Jesus would go to Bethlehem if the registration requirements remained the same, once He came of age (i.e. after 6AD), assuming He actively submitted to the registration process. (And I see no reason why He wouldn’t have.) I hadn’t thought of that before, so I wrote it out as something to keep in mind.

This is why I wrote afterward “Admittedly, Joseph would probably sign for any dependents” etc., i.e. in 6AD, unlike what I had been thinking of as a sort of aside in the previous paragraph. That isn’t your fault, though; I should have made it clearer I was making an aside, and I didn’t.

This, incidentally, is why I didn’t in fact refer to Jesus going to Bethlehem in that paragraph (though you thought I had). It may also be noticed that I not only (in that paragraph) wasn’t specifically talking about Jesus following Joseph to Bethlehem in 6AD, I also specifically qualified that Jesus would go to Bethlehem by same registration logic (assuming, as I did, on no good ground other than they did it the first time but also against no ground I know of that the rules changed afterward {g}) ”once He comes of age”. Obviously I know Jesus hadn’t come of age yet in 6AD--I point this out later numerous times. But, again, I digressed to a different line of thought halfway through the paragraph than what I had started out talking about; and I didn’t make it clear enough that I had done so.

(I will suppose that this helps explain why you seem to have ignored my actual first paragraph where I explicitly bothered to clarify that I was emphatically not thinking in terms of Julian specifically having a record signed by Jesus Himself in 6AD in mind. Also it may help explain why you seem to have ignored my specific clarification later, concerning the topic of Him signing it in 6AD, ”All of which is frankly kind of an aside.” (I put it in bold italics that time, if that helps. {g})


My original comment was primarily on one topic: evidence for a census of Imperial origin and scope in the days of Herod. Since you didn’t discuss this, but Chris had, I was asking whether he had gone on to do this (as he had suggested he would in his series, collated by Bill).

Parenthetically to this, I remarked that early Christian expectations of census records at Rome (where official Imperial census records would be kept; but not likely records of censuses set up by client kings on more or less a whim to please Augustus) could be considered to be based on their trusting the scriptural record: Luke said that there was a census of Imperial scope and origin back in the days of Herod, so surely their interlocutors in Rome could go check this out. And, they do seem to hear (but always at secondhand) that some kind of census record of Christ does exist there.

The next question, though, is how feasible a miscommunication might be, between inquiries about this record and the archivists returning a reply; the end result being that an inquiry intending to confirm an Imperial census in the days of Herod might receive a reply regarding the AD6 census and misunderstand this to be referring to a Herodian census--there are certainly several unremarkable ways that this could happen. (I gave a brief example of such a reply in a previous comment; the archivist would be relating two pieces of information but it might be read, by readers expecting a particular answer, as a combination of the information.)

From there I mentioned as an example of inquirers misunderstanding one statement to mean something else, that someone reading Julian the Apostate talking about how Jesus registered Himself in a census under Kyrenius (which was the only translation you were giving at that time), might misunderstand this to be referring to the Herodian census; especially (as I went on to clarify later) if Julian was doing his usual apologetic tactic of grabbing at half-or-quarter details and plopping those out, as if they would be sufficient to discomfit his readers. It makes some sense to his wording (i.e. the only wording you were giving at that time) for Julian to be trying to annoy his readers with the notion that Jesus registered Himself under Kyrenius thus admitting Himself to be subordinate to Augustus Caesar. Just as Justin doesn’t have to be thinking in particular year numbers (as you correctly rebutted Richard Carrier for taking him so literally on), Julian is not likely to have been thinking of a 10-year-old boy doing this, but he wouldn’t need much slippage in his round estimates to be thinking in terms of a legal adult (at 13 years in Judaea) doing this.

That being said, I found the notion of a 10-year-old boy signing the document Himself to be intriguing in a more-or-less trivial fashion (as I explicitly said previously, more than once), and so also spent some time considering ways in which this might have plausibly happened. I’m a novelist, it’s my hobby to come up with plot things like that. {s}

I did not (as I explicitly said last time) consider Julian to be trying to annoy his Christian audience with threats of proving that a 10-year-old Jesus signed a census registration. On the contrary (as I explicitly said last time), I doubt Julian was thinking with much coherency on the topic anyway: it is clearly an ad hoc reference thrown out in passing as a stopgap until he can ‘prove’ his point about submitting to Caesar in some other way.

Consequently, any theory of Julian’s intentions that requires a significant amount of subtle nuance and reflection, must be gauged as proportionately improbable.


Now: it is clear that Wright’s translation of Julian’s language can mean ‘Jesus registered Himself’ in an active fashion; and frankly it is abundantly clear to me (anyway) that you understand this, too, or else you would have never bothered to hunt up even one (much less three) extra translations where the registration would be happening passively (i.e. by Joseph for Jesus). Moreover you not only clearly recognize this distinction between translations, you overtly and pressingly call attention to that distinction as a way of trying to defuse anyone from thinking that Julian meant Jesus registered Himself--in contravention to what Wright’s translation says.

At that point, I have to be dubious that you really believe Wright’s translation can just as easily mean a passive registration. The fact that Wright connects Julian’s statement to Luke 2:2 does not mean that Wright was connecting Julian’s statement to a census taking place in the days of Herod. It means very obviously that Wright was connecting Julian’s statement to a census taking place under the governorship of Kyrenius--which is what Julian also says, and which is what verse 2 is solely concerned with. You’re the one reading a Herodian date back into this.

Now, personally, I have no problem allowing in any of the three latter cases, just as I explcitly had no problem admitting previously in the one latter case, that the grammar can be read as a passive registration. Neither do I have the slightest problem noticing that Wright’s grammar can be (I would say most) easily read as referring to an active registration. Given an allowed parity between the translation possibilities, I was arguing from Julian’s intentions and capabilities for the Wright translation meaning. I was not (as you critiqued me on) starting with the Wright translation meaning and then arguing to... I don’t know what, Wright’s translation meaning?? That would be preposterous. I thought I had spelled out in (perhaps even tedious {g}) detail what precisely I was doing, and why.

You did in fact agree, apparently, that Julian would find it more useful to charge Jesus with actively submitting to Caesar; because you (not me) came up with the defense concerning Jesus’ birth as God being intended by God and so by legitimate extraction it would still count as an active submission to Caesar for Him to make use of the registration to be born in Bethlehem. That’s all very well, and I didn’t (and wouldn’t) disagree with that; but I did disagree with your notion that this must have been what Julian was thinking about when he made his off-the-cuff ad hoc reference: and there was no point at all for you to make that defense unless you were trying to paint Julian as thinking in those terms.

Obviously my critique of the implausibility of this worked, because the next thing I know you’re trying to say that I might think an active registration was important, but... as if you hadn’t also tried to work things out that way. And as if I hadn’t also explicitly said earlier that Julian would make hay out of a passive registration, too.

In any case, if you think “he registered himself” can be read just as easily to mean “he was registered by someone else”, then make a defense along that line without having to refer to other translations. But if (as seems entirely obvious) you think “he registered himself” is substantially different in its obvious meaning from “he was registered by someone else”, then please stop trying to make out that I am some kind of loon for imagining that the concepts aren’t co-equal.

The fact of the matter is that if “he registered himself” means something nominally different than “he was registered by someone else”, and if “he registered himself” is equally viable as a possible translation to those other three, then Julian in his usual slipshod, contentious and spastic way, might have been thinking in terms of that more famous census under Kyrenius.

(I can’t believe I’m having to stress that Julian rather sucks as a counter-apologist and does goofy things on a regular basis that he thinks will bother the people whom he’s trying to talk out of being Christians, when someone more familiar with the ideas and story contexts would answer ‘But the story actually goes this way instead, duh.’)


Which brings us back to why a Roman Emperor several centuries later might be more inclined to recall the 6AD census more strongly and think that when Luke is referring to a census held under the same guy for a decree put out by Augustus that the whole Empire should be registered, Luke must have been referring to that taxation census and not an earlier one.

Is this reason not that we have strong evidence the AD6 census was the first Empire-wide taxation decreed by Augustus Caesar?!


That certainly seems to be the case, because when I had mentioned evidence for such a taxing-census being decreed in the days of Herod instead, you first replied by referencing Heohner (via Bock) and the Brook Pearson article which Chris had quoted from extensively (in the link above).

But I pointed out that in the material quoted by Chris, Pearson is certainly talking about a census instigated by Herod, not about an Empire-wide census formally decreed by Augustus to be managed under his regional governors (such as Kyrenius). And I pointed out that Darrel Bock’s reference to Hoehner fits better into that scenario than into a scenario where the census in Herod’s day was, like in 6AD, a census decreed by Augustus and enforced by the regional military governor.

When you replied to me that it doesn’t seem as though I’ve read the sources I cited (actually the ones you cited, Bock and Pearson), and that I seemed to be making some incorrect assumptions about Luke 2, I was prepared to hear how Bock and Pearson (and maybe Hoehner) elsewhere (than in the material given) argued that the census in Herod’s day had in fact been formally decreed across the Empire by Augustus.

But in point of fact, what you went back to was nuances and distant associations and so forth: essentially denying that the Herod census was formally decreed by Augustus on an Empire-wide basis to be backed by the regional governors (the way the 6AD census had been).


Now, I love nuances when doing scriptural interpretation and historical analysis, but the first thing that has to be admitted is that Luke in the opening verses of chapter 2 is not using nuanced language. When he says a dogma (that’s a strong formal term, especially in Imperial government context) went out from (that’s a formal term) Caesar Augustus, and that this dogma concerned a registration that the whole Empire had to submit to, and that this happened under the governorship of Kyrenius (who was the governor of Syria at both times, though back in Herod’s day he was joint-governor with someone else): then Luke is not being at all nuanced about identifying this census.

The nuances are being read into the script there. Not out of it.

Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing to do (nor even that it’s avoidable in practice). But my ‘assumptions’ about Luke 2 aren’t the problem here: Luke is very straightforward and even technical about what he is saying. The obvious first ‘assumption’ is that he means what he says.

We wouldn’t be having to read nuances into what he says there unless we had strong contextual reason elsewhere for thinking that Luke perhaps meant something far more nuanced and subtle than his language indicates. Those reasons aren’t derivable from elsewhere in GosLuke, though, so far as I know and ever have heard. (The Acts reference to Judas the Galilean in the days of the census was in any case not only written subsequently, when Luke could have fixed a problem, but is presented in dialogue by a historical character, Gamaliel I, not in commentary by Luke: a dialogue that has a definite historical problem standing close by, in regard to the Theudas revolution. So I wouldn’t lean too much on that.)

Clearly, the reason why scholars are having to try to read nuances and distant associations into the straightforward technical language of Luke 2, is that we have strong evidence elsewhere that the first taxation-census that could be properly described in those technical terms, was in 6AD not in 5BCE (or whenever).

And frankly, it would be easier to explain Luke using such language for an earlier Herodian taxation-census on the ground that he mistakenly identified the Herodian census (in GosLuke, if not in Acts) with the 6AD taxation-census (which involved the revolt of Judas the Galilean, among other things.) Which mistake could be explained in a couple of unremarkable ways, one of those being a misunderstood reply from an inquiry to a Roman archivist concerning the registration of Jesus.

Otherwise we have to read nuances and maybe distant associations into Luke 2; and then in tension with that we have to try to explain why he was describing it in a non-nuanced and inaccurate fashion if he meant something else. The problem with doing this is that if Luke could so easily think of the Herodian census that strongly, why didn’t anyone else?

(On the other hand, as you note, why don’t we have reports of people criticising the Lukan census as being in Herod’s day rather than AD6? I agree that that has to be factored in, too, though it’s a bit of an argument from silence; and I will show presently how I suggest doing so from a ‘non-mistake’ theory. I mention this now because I would thusly affirm a counter-argument from silence against the argument from silence I just mentioned, being of at least equal importance.)


You ask somewhere in there, why a subsequent census would bother mentioning Jesus’ birthplace and birthdate at all; and obviously you’re asking this to defend against the notion that a misunderstood reply from an archivist resulted in a persistant secondhand tradition that there were Roman records of a Herodian census. Though really, this would only apply as a solution to a textual problem in regard to Luke; it wouldn’t threaten the patristic evidence in the slightest. This is because a 6AD (or any subsequent) census registration formally affirming Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in the days of Herod, would be perfectly good attestation for any of the purposes of the patristics you mentioned. Indeed, I would expect such a thing to be on the 6AD record and anything subsequent for a while, if it ever started off that way in the recordkeeping. After all, nothing in Luke indicates that Jesus was registered for His birthdate and place as a baby, either!--but taking the patristic evidence as being good indication of something known, though at secondhand, to be in the archives, I have no problem accepting that this data was preserved on at least one iteration of the records.

I have doubts that this record would refer to a tax instigated by Herod (notice my emphasis there, I’ll be getting back to it later); because I have doubts (which might be wrong in fact) that a local tax instigated by Herod via a distant suggestion (instead of a formal ‘dogma’ issued from Caeasar) would be kept in Roman archives.


But be that as it may, you had asked why we would expect subsequent censuses to keep record of the date and place of Jesus’ birth. The simple answer is that accountants and bureaucrats want to be as certain as possible that the correct person is paying the correct taxes; which is typically why censuses are held in the first place, from a government’s perspective (especially an ancient government).

Consequently, they’re going to either send out an archive of who should be paying taxes to their agents, or they’re going to expect their agents to keep those archives.

But we all agree that my fellow Tennessean Al Gore had not invented “the internets” yet. {g} So it would be ridiculously unfeasible for them to send out check-off docs on everyone to all possible stations. That’s why it makes perfect sense for a rule to be set up requiring as much consistency as possible in where a person is going to register for that taxation. One relatively easy way of ensuring this, is to require the head of the household to go to his birthplace and register there and (once the system gets going) pay taxes on himself and his dependents there; which also allows him to earn money working off any tax-debt while helping any local family business.

(In passing, I will also note that it would make extremely good sense for this registration to be held during the main harvest time in autumn; and that doing it during a holiday when people would want to be on the road to see their families would be ideal, too. Also, even though a popular travel holiday during spring planting time might work, too, the Romans or Herod either one would be ill-advised to do it during a holiday that celebrates a catastrophically violent freeing of the taxed people from foreign oppression... {g})


So, the following fictional dialogue illustrates how the system would work. (I’ve added in the ‘signing at 10’ for kicks, not because I think there’s any actual evidence it happened. Also, I have treated the Herodian census as being a taxation event in itself, though I’ve left it open as to whether it was an Imperial taxation. I’ll say why, later.)

‘So you are?’ ‘Joshua bar Joseph, born here autumn 5BCE. You should find that My father, Joseph bar Jacob bar Matthan, was married to Miriam eldest daughter of Heli bar Matthat bar Levi of Nazareth, whose family he was adopted into--she was the eldest of only daughters. He was born in 25BCE here in Bethlehem.’ ‘Ooookay, checking; there you are in the record from last time, got it. Your abba claimed you as a dependent in 6AD... though it kind of looks like someone else put down your name?’ ‘That was Me. I was 10, it seemed like a nifty thing to do.’ ‘Well that’s refreshing; a lot of people had problems with it that year.’ ‘Not Me. {s} Joseph brought Me along in case he needed to work off some of the debt at his own father’s shop that year. He’d gotten caught short like that back in the previous census, and so had had to stay around a while. Besides, I was apprenticing that year. Needed to be where the action was.’ ‘Makes sense. Dependents to report? We do random spot checks on this, I should remind you. Don’t get caught.’ ‘I know. Crucifixion as a rebel wouldn’t be a great way to spend an afternoon.’ ‘Might last longer than that!’ ‘Not if I can help it! {shares a laughs} One mom, some brothers, some sisters, all born in Nazareth. Here’s a list. The two older brothers came of age, so they’ll have to register in Nazareth.’ ‘Good, yes, we’ll have sent papers there already so we can account for them. We’ll send records for checking those two youngest brothers to Nazareth next time, too; they’ll have come of age by then. Okay, so... no wife and kids?’ ‘Not yet. Work tends to get in the way. {s}’ ‘Huh. You realize we may have to investigate that?’ ‘I know; it’s okay.’ ‘All right. {makes a mark} Occupation?’ ‘Artisan. Following My Abba on that; inherited the family business. We’ve done work all over the country. I plan to keep at it.’ ‘Always good to see sons doing as their fathers do! And I guess traveling around wouldn’t be fair to the wife.’ ‘True, having to be gone from her for a long time wouldn’t be fair to her.’ ‘Okay... according to this, you’re going to owe fifty denarii this year. Sorry about that, but you know how it is. It’d actually be more, except your two oldest brothers came of age since last time. You have it, I hope?’ ‘Yep! Oh, I received some of this from fishing, I should mention. {g}’ ‘Fine, fine... Well, that checks you off as having paid; see you next time!’ ‘Be seeing you, too!’ ‘......Huh, swell guy; most people hate tax-collectors... Oh well; next?’

Only the tax-agent in Bethlehem has to have records of what to expect. Not Zachaeus in Jericho, not even Matthew Levi up in the Fisherton suburb of Capernaum.

Now, that’s theory. Actual tax records from the first few censuses (since procedures might change later) could easily be correctives about the procedure: specifically what information to correlate with, so that the bureaucrats know who has paid and who hasn’t paid (and where to start looking for the ones who haven’t paid!) They’re going to want something to correlate with.


Anyway. I for one do not have any problem with the notion that Luke made an inadvertent historical error there while doing the research (one he could correct in passing for the sequel.) Nor do I have any problem in principle with a couple of ways of understanding the account to be accurate. For example, perhaps our other data (whatever that is) is off--though given the strength of attempts to explain that Luke isn’t really making an error there, I’m dubious about this rebuttal holding water.

Another possibility--and this is the one I actually go with--is that Augustus was already making plans to have the taxation run by the regional governors, but needed a baseline established for recordkeeping and so decreed a registration but not a tax. Nothing in Luke’s account mentions a tax there, per se (only about recordkeeping information, literally ‘from-writing’), and he does know how to talk about taxes. (The Zachaeus story is unique to GosLuke, for instance. A Roman tax-collection agent would still have normal taxation duties in non-census years, of course.)

That would nicely account for several things: it would explain the strong technical formal language in GosLuke 2, without having to whiffle it away by distant associations and nuances; it would explain why there was no revolt per se for Josephus to report later; it would explain why later historians understood the AD6 tax to be historically important as the first Imperial-scope-and-origin tax (which set off the various revolts in Palestine; and which still would require the same census-apparatus for keeping continuity with previous information and future taxation identification). It might even explain the weird grammar in verse 2: Luke might be trying to say that this was a preliminary registration of some kind.


Putting it in terms of Chris’ comment: obviously the people reading a whole lot into Luke’s comment, are the ones adding in the nuances and distant associations. {g} His language is very straightforward (except for the odd grammar of verse 2) and even technical. Exegesis is what is producing the problem in conjunction with some strong beliefs about data elsewhere. Consequently, the only way to arrive at Luke referring to a census instigated locally by Herod (even if for tribute to his pal and patron Augustus), is to read a major amount of stuff into and past and beyond and frankly other than what Luke wrote. (As I said earlier, I don’t think eisegesis is necessarily wrong or even avoidable. But a historical theory that synchs up with more data while introducing fewer problems and requiring less eisegesis should, I think, be preferred.)

My theory (I mean of Luke’s factuality) matches up well enough with the notion of Palestine’s special-relationship status as a client kingdom, too; or rather, it doesn’t bump into it. On the other hand, as Chris noted, neither is there anything specifically against Rome ordering a client kingdom (under its regional governor) to conduct a census: especially if it’s a decree of Imperial scope--it would have less political insult to the client kingdom. (Caesar isn’t singling out Herod, as if this was punishment or something.)

On the third hand, I haven’t heard enough about the registration of 7BC to consider it as an option; though it does have the advantage of synching up with the magoi arriving two years later (though this isn’t exactly said in the text) precipitating a flight from Bethlehem into exile in Egypt for a few months until Herod’s death in spring of 4BC. I would be willing to bet a Coke, though, that if there was an Imperial registration in 7BC, it wasn’t an Imperial decree of taxation yet. (Also, a decree for registration in 7BC wouldn’t necessarily require states to toe the line right that year; there could be a lag for a few years, if this is only a preparation for a taxation later. Indeed, one might suspect laggage to be a normal result!--it’ll delay the forthcoming taxation by that much longer! {g})


So, those are the two options I suggest:

1.) Luke misunderstood a reply from an archivist and accidentally conflated the 6CE census under Kyrenius with a previous local census run by Herod. I think this is the most reasonable ‘mistake’ theory, in respect to the data as a whole.

2.) Luke was trying to say that there was an Imperial preliminary to the tax (and census) of 6AD, decreed by Augustus in connection with that eventual tax, but only concerned with establishing baseline recordkeeping information for accountants to use for identification purposes later. I currently think this is the most reasonable ‘not-a-mistake’ theory, in respect to the data as a whole. It doesn’t require there to have been an Imperial tax at the time, and so doesn’t run into the generally accepted notion that 6AD was the first of these; and it requires a minimum of nuance to be read into a statement that is just about the total reverse of nuance. It also may help account for the weird timing/reference grammar in verse 2.


And so: Merry Christmas and to all a good night! {s!}

JRP

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