Census of Quirinius

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Census of Quirinius

Post by FaxModem1 » 2012-12-20 03:52pm

Well, visiting the extended family, and the Nativity story came up. One thing, since I haven't really listened to it in a while, that struck me was the very concept of the census. I cannot imagine the chaos and shutting down of an empire a census that requires every person to travel from wherever they're living to their native homelands would require. I looked it up on wikipedia and found that they doubt it, as it would be impractical.

So, History Board, what, if anything, can you tell me about the Census of Quirinius?
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Esquire » 2012-12-21 10:26am

On related notes, Pontius Pilate wasn't governor of Judea at the times the Bible reports and didn't have the authority to release prisoners arrested for insurrection anyway. The Bible's merits as a spiritual writing are up for debate, but any time historical stuff gets brought up in veers off pretty quickly and pretty indisputably into nonsense. News at 11.

The short description of the Census is that there wasn't one, or at least not one of the sort Luke describes. There is no evidence from Roman sources for such a thing, precisely because of the problems you mention - it would have shut down the Empire for weeks or months. Furthermore, even if there had been a census at the given time, the Romans would not have required people to travel to their ancestral homes, since getting all the relevant information in the relevant place would just make more work for them. As far as I know, the generally-accepted scholarly explanation is that Luke put it in to fulfill yet another obscure Old Testament prophecy.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by PainRack » 2012-12-21 10:59am

Just think about it.... Why would a census require you to go back to your ancient city of birth? Just what purpose would that fulfill?


Census throughout the years have always been conducted for reasons of taxation first, mobilisation of resources second. It measured the number of mouths in the household, how much land you had, depending on which government you were in what job you were doing/caste status/social status......

It was only in our industrial age, with all the sociological work being done in Great Britain for example that modern governments began to measure other information.


Going back to your historical birthplace, especially one that only had meaning to the Jews as opposed to the Romans would had been pointless.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Channel72 » 2012-12-21 08:20pm

There IS historical evidence that Quirinius conducted a census in Judea. Josephus reports that Quirinius (Cyrenius) conducted a census (for tax purposes), but he puts it at a later date than Luke. Josephus brings it up because apparently there was a local revolt led by a Judas of Galilee, since the Jews were pissed about taxes.

Anyway, suffice it to say that Josephus says nothing about Judean citizens having to return to their ancestral tribal land. That's really bizarre. Firstly, there's no reason to believe the Romans would care where a Judean citizen can trace his/her lineage to, and secondly, after the Babylonian exile and centuries of foreign rule, resettlements, and deportations, much of the land originally allocated to the 12 tribes was populated by entirely different peoples. (And anyway, 10 of the original 12 tribes were deported to God knows where after the Assyrian invasion.)

Luke probably just made it up and connected it with something he vaguely remembered about a census associated with Quirinius. He needed some way to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, because a Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament mentions Bethlehem. (Matthew just took the easy route of saying that Joseph was from Bethlehem originally, but then later moved his family to Nazareth.)

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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Channel72 » 2012-12-21 08:36pm

In general, the Gospel writers had the problem that the prevailing interpretation of Messianic prophecy at the time had the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, but: another prophecy in Isaiah can be interpreted as meaning that the Messiah should be from Nazareth (sort of). OR it could be that the actual historical Jesus (if such a person existed) was in fact from Nazareth and this fact was too widely known to be altered by the Gospel writers. Regardless, all the oral traditions around Jesus have him starting his ministry in Nazareth/Galilee.

So the Gospel writers had to make up some way for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem but grow up in Nazareth. Luke made up some bullshit about Joseph and Mary having to travel to Bethlehem for a census, and Matthew just wrote that Joseph and Mary were originally from Bethlehem, but then moved to Nazareth after Jesus was born because of troubles with Herod.

(And of course, Mark and John don't bother to include a nativity narrative at all.)

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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-12-27 08:58pm

I'm not sure I'd interpret Luke 2 as saying it was mandatory for people to return to the city of their ancestral family line. To "their" city yes, but what does that mean, exactly?

Why might someone travel to a city other than the one they worked in?

Maybe Joseph figured out a wacky tax dodge. Maybe he was hoping to hide with his relatives to avoid the census-takers. Maybe he was a journeyman carpenter who just happened to be working in Nazareth at the time, still thought of his 'real home' as Bethlehem, and seized on the pretext to return there because he figured he'd be coming back in a year or two anyway and it would be less hassle if the Roman census thought his proper residence was in Bethlehem.

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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Channel72 » 2012-12-27 11:01pm

Simon_Jester wrote:I'm not sure I'd interpret Luke 2 as saying it was mandatory for people to return to the city of their ancestral family line. To "their" city yes, but what does that mean, exactly?
Well, verse 2:4 says:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David

...so, it implies that Joseph went to Bethlehem because of his ancestral line. But I agree there's some wiggle-room, I suppose.

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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by PeZook » 2012-12-28 02:57am

Bethelem's taverns and inns were full though, which implies lots of other people did the same thing.

Maybe taxes were lower in Betlehem and they wanted to be counted there. People do stuff like that all the time today, too, so who knows :D
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Thanas » 2012-12-28 05:46am

Well, there is a difference here. First of all, Roman taxes were levied according to current location and status. They never required people to go back to their towns of origin. All in all, there are too many problems with the census to consider it a historical fact.

However, Luke did copy one document of Roman administration - tax diplomas. These required you to list (not visit) your name, your immediate family, your place of birth and if possible your tribal affiliation. We have such examples from Egypt etc.

The whole start of Luke's story reads like such a tax document:
This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria (dating). All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea (current location), to the city of David called Bethlehem (birth place), because he was descended from the house and family of David (tribal affiliation). He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (family and number of persons to be taxed).

A real roman tax document would read like: "Dated in the time of Emperor X under Governor Y, regarding X, son of X, from the tribe of X, born in X, residing in X, engaged, one child expecting. He payed X amount of money to person X. His tax is paid".



BTW, it is not the only thing copied from Roman accounts. For example, many of the deeds attributed to Jesus are in fact copies of ancient deeds of holy men or deities or even Emperors, such like healing the blind and lame (which was first attributed to the Emperor Vespasian but wound up in the bible).
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-12-28 08:06am

Channel72 wrote:Well, verse 2:4 says:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David

...so, it implies that Joseph went to Bethlehem because of his ancestral line. But I agree there's some wiggle-room, I suppose.
It also implies that his extended family lived around Bethlehem, in which case there'd be plenty of cause for him to travel there, whether the census-takers told him to or not.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Thanas » 2012-12-28 08:15am

No, it doesn't really say that. Consider back then that travel was a real hazard and great expense, not just something you did to visit relatives for fun.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Channel72 » 2012-12-28 08:52am

Thanas wrote:BTW, it is not the only thing copied from Roman accounts. For example, many of the deeds attributed to Jesus are in fact copies of ancient deeds of holy men or deities or even Emperors, such like healing the blind and lame (which was first attributed to the Emperor Vespasian but wound up in the bible).
That sounds too speculative to me. Mark's Gospel was likely written around 70 AD (and the oral material it is based on likely goes back further), which is just barely at the start of Vespasian's reign, and the account in Histories where Vespasian heals the blind man was written 30 years after Mark anyway.

It's more likely the healing deeds attributed to Jesus are lifted from the Old Testament. You don't have to look much further than Elijah and Elisha to see a prototype for Jesus. Elisha cures a man from leprosy, resurrects a widow's dead son, and restores site to blind people. It's also possible Jesus' miracles are simply derived from what was expected of a Messiah via prophecy, e.g. Old Testament passages like Isaiah 35: Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy.

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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Thanas » 2012-12-28 08:56am

Channel72 wrote:
Thanas wrote:BTW, it is not the only thing copied from Roman accounts. For example, many of the deeds attributed to Jesus are in fact copies of ancient deeds of holy men or deities or even Emperors, such like healing the blind and lame (which was first attributed to the Emperor Vespasian but wound up in the bible).
That sounds too speculative to me. Mark's Gospel was likely written around 70 AD (and the oral material it is based on likely goes back further), which is just barely at the start of Vespasian's reign,
And thus fits perfectly in with the surge of Imperial Propaganda showing Vespasian performing miracles in Egypt at the start of his usurpation. Even more, the location fits.
and the account in Histories where Vespasian heals the blind man was written 30 years after Mark anyway.
That in itself is no argument considering nearly all events in Roman history are written about decades later.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Channel72 » 2012-12-28 09:03am

Okay, but why look to Roman accounts when the existing Jewish framework provides all the ingredients for the stories about Jesus? The virgin birth probably has pagan origin, but most of the miracles performed during Jesus's ministry have Old Testament prototypes - particularly healings and resurrections, and even miraculous provision of food (1 Kings 17:14). Although demonic possessions are not in the Old Testament.
Thanas wrote:No, it doesn't really say that. Consider back then that travel was a real hazard and great expense, not just something you did to visit relatives for fun.
Plus, if we're to believe Luke's account - Joseph travelled there while his wife was pregnant!

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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Thanas » 2012-12-28 09:21am

Channel72 wrote:Okay, but why look to Roman accounts when the existing Jewish framework provides all the ingredients for the stories about Jesus? The virgin birth probably has pagan origin, but most of the miracles performed during Jesus's ministry have Old Testament prototypes - particularly healings and resurrections, and even miraculous provision of food (1 Kings 17:14). Although demonic possessions are not in the Old Testament.
Well, there are a few things IMO to consider here. First, none of the early christians were that orthodox. In fact, the whole thing with christianity is just one of many in a series of conflicts between the Jewish central authorities and "heretics" as well as infighting. IMO it is far more likely that the early christians took what was en vogue in their day, which was basically a mix of various cults and middle east legends/beliefs. The Old Testament is a part of those but may not have been the only source, especially considering the infighting of the jewish faith.

This is why I personally find it easier to believe that Mark took an issue that was widely propagandized in his day (and also based on ancient legends) and added a christian twist to it. Especially considering the relationship with Rome (affirming that Jesus has at least as many if not more powers as the Roman Emperor).

The virgin birth is also a translation issue.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Thanas » 2012-12-28 09:24am

I feel I should also add that due to the problem with the Gospels regarding authorship, sources etc. it is almost impossible to really say either way.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-12-28 11:34am

Thanas wrote:No, it doesn't really say that. Consider back then that travel was a real hazard and great expense, not just something you did to visit relatives for fun.
What I mean is that there might be a host of reasons for him to travel to the place where his extended family lives, even if there were no law requiring him to do so.

To be sure, a journey of multiple days' walk each way wouldn't be undertaken for his amusement, or any other 'light' reason. But it's not hard to at least imagine reasons that would justify it.

"My family lives there" would at least explain why an ancient man in his right mind would even think about travelling for days to go to another city. Say, because his presence was needed to settle an inheritance dispute. "My ancestors lived there 200 years ago" would be a completely non-compelling argument that provides no such explanation.
Thanas wrote:That sounds too speculative to me. Mark's Gospel was likely written around 70 AD (and the oral material it is based on likely goes back further), which is just barely at the start of Vespasian's reign...

And thus fits perfectly in with the surge of Imperial Propaganda showing Vespasian performing miracles in Egypt at the start of his usurpation. Even more, the location fits.
and the account in Histories where Vespasian heals the blind man was written 30 years after Mark anyway.
That in itself is no argument considering nearly all events in Roman history are written about decades later.
So it is possible that Mark took the healing of the blind man from some (no longer available) imperial propaganda piece saying that Vespasian had healed a blind man. And you're inferring that this propaganda would have been circulating in the public around the time of Mark's writing, making it likely to influence him.

Makes sense.

On the other hand, as you say, there's a lot of fog involved. An imaginative man of 70 AD could easily make up his own miracles, or get them from the Old Testament, or get them from contemporary Roman propaganda, or even mix the three seemingly at random in the same text. We'd be hard pressed to figure out which pieces were which, two thousand years later.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Thanas » 2012-12-28 11:58am

Simon_Jester wrote:So it is possible that Mark took the healing of the blind man from some (no longer available) imperial propaganda piece saying that Vespasian had healed a blind man. And you're inferring that this propaganda would have been circulating in the public around the time of Mark's writing, making it likely to influence him.
Well, we do have the Imperial propaganda pieces showing the performance of those miracles. We have the written accounts and of course the coins minted to celebrate that achievement by Vespasian.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-12-28 12:23pm

Ah. So the piece of propaganda is available to us. Going only on what was written in the thread, I was confused about that.

All the better.
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Re: Census of Quirinius

Post by PainRack » 2012-12-29 10:43am

During Imperial China, it actually won't be implausible for prominent people to return to the place of their birth/ancestral home, away from their current residence. But that would had been for Confucian reasons such as the period of mourning, when an aged parent passed away and required the mourning of the parent at the ancestral grave for years......


And such an incident would had been rare for anyone outside of the elite and rich.
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