More on the Census in Luke 2

Over at Hypotyposeis, Stephen C. Carlson continues his exploration into his alternative reading of Luke 2:2 ("this became a very important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria"). In his latest argument, Carlson focuses on the implications of the context of Luke 2:1-7 on his translation. Therein, he makes a point I had earlier made -- the "decree" of Augustus ("Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth") should not be understood to require a single one-time census. Carlson states:

If full credit is given to the precise and apparently deliberate usage of the present vs. aorist infinitives in this passage, then it looks like the writer is not envisioning that Augustus's decree or decision (δόγμα) has inaugurated a single-census to be conducted all at once but a policy of conducting censuses throughout the whole civilized world, which to a chauvinistic Roman would not be much different from the Roman Empire.

I made this point in my post, "Some Comments on the Newsweek Article -- The Census":

The notion that a census would occur simultaneously throughout the entire Empire at one point is an anachronism. That’s the way we do it in the United States, in a highly centralized process administered by the federal (central) government during a discreet time period. Such a feat was not possible in ancient times. And note that Luke does not actually describe the census being carried out through the entire empire. He merely states that Augustus decided and made it official policy that the entire Roman world be registered.

Carlson adds considerable weight to the argument based on the Greek. It's quite readable, though, and worth checking out.

And Carlson takes it a step further and argues that this understanding of the decree adds weight to his translation. Because the reference to Quirinius' census is in a parenthetical, Carlson believes that Luke is placing the census including Joseph and the census of Quirinius (two different registrations) into the larger context of August's policy of enacting census and registrations across the empire.

This last part is persuasive and I'd really like to see what a wider academic audience would make of his discussion. Hopefully, he will get one.

Finally, Carlson attempts to link the mention of Qurinius' census to establishing a terminus post quem in the 80s for the Gospel of Luke. Though I find a date from 75-85 CE a reasonable one, I am so far unconvinced that the mention of Quirinius' census adds weight to that range.


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