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Bethlehem and Nazareth in Luke: Where Was Jesus Really Born?

Yesterday I discussed Matthew’s account of how it is that Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, if in fact he “came” from Nazareth.

Of course, critical scholars suspect Matthew has placed Jesus’ birth there to fulfill Michah’s prophecy (5:2) that a great ruler (the supposed messiah) would come from Bethlehem.

For Matthew it is because Joseph and Mary were originally from Bethlehem.  That was their home town.  And the place of Jesus’ birth.  Two or more years after his birth, they relocated to Nazareth in Galilee, over a hundred miles to the north, to get away from the rulers of Judea who were thought to be out to kill the child.   (That in itself, I hardly need to say, seems completely implausible, that a local king is eager to kill a peasant child out of fear that he will wrest the kingdom away from him….)

Luke has a completely different account of how it happened.  In Luke, Bethlehem is decidedly not Joseph and Mary’s home town.  The whole point of the story is that it is not.   They are from Nazareth.   But then how does Jesus come to be born somewhere else?   In the most famous passage of the birth narratives, we are told that it is because of a “decree” that went out from the ruler of the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus.   “All the world” had to be “enrolled” – that is, there was a world-wide census.  We are told that this was the “first enrollment” made when Quirinius was the governor of Syria.

Since Joseph is “of the house and lineage of David,”

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A Source for the Birth Narratives in Matthew and Luke?
Bethlehem and Nazareth in Matthew

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Comments

  1. gmatthews
    gmatthews  March 6, 2015

    One thing that has always bugged me about Luke’s claim that everyone had to return to their ancestral birthplace is the gullibility of the readers of his Gospel when it was first written. Surely there were either 1) a handful of REALLY old Christians that were around at the time of this supposed census that knew it never happened (that some might have been alive might be more believable if we consider that perhaps Luke’s claim is based on an older oral story) or 2) some higher class Christians with an education who knew that no census of the type Luke claims took place. What does this say about the gullibility of these early Christians? Or, would they have known it was pure legend and that it was acceptable at the time for legendary stories to be told without having to discount the overall story?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      People today almost entirely believe it! So I suppose the ancients weren’t really that unusually gullible….

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  March 7, 2015

        Hmm… I looked at “Ben-Hur” again recently. (Love the acting and the score…I certainly don’t take its “history” seriously, or buy into the notion that a miraculous “happy ending” for a few people, after even they have been put through years of undeserved suffering, shows how wonderful “God” is.)

        But the writers of that 1959 film didn’t expect a modern audience to believe the Roman government had ordered a census of the entire empire! They made it a census of Judea…and as I recall, never mentioned that Mary and Joseph had come from Galilee.

      • gmatthews
        gmatthews  March 7, 2015

        But today most Christians are taught the Bible is the inspired word of God (I presume– at least I know I was when I was Christian) so even though it might not make logical sense this square peg of a story still goes in the round hole for most Christians today. Back then the Gospels were not yet considered sacred scripture, let alone the inspired word of God. So, my question about their gullibility seems to me to be valid. If they weren’t gullible for the story then I have to wonder how it was received. Or, perhaps better yet, maybe the number of educated Christians at this time was REALLY small.

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  March 7, 2015

        Hi Bart, Sorry but surely that proves that gullible people are not dependent on the century including very educated people like CS Lewis and even college Pofessors. What is worse is most people were illiterate back then. Nobody can surely believe the bible and the Quran today, but they do. They had an excuse back then though. The Mormon Church is a classic example of gross gullibility.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  March 9, 2015

        Dr

        you said , “if Luke is right that they return to Nazareth a month after Jesus’ birth…”

        “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the
        Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual
        for the festival. ”

        is the baby jesus , according to luke , brought from nazareth to jerusaLEM EVERY YEAR?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 9, 2015

          Apparently most years, at least, as it is “their custom.”

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  March 9, 2015

            But I assume you think “Luke” was *wrong* in believing they went there every year? That people in modest circumstances *couldn’t* trek to Jerusalem every year, and Jesus may have been there for the first time when he wound up being crucified?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 10, 2015

            Yes that’s right, that’s my view.

          • Avatar
            Adam Beaven  March 10, 2015

            Doctor Ehrman,

            I note that the baby is publicly announced in the temple acording to lukes account. the thing is, was the baby brought to jerusalem for most years from birth onwards?

            “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the
            Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual
            for the festival. ”

            if matthew is right , then wouldn’t it be dangerous for jesus’ parents to bring the child to the temple?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 10, 2015

            Yes indeed, it would have been. Luke is the only Gospel that talks about Jesus regularly going to Jerusalem before his ministry.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  May 17, 2015

        I have written my own version of the life of Jesus as an historical novel called, “The Murdered Messiah,” which I have been editing with the help of Hal Taussig, a scholar whom you know. In my view, without going into details, Miriam’s (Mary’s) pregnancy (even if she had been raped) was obviously a problem in her home town, Nazareth, since she was not yet married to her betrothed, Joseph. Although he was not the father, Joseph offered to accept the child as his own and they were married. But the situation was still “uncomfortable,” so the couple moved temporarily to Bethlehem, to stay with relatives of Joseph until the baby was born, after which they moved back to Nazareth. This is a plausible explanation and in my telling it works quite well. By the way, Hal is not responsible for my views; he has simply been a good friend and helped me with the manuscript. I’ve been hoping to persuade you, Professor Ehrman, to read the manuscript. I think you would find my work interesting and original, and it offers the best explanation of who Joshua (Jesus) really was, who he thought he was, and what he believed his mission to be. I attended a couple of the panels/lectures at which you spoke in San Diego last fall, and had the pleasure of actually meeting you. I have read many of your books on Christianity and viewed a number of your appearances online. I am in your debt for the remarkable amount of illumination you have provided on a variety of subjects of profound interest to me. Thanks.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 18, 2015

          Congratulations on the book! Best wishes getting it published.

      • Avatar
        Simeon  August 15, 2015

        Professor Ehrman
        Jesus at 12 years of age came to Jerusalem with his parents this corresponds to the exact time that Quirinius was Governor of Syria and Judea,, now Mary might even have been pregnant at that time (who knows) but her expereince was shared with someone who became her biographer, whats wrong with him using this later event to embellish the actual birth in 6/5 CE, he has a duty to the narrative and he is in complete control of it.

        In actual fact there should have been no need to go to Jerusalem for the tax registration (under normal circumstances ) as the tax district for Joseph was Sepphoris, and he could have made that declaration in Nazareth itself, neither would he have had to take Mary because the registration would have had to be made in person as the head of the household.

        Simeon
        Did you get my book last april?

        • Avatar
          Simeon  August 15, 2015

          erratta
          6/5 BCE

        • Bart
          Bart  August 15, 2015

          I’m sorry if I didn’t acknowledge receiving it! I normally can acknowledge books (I get 1 or 2 a week!) if someone sends me their email address. If you did so, even more apologies!

          • Avatar
            Simeon  August 16, 2015

            Prof Ehrman
            You were abroad at the time.
            busy schedules ….

            Simeon

          • Bart
            Bart  August 17, 2015

            Yeah, I was out of the country all summer; just now got back!

  2. Avatar
    Tom  March 6, 2015

    Your posts today and yesterday are fascinating.

    Thanks!

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 6, 2015

    First of all…I don’t seriously doubt that you’re right.

    But I have thought at times of a way in which Jesus *could* have been born in Bethlehem and raised in his family’s actual home town of Nazareth. And it’s a reason no one would have wanted to acknowledge. Namely, that one of his parents (probably his father) was a religious fanatic who fantasized about the child they were expecting being the Messiah…and insisted they go to Bethlehem so the child would be born in the “right” place! Of course, no one in that era could know a child’s sex before the birth – but that wouldn’t stop a religious fanatic.

    • Avatar
      jrhislb  March 7, 2015

      That is a creative and amusing theory. But I have always heard that Jewish mothers have high ambitions for their sons so maybe it was Mary who had her child’s career set out.

  4. Avatar
    NW  March 6, 2015

    I also find it highly problematic for Luke’s account that it was the ROMAN world that was to be taxed. Um, sorry, but Galilee was not a Roman province in that day. Oops!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      They were under Roman jurisdiction though.

      • Avatar
        NW  March 13, 2015

        My comment above was from reading EP Sanders’ work on the historical figure of Jesus, just for reference. I think his point was that the actual historical Census of Quirinius was for the Roman provinces of Syria and Judaea, which wouldn’t have included the district of Galilee.

  5. Avatar
    gavriel  March 6, 2015

    The belief in a Jesus of the seed of David is very early, according to Paul. The implausible explanations made by Matthew and Luke, do they possibly go back to some reality? Perhaps that Jesus’ parents or ancestors once had migrated from the Bethlehem area into Nazareth?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      My view is that since Christians believed Jesus was the messiah, they thought he was descended from David. From a genealogical point of view, probably most Jews in the world today are descended from David….

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  March 7, 2015

        But it puzzles me that if so many people believed the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, Jesus himself presumably wasn’t troubled by the fact that he *hadn’t* been born there. Shouldn’t that have made him entertain some doubt?

        Of course, we can’t really know whether he *did* have doubts…

        I’m remembering what you say in one of your books about people in every era “reconceptualizing” Jesus. I know I do that myself, even though I’ll never be a Christian. I want to beleve *his disciples* convinced *him* he was the Messiah, rather than the reverse, so I can at least respect him. And if his disciples convinced him, he may have had many kinds of doubts along the way.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 9, 2015

          It’s not clear that this was a widely held view, that hte messiah *had* to come from Bethlehem.

          • Avatar
            Prizm  May 10, 2015

            I thought that Micah 5:2 verse was a falsely attributed prophecy anyway? Wasn’t it talking about a clan name, not the name of the actual town Bethlehem?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 11, 2015

            It names Bethlehem.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  March 8, 2015

        Rereading this…

        “probably most Jews in the world today are descended from David….”

        Has the theory that many Jews are descended from the Khazars been discredited? As I recall the story, Khazaria was an Eastern European monarchy whose previously pagan (in fact, “divine”) rulers converted to Judaism somewhere around the 7th to 9th century CE. They’d been pressured to convert to either Christianity or Islam, and the only choice that wouldn’t make serious enemies of either Christian or Muslim neighbors was Judaism – which both would, however grudgingly, tolerate.

        I think that much is accepted as historical fact: the point that’s been questioned is how many of their subjects became more than nominal Jews, and remained Jews in later centuries. I have read that genetic studies show most Ashkenazi Jews are more closely related to Turks and Eastern Europeans than to the peoples of the Middle East. Has that claim been refuted?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 9, 2015

          I don’t know anything about it, I’m afraid!

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  March 9, 2015

            The problem was complicated by the fact that the Khazars didn’t have a written language! So all the “evidence” had to come from other sources.

        • Avatar
          gavriel  March 9, 2015

          The Khazar theory was revived by an aging Arthur Koestler in the 70’ties. There’s a wikipedia article on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirteenth_Tribe.
          It gained some popularity because of Koestler’s lucid style of writing , himself a Hungarian Jew , but it never became scholarly accepted. He wanted to prove that modern Jews in general could not claim genetic/ethnic relationship to ancient Jews. In my opinion there are many readable chapters in this book (can be found online), but his general thesis on the Khazars is very speculative.

  6. Avatar
    pstrst@pacbell.net  March 6, 2015

    I’m curious — how do fundamentalists reconcile these differences?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      Very ingeniously! E.g., to make the flight to Egypt work with Luke’s claim that they returned to Nazareth, you’d have to say that *after* they returned to Nazareth the family decided to move permanently to Bethlehem, then later they went to Egypt, and then later they relocated to Nazareth.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  March 9, 2015

        but it seems as if luke has them doing yearly visits to jerusalem . what route did they take?

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  March 9, 2015

        “When they had finished everything required
        by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of
        Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and
        the favor of God was upon him. ”

        where did the child grow? one would assume nazareth, right?

        “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the
        Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual
        for the festival. ”

        if the only destination of residence mentioned is nazareth , then one would assume that departure is from nazareth .lukes language shows no indication of danger or sneaky entry.

    • cheito
      cheito  March 11, 2015

      I read Luke and consider Matthew apocryphal. I don’t compare the two…

  7. Avatar
    nacord  March 6, 2015

    I’ve heard arguments to reconcile the Quirinius/Herod disparity by arguing that Quirinius in fact served a political term of office in Judea before his second term in AD 6. They cite a marble fragment found at Tivoli in 1764 that (though nameless) seems to refer to Quirinius as serving two terms as governor of Syria. Do believe there is any validity to these claims? Thanks-

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      It contradicts what we know from Josephus, who was a near contemporary.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  March 9, 2015

      I’m no scholar, but what I remember of the stone when I was doing my personal “what to believe” effort is that it refers to the nameless person as having been twice but it mentions “Asia” and “Syria and Ph” (Phoenicia?). So it still isn’t someone twice governor of Syria. It appears very irrelevant to the problem when you see what it actually says.

  8. Avatar
    spiker  March 6, 2015

    Matthew’s narrative, almost from the begining, seems driven by prohpecy scavenger hunt
    Joseph and Mary have to flee to Egypt. Why? Couldn’t an all knowing and all powerful God protect his son? The fate of God’s plan (The fate of mankind as such, rested on Joseph leaving before
    Herod’s soldiers got wise to what was going on) God couldn’t make Herod forget about the boy, make the soldiers lose their way, etc?

    But the biggest problem for the narrative appears in Chapter 2 verses 19-23

    After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (NIV)
    Didn’t this Angel know that Herod, was succeeded by Archelaus? Apparently the Angel
    realizing the snafu in the nick of time, “warned him [joseph] in a dream, “and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.” Whew! That was a close one! Jospeh might have wandered over to Capernum,
    then what!? Another Angel and a dream?

  9. Avatar
    MikeyS  March 6, 2015

    It may just be me Bart, but three kings following a Star for it to settle on a stable in Bethlehem shows how desperate these fibbers were to avhieve their aims that Jesus was the promised Messiah. People think these things don’t matter as its all about the idea or the theology to convey the truth as they and all Christians world wide that say the bible is the inerrant word of God and any misunderstanding is not God’s but ours, the individual reader.

    The writers of all religious text like including the Gospels didn’t think their handiwork would be tested centuries later and think you have made this point often. They were all written for the immediate audience and not other generations later. It was important to keep them within the fold and they would do anything and say anything to do just that. That’s all too clear with the Torah, the NT and the Quran.

    IF we could ditch most (not all) of all these religious texts then its doubtful if any teasonable person would agree that stoning Adulterers, Gays and Children to death could not be God’s instruction at all and just made up by stone age cave dwellers. In fact when these things that you allude to are almost impossible to be the truth and so must be lies, then all these texts should be treated the same. And how any sensible and intelligent people/believers can still believe them and will defend them to the death almost, is the most saddest thing of all. Most people agree that slavery is/was wrong, yet they cannot go the extra mile to think what else was made up in the name of God/Jehova/Allah?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      I don’t think they were fibbers. They were story tellers. Big difference!!

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  March 7, 2015

        Bart, please! There are story tellers who are fiction writers who are not out to DECEIVE their audience. Most scripture is written by men who’s aim was just that. ie they knew they made it up or tried to tailor the story to suit their pre conceived ideas. I think its worse than Fibs and lies my friend because people went to their deaths from the early followers to martyres today just because they believe all this holy text was by the hand of God and these events actually took place. Half of all americans believe the universe is under 10, 000 years old because they believe in….yes Sir, because of fibs told by ancient cave dwellers who made it all up. I’ve no problem with the Bible being filed under ‘Fiction’ in libraries. ATB.

        • Avatar
          Prizm  May 10, 2015

          +1 I agree. Growing up fundamentalist, I have seen many lives wrecked and educations stunted because of belief in this garbage. I don’t believe Paul intentionally made things up, but if you look at the gospels and Matthew in particular, that sneaky guy spent half his time fishing in the old testament for bullshit ‘prophecies’ to compose his messiah fabrication. It would be amusing if the effects weren’t so tragic.

  10. Avatar
    MikeyS  March 6, 2015

    I mean of course that Stoning people could NOT have been God’s instruction etc.

  11. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  March 6, 2015

    Given the trouble Matthew and Luke take to show Jesus was born in Bethlehem, do you think Jesus’ place of birth was an issue prompted within the community or by outside critics?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      Not outsiders. My guess is that early story tellers simply wanted to show that Jesus was the messiah descended from David, and had to then explain why he hadn’t been born in David’s town. For them, he had been!

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  March 7, 2015

        Its obvious those Jews didn’t know much about their holy book as they would surely know what the Messiah was to do when he came. To claim that AFTER his death makes that even more so. Simple Fishermen is what Jesus chose and you can understand why as they would have asked more questions. Its why the Jews stayed with Judaism and Gentiles beiieve anything!

  12. Avatar
    Stephen  March 7, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    Am I wrong to detect a disconnect here? Matthew and Luke both have birth narratives which would seem to imply some sort of connection between them but the details of the stories are so completely contradictory that it would imply that they are independent of each other.

    It’s difficult to see these two stories as descendents of a common ancestor because they are so different but can we claim that these two authors both had the urge to include a birth narrative independently? And the earlier sources, Paul and Mark, don’t seem much interested in Jesus’ birth at all.

    Is there a layer of tradition missing here? Why do you think we have two independent birth narratives that are so completely different in detail?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      I’ll deal with that in a post soon (in response to someone else who asked basically the same question).

  13. Avatar
    shakespeare66  March 7, 2015

    Just one example of the morphing of Jesus after his declaration that the world would come to an end never materialized.

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 7, 2015

    I always get stuck at the same place. Did the Gospel authors knowingly just make stuff up or did it happen some other way? Did these stories just gradually evolve and the Gospel authors thus think they were writing history?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      My view is that htey inherited stories that got made up, but in the process of story telling (as in rumor and gossip) stories get made up not necessarily with deceitful intent. It just happens. All the time!

  15. Avatar
    asjsdpjk  March 8, 2015

    For me the following combination of views seems most plausible.

    Jesus existed. Nazareth existed.But – Jesus was placed in Nazareth by earlier traditions (pre-gospel) that either confused nazarene with nazareth or wanted to place him in a town which name sounded like nazarene.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 9, 2015

      The question is why anyone called him a nazarene, if he wasn’t from nazareth. Nazarene is not etynmologically related to the term Nazirite, e.g.

  16. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 8, 2015

    Is it true that the birth narrative in Luke was a later addition to the book?

  17. Avatar
    Gary  March 9, 2015

    When I was a fundamentalist, we believed that ANY plausible harmonization for an alleged discrepancy eliminated the allegation of a discrepancy. We believed that the Birth Narratives in Matthew and Luke could be easily harmonized thus:

    1. Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth.
    2. They traveled to Bethlehem for the census while Mary was pregnant.
    3. Jesus was born in the stable in Bethlehem.
    4. Within days of the birth, the family returned to Nazareth, passing through Jerusalem for Mary’s purification.
    5. Prior to Jesus’ second birthday, the family moved Bethlehem, where the wise men came to visit them in their house.
    6. Shortly thereafter, the family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem.
    7. After living a few years in Egypt, the family returned again to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.

    In regards to the strange behavior of the star: It was a MAGIC star; it did not behave like other stars. Possibly no one but the wise men could even see it. (There is always an explanation when the supernatural is considered an acceptable explanation).

  18. Avatar
    qaelith2112  March 9, 2015

    I’m always intrigued by the creative “resolutions” that are formulated by literalists whenever some episode is at great odds from one evangelist’s story to another. This one lends itself to some especially convoluted possibilities. Take this “explanation” by John Gill regarding the portion of Luke 2:39 which indicates that “they returned to Galilee”:

    “not that they came from thence to Jerusalem, but from Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth, and her time for purification was now just expired: nor did they go now directly to Galilee; or, if they did, they soon came back again to Bethlehem, since here the wise men found them two years after; when by a divine warning, they went into Egypt, where they remained till Herod’s death, and after came into the land of Israel, into the parts of Galilee, and dwelt at Nazareth; for which reason it is here called their own city;”

    In order to harmonize this single phrase with Matthew, Gill has them either not actually going directly to Galilee as Luke says, or going there but then for some inexplicable reason turning right around and going back to Bethlehem. Forgot their toothbrushes? Longing for an extended visit with the livestock? He doesn’t bother to justify why they would do this. Nor does he explain why Luke wouldn’t get around to mentioning any of that.

  19. talitakum
    talitakum  March 10, 2015

    I believe there are historical records of “census returns” in Roman history of Mediterranean (e.g. the edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus, praefect of Egypt, in 104 CE; couple of references in the Tebtunis Papyri).
    Moreover, I don’t see why Joseph couldn’t be born in Bethlehem although living in Nazaret, and/or why he couldn’t have some properties in Bethlehem, thus justifying a census return. I really don’t see why all this should be considered strictly “historical implausible” and ruled out.
    One could also side with RE Brown informed opinion: “One cannot rule out the possibility that, since Romans often adapted their administration to local circumstances, a census conducted in Judea would respect the strong attachment of Jewish tribal and ancestral relationships.” (R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, New York: Doubleday, p. 549)

    The major issue of Luke’s census account, in my opinion, it’s the census itself (and not the practice of census return) cause there is no historical record of it.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2015

      What makes it so improbable is what hte text actually says: this was a census of the “entire world” when Caesar Augustus was emperor. There was no such census. And the text doesn’t say that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he was born there, but it was because he was descended from David.

      • talitakum
        talitakum  March 10, 2015

        Thank you so much for your reply. I agree on the fact that, based on our historical records, such “worldwide census” is historically implausible. What I believe it’s not historically implausible is the practice of census return. And we have no concrete elements to evaluate the Davidic lineage of Joseph (although it could be a theologumena).

        • Bart
          Bart  March 11, 2015

          Ancient Jews had no genealogical records either (especially rural peasants)!

          • talitakum
            talitakum  March 12, 2015

            In a tribal society I expect people to take genealogies seriously. I admit I don’t know about peasants, but looking at extant books of Matthew, Luke, and Josephus (“Life”) genealogies were very important and probably Judaea didn’t count million people at those times. There is also a solid early tradition (Paul, gospels) about davidic lineage of Jesus. However, I guess it’s possible that these genealogies were passed on within the family without any official public record (i.e. Lk and Mt genealogies are different), nothing that Romans could actually use for a census… I still think there’s a chance that Luke was right about the “census return” for a Roman census, although davidic lineage of Josephus/Jesus cannot be historically demonstrated. In any case, *that* census didn’t apparently take place, so..

          • Bart
            Bart  March 12, 2015

            The idea that oral cultures kept extensive and accurate genealogies is a modern myth (based in no small measure on the fact that one finds genealogies in books like Matthew and Luke!). In oral cultures the only way to have a genealogy was to keep it orally. That was done (and is done) only for the most prominent figures in the society — e.g., the king. And it can only be done by professional memorizers of tradition, because it is too difficult a mental task for normal people. There simply is no way that the 7 million Jews in the time of Jesus all had memorized their descendants going back 1800 years!

          • Bart
            Bart  March 12, 2015

            Yes, it may seem that way. But the idea that oral cultures kept extensive and accurate genealogies is a modern myth (based in no small measure on the fact that one finds genealogies in books like Matthew and Luke!). In oral cultures the only way to have a genealogy was to keep it orally. That was done (and is done) only for the most prominent figures in the society — e.g., the king. And it can only be done by professional memorizers of tradition, because it is too difficult a mental task for normal people. There simply is no way that the 7 million Jews in the time of Jesus all had memorized their descendants going back 1800 years!

          • Bart
            Bart  March 12, 2015

            In the previous post I began to answer the question of which lost books of early Christianity I would most like to have discovered, and I started my answer with the earliest writings of which we are familiar, the letters of Paul, most of which (presumably) have been lost. I would love for us to find some of them. I doubt if we ever will, but who knows? Maybe someone will announce that one is to be published later this year!
            Seriously, we would all love to have more letters from Paul, and not merely for sentimental reasons (Oh, wouldn’t that be *nice*?). Paul is without a doubt the most important figure in the Christian tradition next to Jesus himself. His writings have served as a basis for Christian ethical and theological thought for centuries. And yet we know so little about what he thought and taught.
            When people read Paul’s letters, they frequently neglect to realize that these are all “occasional” writings. By that I do not mean that Paul occasionally wrote letters, but that Paul wrote his letters for particular occasions. The letters are addressed to situations that have arisen in his churches that need to be addressed, problems of belief and practice. When a church was having problems in one area (whether they knew it was a problem or not) Paul dealt with it in a letter – since he couldn’t be there to deal with it in person.
            With the partial exception of Romans, that’s what Paul’s letters are: attempts to deal with problems as they have occurred. But what that means is that these letters are NOT systematic expressions of Paul’s thought, where he picks a topic and explains what he really, and fully, thinks about it. You will look in vain in these letters for a detailed and systematic exposition of Paul’s doctrines of God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit and so on; or Paul’s teachings on important ethical issues. Whatever the problem is at hand, he deals with, often rather succinctly.
            It is a huge mistake when readers – including scholars who should know better – try to…
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      • cheito
        cheito  March 11, 2015

        Perhaps “entire world or “world wide” was a generalization used by Augustus to describe his empire-wide census? Also this census was for taxation and in such censuses Persons were required to return to their home city in order to fulfill the requirements of the process.

        I found this online: I posted some of it here. I found it interesting and thought provoking…. http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/firstcensus.htm …do you think it’s accurate?

        It has been established that the taking of a census was quite common at about the time of Christ. An ancient Latin inscription called the Titulus Venetus indicates that a census took place in Syria and Judea about AD 5-6 and that this was typical of those held throughout the Roman Empire from the time of Augustus (23 BC-AD 14) until at least the third century AD. Indications are that this census took place every fourteen years. Other such evidence indicates that these procedures were widespread [2. Ibid., pp. 193-194]. Concerning persons returning to their home city for the taxation-census, an Egyptian papyrus dating from AD 104 reports just such a practice. This rule was enforced, as well [3. Ibid. p. 194].

        The question concerning Quirinius also involves the date of the census described in Luke 2. It is known that Quirinius was made governor of Syria by Augustus in AD 6. Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay discovered several inscriptions that indicated that Quirinius was governor of Syria on two occasions, the first time several years prior to this date [4. Robert Boyd, Tells, Tombs, and Treasure (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 175]. Within the cycle of taxation-censuses mentioned above, an earlier taxation would be dated from 10-4 BC [5. Cf. Bruce, Christian Origins, pp. 193-194 with Boyd, Tells, p. 175. Bruce prefers the date 10-9 BC for the empire-wide census, with that which took place in Judea occurring a few years later. Boyd places the date of the earlier census 6-5 BC, which coincides closely with the accepted dates for Jesus’ birth]. Another possibility is Bruce’s suggestion that the Greek in Luke 2.2 is equally translatable as “This enrollment (census) was before that made when Quirinius was governor of Syria” [6. Bruce, Christian Origins, p. 192]. This would mean that Luke was dating the taxation-census before Quirinius took over the governorship of Syria. Either possibility answers the question raised above [7. While ruling out the two-date approach to the governorship of Quirinius, Sherwin-White basically vindicates Luke’s account, while still finding more problems that does Bruce (pp. 162-171)].

        Therefore, while some questions have been raised concerning the events recorded in Luke 2.1-5, archaeology has provided some unexpected and supportive answers. Additionally, while supplying the background behind these events, archaeology also assists us in establishing several facts. (1) A taxation-census was a fairly common procedure in the Roman Empire and it did occur in Judea, in particular. (2) Persons were required to return to their home city in order to fulfill the requirements of the process. (3) These procedures were apparently employed during the reign of Augustus (37 BC-AD 14), placing it well within the general time frame of Jesus’ birth. (4) The date of the specific taxation recounted by Luke could very possibly have been 6-5 BC, which would also be of service in attempting to find a more exact date for Jesus’ birth.

        Josephus and Jewish Antiquities

        An argument made by many opponents of the accuracy of the Bible is that Rome was not taxing or conducting a census in Israel before becoming a province in 6 A.D. But Josephus records that the Jews were being taxed by the Romans with commands coming from Syria as early as 44 BC. And the task of raising the funds fell upon the Jewish rulers in power at the time. For example Josephus records: “Cassius rode into Syria in order to take command of the army stationed there, and on the Jews he placed a tax of 700 silver talents. Antipater gave the job of collecting this tax to his sons . . .” (Jewish Antiquities XIV 271).

        Records also indicate that Quirinius was no minor figure in Roman politics. His name is mentioned in Res Gestae – The Deeds of Augustus by Augustus placing him as consul as early as 12 B.C.

  20. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 5, 2015

    Luke’s account of the birth is so ridiculous. Can you imagine everyone relocating in order to take the census? How far does one have to go back in one’s line to be in the right place? The writer of Luke was not very smart and obviously contrived the story to get Jesus to Bethlehem. Complete nonsense. People who read these accounts never see them with their eyes, but just with their hearts. I had lunch with an evangelical couple the other week, and the guy has read the Bible every year for the last 40 years. We had a discussion about Paul, and he called him Apostle Paul. I said, “he is not one of the apostles” and the guy looks at his wife and says “Isn’t he?” His wife, a minister, grumbled “No.” Can you imagine reading the Bible that many times and thinking you know what it is you are reading? Ensuing discussions merited nothing meritorious in our conversations, needless to say.

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