Three Pages into Three Thousand Years

Three pages into Three Thousand Years and I have an issue. A new low.

Advent is a good reminder to attempt to deepen the faith. So when I read great things about Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, I bought the used book and began to read with little expectations of finishing the 1,016 page book, but expecting to gain a better historical perspective in specific areas which interested me. The author, Diarmaid MacCulloch, was apparently a lapsed Anglican who was raised in the faith and treated his subject with respect.

Using my Mortimer Adler training, I began with the part of the book which most interested me, Chapter 3: A Crucified Messiah. Just three pages in I came across my first bomb:

Luke’s birth narrative, the more elaborate [Matthew is the other] explains that Jesus’s parents traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth because they had to comply with the residence terms of a Roman imperial census for tax purposes …. This does not ring true … Roman authorities would not have held a census in a client kingdom of the empire such as Herod’s, and in any case there is no record elsewhere of such an empire-wide census, which would certainly have left traces around the Mediterranean. The story seems to embody a confusion with a well-attested Roman imperial census which certainly did happen, but in 6 CE, far too late for the birth of Jesus [the birth is estimated between 7 and 4 BE], and long remembered as a traumatic event because it was the first real taste of what direct Roman rule meant for Judea. The suspicion therefore arises that someone writing a good deal later, rather hazy about the chronology of decades before, has been fairly cavalier with the story of Jesus’s birth, for reasons other than retrieving events as they actually happened.

In a thousand page book, I expected to read a lot of hedging about conflicting accounts. But here MacCulloch calls Luke a liar [naturally using testosterone-deficient language, i.e. cavalier], with no attempt to reconcile the dates giving Luke the benefit of the doubt. What a prick.

In didn’t take much research to discover that there are plenty of explanations for the discrepancy. The most complete explanation was provided by a blog post by J. Hampton Keathley, III titled, Acclamations of the Birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-20). Keathley summarizes the issue:

Critics have challenged Luke’s statement because they claim Josephus, a Jewish historian, placed this [census] at least ten years later [6 CE] after Archelaus had been deposed and Quirenius had been sent as a Syrian magistrate in charge of this registration. Their point is Quirinius did not govern here until several years later.

Keathley then offers three possible solutions for the historical discrepancies:

  1. There were two registrations. There is evidence that such registrations happened periodically about every 14 years and that Quirinius could have been twice in charge of these registrations. Luke shows us from Acts 5:37 that he was aware of the later registration or census of Quirinius, the one reported by Josephus. In other words, Luke shows us from Luke 2:1-2 and Acts 5:37 that there very well could have been two registrations conducted by Quirinius and this fits with archaeological findings as well as with Josephus’ account.
  2. An eminent archaeologist named Jerry Vardaman has done a great deal of work in this regard. He has found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing, or what we call ‘micrographic’ letters. This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until after the death of Herod. It means that there were apparently two Quiriniuses. It’s not uncommon to have lots of people with the same Roman names, so there’s no reason to doubt that there were two people by the name of Quirinius. The census would have taken place under the reign of the earlier Quirinius. Given the cycle of a census every fourteen years, that would work out quite well.
  3. Quirinius had a government assignment in Syria at this time and conducted a census in his official capacity. Details of this census may have been common knowledge in Luke’s time but are now lost to us. An incomplete MS describes the career of an officer whose name is not preserved but whose actions sound as if he might have been Quirinius. He became imperial “legate of Syria” for the “second time.” While this is ambiguous, it may be a clue that Quirinius served both at the time of Jesus’ birth and a few years later.

The complete explanation by J. Hampton Keathley, III is copied at end of the post.

Onward, Christian soldiers, page four beckons.

—————————————————-
Acclamations of the Birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-20)
By: J. Hampton Keathley, III

http://bible.org/article/acclamations-birth-christ-luke-21-20#P69_15704

This brings us back to our passage where we want to observe another historical detail in the account of Christ’s birth—the census to be taken. Again, remember Galatians 4:4 which says, “but when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman …”

“That a decree went out … a census …” The word “census” here is apographo, which means “the taking of a census, registration, or enrollment.” The KJV has “taxed,” but the word actually referred to a census (though a taxing often followed based on the census or registration.) It was a registration for taxing purposes.

Critics have challenged this statement by Luke because they claim Josephus, a Jewish historian, placed this at least ten years later after Archelaus had been deposed and Quirenius had been sent as a Syrian magistrate in charge of this registration. Their point is Quirinius did not govern here until several years later.

Several years ago a writer for Life Magazine, Robert Coughlan used this along with some other things to claim the whole story of Jesus Christ was without historicity and should not be relied upon. But this assumes that we have all the information of this time and know more than Luke could have possibly known.

How do we deal with this apparent historical discrepancy? There is evidence that such registrations happened periodically about every 14 years and that Quirinius could have been twice in charge of these registrations. Luke shows us from Acts 5:37 that he was aware of the later registration or census of Quirinius, the one reported by Josephus. In other words, Luke shows us from Luke 2:1-2 and Acts 5:37 that there very well could have been two registrations conducted by Quirinius and this fits with archaeological findings as well as with Josephus’ account.

There is also another solution proposed by some archaeologists. In discussing the problem of this census with John McRay, a well known archaeologist, Lee Strobel describes part of the conversation with McRay who said in the interview, “An eminent archaeologist named Jerry Vardaman has done a great deal of work in this regard. He has found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing, or what we call ‘micrographic’ letters. This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until after the death of Herod.”4

Being somewhat confused by this reply, he asked, “What does this mean?” McRay replied:

It means that there were apparently two Quiriniuses. It’s not uncommon to have lots of people with the same Roman names, so there’s no reason to doubt that there were two people by the name of Quirinius. The census would have taken place under the reign of the earlier Quirinius. Given the cycle of a census every fourteen years, that would work out quite well.5

Walter Liefeld in The Expositors Bible Commentary points out another possible solution.

Quirinius had a government assignment in Syria at this time and conducted a census in his official capacity. Details of this census may have been common knowledge in Luke’s time but are now lost to us (cf. E.M. Blaiklock, “Quirinius,” ZPEB, 5:56). An incomplete MS describes the career of an officer whose name is not preserved but whose actions sound as if he might have been Quirinius. He became imperial “legate of Syria” for the “second time.” While this is ambiguous, it may be a clue that Quirinius served both at the time of Jesus’ birth and a few years later (cf. F.F. Bruce, “Quirinius,” NBD, p. 9).6

Regardless of the view one takes to solve this seeming discrepancy, over and over again archaeology has demonstrated the trustworthiness of the Bible on one supposed discrepancy after another. Luke was a painstakingly accurate historian who carefully investigated everything from the beginning regarding the life of Christ (Luke 1:1-4). In all fairness, we must assume that Luke knew something that we do not and wait for the evidence to come in. Earlier, when Strobel questioned McRay about Luke as a historian, McRay replied:

The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian, … He’s erudite, he’s eloquent, his Greek approaches classical quality, he writes as an educated man, and archaeological discoveries are showing over and over again that Luke is accurate in what he has to say.”7

In view of these facts, we need to give Luke, who lived then, the benefit of the doubt and wait for more evidence to surface.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
This entry was posted in 2TG Favorites, Books & Reading, Catholic Faith & Inspiration and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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