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It took longer than I expected, but someone finally responded to a video I did years ago on the census of Quirinius mentioned in Luke 2:2, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
Now, I am always appreciative when non-Christians respond in a respectful manner and without dropping insults or trying to attack me personally. Divine Disbelief focused on the data and didn’t try to make this personal, which was very respectful of them. Also, their channel is much smaller than mine and for that reason, I almost didn’t write this blog post, because when larger channels respond to smaller channels, indirectly we might send trolls their way. However, I really have wanted to redo the video they responded to, but I have not had the time. The reason being is I wanted to update it with more information and articulate some points in a better way (which will be mentioned in this blog). So luckily, I already had accumulated a lot of the research for this blog. Unfortunately, I am pretty busy with other topics and just haven’t found the time to circle back to making a new video, but writing a blog takes far less time than making a video. So I figured this was the perfect opportunity. Also, this gives me the opportunity to highlight an important feature regarding the debate surrounding alleged bible contradictions and errors.
When studying possible contradictions or errors in the biblical texts, it seems like Christians and skeptics are on different wavelengths. Christians, like myself, are often trying to get skeptics to employ the principle of charity, meaning we ought to give an author, like Luke, the benefit of the doubt before we assume he is in error. Whereas, it seems skeptics start with the idea the Biblical texts are questionable (or even flat out guilty) until proven innocent even on ordinary matters. Perhaps many skeptics question the Bible because they see it first and foremost as a religious text, which, in their minds, allows it to be dismissed.
This general implication can be seen in the first response video. At 25:28 they state, “The complete chaos which would ensue as tens of millions of people made the trek to the, quote, place of their origin which, again, is not mentioned in any historical documentation, would not have gone overlooked by those alive at the time.”
But are not the gospels historical sources, aside from the fact that Christians consider them scripture? Luke reported this event did happen in Judea (he doesn’t at all imply it would have been tens of millions, more on that later). But from the skeptic’s standpoint, biblical texts are always assumed to be questionable sources. But Christians ask why we ought to start with the assumption they are questionable when we tend to give other ancient sources reporting ordinary events the benefit of the doubt? Especially since there aren’t other sources that talk about this specific census that contradict Luke.
The Principle of Charity is used quite often in historical studies. In his book, “Why there are Differences in the Gospels,” Mike Licona spends most of the time examining differences in Plutarch and always tries to offer logical explanations for differences instead of assuming Plutarch made an error (1).
Another good example comes from Egyptian History. Some sources say Amenhotep II had two campaigns in Canaan during his reign, one during his third year, and one during his ninth year. However, other sources say he had a campaign during his seventh year. Egyptologists often try to harmonize these accounts. A possible explanation is that the seventh-year campaign mentioned in one source is the same as the third-year campaign mentioned in the other source. The former is counting from when he co-reigned with his father Thutmose III (hence 7 years from that point), and the latter is only counting from when Amenhotep II reigned alone after his father died (hence 3 years from when he was the sole ruler). Another possible explanation is a late scribal miscalculation during reconstruction from the period of the 19th dynasty, instead of attributing the error to the original scribes under Amenhotep II (2)(3). Those possibilities both seem logical, so why can’t we employ the same reasoning when it comes to the gospels? Why is Luke assumed to be in error because some things he says are not mentioned in any other historical document?
Brook W. R. Pearson reminds us our knowledge of the time period from 15 BC to AD 14 is quite limited (4). Yet, Luke is assumed to be in error or questionable even though our data on this time period is incomplete. Luke, if treated like other ancient historians, might give us more data to help fill in the gaps. So the foundation for this blog post is the principle of charity. Let’s not assume Luke is likely in error unless the evidence from that time period points in that direction.
The first response video starts out with a recreation of one of my slides:
The creators say, “..the first and third problems are inherently the same as are the second and fourth.” I am not sure why they think this. The first point is about how Jews were required to travel for the census, and the third point is about whether Rome took a census of the entire empire at once. These are inherently different and why they were separated. The second point is regarding how a client kingdom was treated by Rome, and the fourth point is regarding when a specific individual was reigning as governor of Syria. These are also inherently different, but I digress.
The first video is only going to focus on the first point on the slide, and the second video covers the second point which I will address below. If there are further videos addressing the other two points I will update this blog to include them, but I suspect those videos will also come down to presupposing Luke is questionable instead of trying to find a logical explanation by utilizing the principle of charity.
After some background, they get to the first objection they are raising. Beginning around 5:40, they take issue with the fact that I cited an Egyptian papyrus which states people had to return to their place of origin for a census in Egypt, which is similar to what Luke states happened in Judea under Herod the Great. PLondon 904 states that Egyptians had to return to their nomes (different administrative districts of Egypt) in order for a census to be conducted (5). In other words, a census needed to be conducted and everyone had to return to their region within Egypt for registration. So if you went to Alexandria to look for work, but originally were from Thebes, you had to return to your place of origin. You could not just stay in Alexandria and be registered there (caveat coming).
Now, I want to be clear, because perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in the short video they are responding to, I am not saying this is a perfect parallel to what would have happened in Judea around 4 BC. I thought that was obvious since Egypt was a province in 4 BC, while Judea was a client kingdom. Also, Rome did not govern every territory in the same way.
Larry Overstreet says, “Generally speaking, Roman law allowed the local law of each province to be exercised without much interference.” (6) Wolfgang Kunkel says, “…local administration, the administration of justice as between the natives of the provinces, and many other tasks were in general simply left to the political organs of the subject people.” (7)
Divine Disbelief implicitly assumes I was arguing that the censuses in Egypt were perfect parallels to the 4 B.C. Judean census, but my point was only that there are similarities that can help shed light on what Luke was talking about. Namely, that in Egypt people had to return to their nome, which would have required traveling for many.
Pearson says, “None of the Egyptian parallels can be posited as hard and fast facts for this investigation, but they do go a long way toward establishing what was normal for other Roman territories. The procedures may have been modified in Herod’s kingdom, as indeed in all the different parts of the empire, but there is no reason to posit that anything recorded in Luke 2 concerning the census was out of the ordinary for the Roman world.” (8)
William Ramsey also notes the differences between modern expectations and the ancient beliefs, “We in modern time make the census for one fixed and universal moment, catching our migratory population at the given instant, as if by an instantaneous photograph. The Romans tried to cope in another way with the difficulty of numbering people who might be far from home, viz., by bringing them at some time during the enrolment-year to their proper and original home; and they pennitted them to come for enrollment at any time during the year.” (9)
The data suggests Rome preferred people in a particular place to register. In Egypt, that was traveling back to your nome, which could take days. I’m not saying this is exactly how things were done in Herod’s client kingdom. The only point I was drawing is that there is a similarity in ordering people to return home.
Now, I detail all this because in the response video they go on to cite the rest of the edict of PLondon 904 which states a caveat about returning to your nome. It says that if you could give a “satisfactory reason for remaining” you could register where you currently were (10). But again, no one says this census is exactly the same as the one done in Judea in 4 B.C. in a neighboring client kingdom.
The section from PLondon 904 they cite says that the prefect of Egypt appointed a cavalry commander named Fetsus to handle the affairs of this caveat, which seems like a special circumstance the prefect decided to include for his subjects, and was not always standard Roman practice. Divine Disbelief also just finished noting that the prefect of Egypt had a unique status in the empire, giving him autonomous control over Egypt to conduct internal affairs.
Divine Disbelief seems to think that this is a perfect parallel to the census conducted in Judea around 4 BC. They go on to state, “One could wonder if having a wife who is nine months pregnant and thus unable to travel across the desert would be considered a satisfactory reason for somebody to stay in the town and not need to travel anywhere, let alone the place of their origin, as IP says.”
But why on earth would they suggest the later census from Egypt, under a different ruler, is exactly how things would have been conducted under Herod the Great? No historical sources mention this was exactly the same way it was performed in Judea, or that Judea would also have had cavalry commanders appointed to oversee a similar caveat. Why assume the same caveat was allowed under different rulers and in different regions, and therefore that Luke is wrong about an entirely different census? Luke is not guilty until proven innocent.
Now, DivineDisbelief does say this is a minor point and not the heart of their argument, but since they brought it up, there is no harm in offering a rebuttal, even if it is a minor point. The overall point is that the census in Egypt is only similar to what probably would have happened in Judea, so they cannot use it as an exact match, and neither did I intend to. However, that seems to be what they continue to do throughout this video, weakening their overall argument.
Next, they cite the number of censuses we have from Egypt. To quote, “What we do have (just over 400 census responses from Egyptians which are dated from 6 CE to 259 CE, with 14 years separating each) is expansive and incredibly telling.”
You might not think this is a major point, but there is some important data they left out, which might be relevant if they decided to make future response videos. Roger Bagnall and Bruce Frier note that prior to this period, and through the reign of Augustus, there were 6 censuses in Egypt: 11/10 BC, 4/3 BC, 4/5 CE, 5/6 CE, 11/12 CE, and 12/13 CE (11).
The 14-year cycle only begins after this period. This data fits well with the fact that Augustus seems to have been a little obsessive about keeping accurate records of his empire. Pearson notes this might provide the rationale for Luke’s statement in Luke 2:1 (12). Also notice that the date of one of the Egyptian censuses of declarations aligned well with the estimated time of Luke’s census being around 4 BC, which would support the idea that Augustus was surveying parts of the empire around this time (again, this is just to note a minor correlation, not to say they are exactly the same). Overall though, the standard Roman practice of conducting a census every 14 years was not in effect until after this period. So when Divine Disbelief later draws parallels to the Judean 4 B.C. census, they are assuming the same practices were conducted, which seems unlikely given that the standard Roman census procedures were not yet established. Things appear to have been a little more chaotic during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who seems to have been overly concerned about accurate records.
My point can be seen at 12:13 of their video, where they state, “Of the substantial amount of information we have thus far discovered, we see this: there was never a combination of household registrations of people and evaluations of property, not one time! This leads scholars and papyrologists to say the following, ‘the glaring absence in the Egyptian census returns of the declaration of property, not to mention its evaluation, makes it clear that taxation on property in Egypt was not done through the census process.’”
Divine Disbelief also goes on to cite papyrus census data from other time periods as well. But no one claimed these were perfect parallels to the chaotic time of Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus. They don’t cite any census data from this time period, and who can blame them, because we lack sufficient census papyruses from this time period in Judea. In addition, it appears that censuses were conducted more frequently than every 14 years.
Furthermore, as we noted in the original video, Rome probably wanted to turn Judea into a province (which they ultimately did after Herod Archelaus was deposed). So conducting a census that included property and people seems like a good idea in order to obtain a proper understanding of the potential new province and the property of each household for future taxation purposes (more on this below responding to the second video). In other words, we would expect an initial census for a potential new province to be different than standard censuses carried out after that, especially under the obsessive Augustus and his tyrannical puppet-king, Herod. But then again, Rome did not necessarily always do things the same way in each province. So it could have even been different elsewhere in the empire.
Then Divine Disbelief summarizes their points so far, showing their tendency to rely too much on later censuses to conclude Luke was wrong about a different census. Leaving the jokes aside, to quote, “Second, nobody had to go back to their place of origin for any type of census, or for anything really. Third, a household census never happened at the same time as a property census. Fourth, the edict given in 104 CE only had to do with those who were in Alexandria.”
But again, Luke is talking about a different census, which was in a different territory, under a different Emperor, and during a different time period, which probably doesn’t entirely match the later established Roman census procedures. PLondon 904 does actually require travel to one’s place of origin if you do not meet the needs of their caveat or exception rule. So it appears Divine Disbelief is relying too much on different circumstances to say Luke was wrong, which seems unfair. How can they make such general sweeping claims about all Roman censuses with limited data? Once again, Luke is not guilty until proven innocent.
At 14:30, they state, “IP then references two Old Testament verses, Deuteronomy 21:15–17 and Numbers 27:6-11, which he says make it more likely Jews would need to be in their place of origin for a census because Jewish law said their property was the property of their fathers.”
This is true––that is all I stated. To quote from my original video, “…it was more likely Jews would need to be in their place of origin for a census, since Jewish law states their property was the property of their father’s. Harold Hoehner says, ‘…the Romans would comply to the custom of laying claim to one’s family estate in order to assess it for taxation. Every person needed to appear to be questioned so as to make a proper assessment of his property.’ So it’s likely Joseph would need to be in his place of origin for property assessment.”
Now notice this is all I stated. There is nothing here about King David or owning land. This is relevant given the subsequent claims they make. All I am really trying to say is that Jews were tied to families. R.W.L. Moberly writes, “…a man’s children are seen as extensions of his own value and significance and are not considered as uniquely important human beings in their own right.” (14)
Essentially, children were seen as almost belonging to their fathers, which of course ended when the father passed away. There would probably be less control as children became adults, but fathers were still considered heads of their entire household (15).
So the inference is a family unit would probably have needed to be together for registration, as your family was essential to your identity in ancient Judea, and that is what you were mainly tied to as a Jew. That is all I was trying to say in citing these two passages––control of the family and the family’s property did not really pass to the son until the father had died. Again, I was probably too brief, so I don’t entirely fault them for the confusion.
However, from this idea about Jews being tied to their families, and especially their fathers, as well as that Rome seems to have preferred people being in their place of origin, it is likely Herod would have had people return to their fathers, which is their initial home or place of origin so the census could be conducted and a proper assessment of the Jewish family units could be known. Now, I am not saying this is certain, but I am trying to utilize the principle of charity to make sense of what Luke says, instead of just assuming his claims are questionable from the start or that he is guilty of an error until we find something to corroborate his claim. There is a logical explanation for what Luke records. Plus, that is not how we treat other ancient sources, and I don’t see why we should not give Luke the benefit of the doubt considering how accurate he is throughout Acts (16).
So the point was that children were tied to their fathers and estates didn’t pass to the son until the father had passed away. So in that sense, they were still under the headship of their fathers, and it is likely that the property of sons was still counted as property of the father until the father died. This is what is hinted at in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 and Numbers 27:6-11.
To quote Yehiel Kaplan, “In the first stage, in ancient Jewish law, the dominant tendency was to affirm the authority of the Jewish father over the members of his family. During this period, the idea that parents have a natural responsibility to love their children, care for them and provide for their welfare was less transparent. The main purpose of the rules concerning the relationship between parents and children at this stage was the assertion of the rights and needs of the father of the family.” (17)
He goes on to add, “The authority of the father to determine the fate of all members of his family was the main guiding principle. Many regulations in Biblical law were an outcome of this principle, that the father had significant authority over members of his family. These regulations included the granting of certain rights over the child to the father that were not awarded to the mother. In fact, according to some scholars, some Biblical laws granted almost absolute authority to the father when it came to family matters.” (18)
Unfortunately, Divine Disbelief seems to suggest I was saying this was utterly explicit in the biblical text, which again, perhaps I should have elaborated on. On a side note, they make a claim that God sanctioned polygamy in the Old Testament. However, I pointed out in another video this is unlikely. See also this article.
Now at 18:38 Divine Disbelief says, “Neither of the biblical references has anything to do with ‘going to their place of origin’ or ‘property is the property of their father’.” But I never said it had anything to do with returning to a place of origin. Instead, the point was these passages do hint at property rights through inheritances. Their inheritance came from their father when the father died. Until then, they were under their father. I admit I could have explained this better, but that also doesn’t justify them reading into it what they think.
After this, things kind of go off the rail. To quote at 20:10, “Why would it matter to the Romans who owned any property thousands of years prior?” But where did I ever say or imply this? The fact that Joseph’s original family household was probably in Bethlehem (which is why he went back there) probably had nothing to do with King David’s claim from thousands of years ago, which is why I never claimed that.
Perhaps, they are referring to Luke 2:4 which reads, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Maybe Divine Disbelief is using this verse to suggest the Romans cared about lineages going back to David, but I suspect that is reading too much into the text. Luke is probably using this opportunity to remind readers that Jesus is a legal descendent of David through Joseph’s family connection in Bethlehem. However, Joseph probably went there because that is where his father was located.
The gospels also imply Joseph and Mary likely stayed in Bethlehem for a while. In the book “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes,” the authors remind us:
“When Joseph went to Bethlehem to register, Mary gave birth to Jesus. They needed to wait a few weeks for Mary to recuperate before they traveled back, but it appears Joseph and Mary may have remained in Bethlehem for nearly two years. When the wise men arrived, they went to a house where the toddler Jesus and his parents were living (Mt 2:11). What had Mary and Joseph been doing all this time? Not vacationing. Joseph was probably following work opportunities. He intended to return to Nazareth but was staying while there was work to be found. This was the time (hairos) for work. He would leave when the time was passed. Americans find it hard to leave town for a long weekend. Who will feed the cat? We cannot imagine someone leaving their home for a year or two. But in cultures in which hairos is more important than chronos, this is a common thing to do.” (19)
If Joseph had family connections, as Luke and Matthew imply, then it makes sense as to why they spent so much time in Bethlehem, and how it could have created work opportunities through familial connections. I don’t think the Romans or Hoerd cared about who was descended from David (which is why I never once said this), but they may have wanted families together in their place of origin for proper assessment. The possibility that some families could trace their lines back to David was just an indirect consequence of requiring Joseph to go back to his father’s house.
This section was a bit funny to watch because Divine Disbelief then spends several minutes trying to attack a claim that was never made by doing mathematical calculations of how many Jews could have been descended from David and would need to have traveled back to Bethlehem. I can’t tell if they are trying to be ridiculous in this section for comedic purposes, but I’ll respond nonetheless. At 24:10, they argue from using exponential calculations, “…it shows pretty much every Jew in 1st century Palestine and all those living elsewhere in the Roman Empire would have been of the, quote, line of David.”
Sure, that is possible, and it works in a hypothetical setting, but things do not ever play out the same way in reality. For one, the Jews only documented male heirs, so anyone who descended from a female descendant of David would not have documented that connection. Second, the life expectancies were much shorter back then due to higher rates of war and disease (let’s also not forget the Babylonian Exile). Populations didn’t grow as fast as they have after the industrial revolution. So, unfortunately, it’s not like every one of these descendants would have lived to reproduce. In fact, using that kind of exponential growth is very impractical in reality, especially before modern times. This whole thing reminded me of an older video by Potholer54 who responded to AiG on trying to argue for exponential population growth after the alleged global flood to get enough people to build the pyramids.
The idea that every Jew in the 1st century would have been able to claim they were a descendant of David is probably not true, which is why we don’t see it happening in the records that survived. Populations were simply not growing like they are today.
I am not saying it is impossible that David could be what scientists call the ‘most recent genealogical ancestor’ of everyone in Judea, but that is not even relevant to the main point (20). I did not claim every descendant of David would need to have gone to Bethlehem. Nor do we have reason to believe every Jew would have thought of themselves as a legal descendant of David. My point was about returning to family origins under the father’s household, wherever that was. Again, this is not to say we have proof this is what happened, it is utilizing the principle of charity to make sense of what Luke is telling us. Plus, there are no records that contradict Luke on the procedures of this specific census.
At 25:28 they state, “The complete chaos which would ensue as tens of millions of people made the trek to the, quote, place of their origin which again is not mentioned in any historical documentation would not have gone overlooked by those alive at the time.”
Obviously tens of millions would not have arrived in Bethlehem, as we just went over (especially since there were not even that many Jews in Judea at that time). But apart from this, why do we need to assume Luke is wrong or questionable just because there is no corroborating evidence? Luke is a historical document. Should we not give Luke the benefit of doubt since no other historical documentation contradicts him? If they had a source from this 4 B.C. census that said otherwise, then they would have a point, but they seem to be assuming Luke is wrong because nothing confirms his report. The Bible is not guilty until proven innocent.
They then begin to wrap up the video and remind us of their earlier points by citing an Egyptian census from about 200 years later to argue Joseph would not have needed to travel to Bethlehem. Now, we have thoroughly addressed this in the first half of this post, but this goes back to one of my earlier points. Why does Divine Disbelief keep assuming the Egyptian censuses from long after the Augustian period were exactly the same as the 4 B.C. census? We have good reason to think this was not the case, given that the standard 14-year increments were not in place, there was an emperor in power that was obsessive about having accurate records of his empire, Herod’s client kingdom was different and about to experience radical changes as Herod was close to death, and Jewish law was different than Egyptian law.
This is like judging the customs of colonial America by looking at customs in the United States from the 20th century, and declaring a historian from the 18th century is wrong because things were different in the 20th century. The reasoning of Divine Disbelief doesn’t add up or cause us to doubt Luke, unless we assume Luke is guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, this seems to be what they are doing. For example, to quote from 26:34, “The claim of movement into a different part of a province, to quote, a place of origin for a poll tax, registration, census, for literally any reason remotely close to that which is mentioned in Luke, is simply not historical and is easily dismissed.”
In other words, Luke is ‘easily dismissed’ and assumed to be incorrect because nothing confirms his account, even though there is no contradictory evidence regarding the specific census he mentioned. Luke is guilty until proven innocent.
The second video has less to address. The first thing they say is that Rome would not have gone about conducting a census in a client kingdom. Instead, they would have acted through the client ruler. To quote at 2:00, “When we find a census, poll tax, or any other type of taxation, it is not directly enforced by the Roman military or even a Roman procurator. Instead, it is performed by the client king who, like Herod the Great, was chosen by Caesar. We also know Herod would perform his own taxation and would sometimes, but not always, provide tribute to Caesar. Thus, there is no reason to assume anything other than that which is evident. Rome did not directly enforce a census in client states.”
But how they went about conducting a census doesn’t mean it was not decreed from Rome. After all, Herod was essentially a puppet king (21), as even they just admitted. Divine Disbelief seems to be getting nitpicky. Rome could still conduct a census in a client kingdom, and would probably go about it through whoever was reigning there. Luke doesn’t say Rome directly ran the census. All he says is “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). I suspect Herod was the one who actually carried it out within his kingdom but under the order of Rome. I don’t think Divine Disbelief is being charitable here in how Luke 2:1 reads, or in how they are interpreting my words. I never said it had to be specifically carried out by Rome, and not through Herod, their puppet-king. All Luke says is the decree came from Augustus, not that Rome had to do all the paperwork.
With regards to their claim, “Rome did not directly enforce a census in client states,” this is challengeable. The Roman historian, Tacitus, seems to reference a census being conducted in a client state:
“At this same time the Clitae, a tribe subject to the Cappadocian Archelaus, retreated to the heights of Mount Taurus, because they were compelled in Roman fashion to render an account of their revenue and submit to tribute. There they defended themselves by means of the nature of the country against the king’s unwarlike troops, till Marcus Trebellius, whom Vitellius, the governor of Syria, sent as his lieutenant with four thousand legionaries and some picked auxiliaries, surrounded with his lines two hills occupied by the barbarians, the lesser of which was named Cadra, the other Davara. Those who dared to sally out, he reduced to surrender by the sword, the rest by drought.” (22)
Sabine R. Huebner says after citing this passage, “This suggests that a similar census on the Roman model could well have taken place in the kingdom of Herod the Great, officially directed by Herod but with military and administrative support from the Roman governor in neighboring Syria. As a vassal king, Herod was dependent on the favor of Augustus and legitimized by his support.” (23)
There is no reason to assume Herod, who was under the thumb of Rome, could not have been ordered to conduct a census. Even without the example in Tacitus, Caesar Augustus could do what he wanted. There was not some rule he had to abide by that stated he had to leave Herod’s kingdom alone.
Now the rest of the video only addressed one of my three points. Remember, to point out Augustus had reason to conduct a census (and was more involved in Judea that we realize) I mentioned that Herod fell out of favor with Augustus, Herod was also approaching the end of his life, and subjects of Judea swore an oath to Herod and Caesar.
However, they only focus on the first point, and to be fair they make a good point. At the end of this video, they circle back around to the alleged error. At 18:25, they state, “So the claim that IP made about Herod being, quote, more of a subject than a friend – not at all true.” So they correctly point out sometime later Herod did regain the favor of Caesar.
Let’s remember my video was supposed to briefly cover this topic, so it is fair to note I left out details I didn’t think mattered at the time (you live and learn). It is fair to say, I only noted around this time that Herod fell out of favor. For a time he was demoted from rex socius to rex amicus. “The sum of his epistle was this: that ‘Whereas of old he had used him as his friend: he should now use him as his subject.’” (23). I didn’t think it was relevant to the defense of Luke 2:2 to note what happened later, which was that Herod was restored because that was secondary to my overall point. After all, this wasn’t a video about Herod, but Luke. My only point was that Herod fell out of favor and Augustus could have used this opportunity (as one of the reasons) to conduct a census for records.
Perhaps Huebner can articulate why this is relevant better than I can:
“A rift had opened up between Augustus and Herod only a year earlier, in 9 BCE, after Herod had mounted a military campaign against the Nabataeans. This had been discussed beforehand with the governor Saturninus, but Herod had neglected to secure the approval of Augustus as well. Augustus then broke their amicitia, their political friendship, after more than twenty years, and threatened to treat Herod as a subject rather than as a friend and ally from that point onwards. Could this have motivated Augustus to order a Roman census in Herod’s kingdom to assess the tax-raising potential of the region, recalculate the tribute due, and put Herod firmly in his place? A census in Herod’s kingdom, carried out by officials dispatched by the governor of neighboring Syria, would have made his dependence on Rome unmistakably clear. A Roman census in Herod’s kingdom would not, moreover, have represented the only direct interaction between Augustus and the subjects of his client king. The oath of loyalty to Augustus which Herod’s subjects were required to swear in 6 or 5 BCE also indicates an understanding of the nature of Roman rule that was increasingly unfettered by borders and which interfered with the normal autonomy of a client king in interior affairs.” (25)
In other words, the relationship between Herod and Augustus was complex. Herod was a friend, but also still a client who was on shaky ground for a period. This seems to be indicated by the oath Huebner and my original video mentioned from around 6/5 B.C. (Divine Disbelief did not address this aspect). I fully understand Herod was restored, but again, my aim was to focus on Luke and only the matters related to that. Of course, it is fair to say I may have been too brief (as also admitted above), but I don’t think that really challenged the main issue. Remember, Herod temporarily rift with Augustus was only one of my points as to why a census was likely, and Augustus had the right and motive to conduct a census if he wanted. As Robert Hunt said, “The patron-client relationship was a complicated and intricate social system throughout the ancient world. Rome was no exception to this rule.” (26)
Divine Disbelief glossed over the second and third aspects of my case. The first of which was the oath of loyalty from 6/5 B.C. That is odd because that provides context on the relationship between Herod and Augustus. Things were not so black and white, and this should have been noted. I can admit I was too brief and should have said Herod only temporarily fell out of favor, but regardless of that, it really doesn’t affect how we read Luke and the census. The data still seems to support what Luke tells us, as long as we don’t assume Luke has to be entirely corroborated by other sources.
Next, Pearson also quotes F. M. Heichelheim and reminds us, “…the ‘will of Herod the Great, which must have been drafted a few years before the birth of Christ, took a very close survey of all the resources of the kingdom, and this could not have been possible without a recent census of the actual domain of the king.’ Part of Herod’s report concerned the annual revenue of the country; after the revolts which occurred upon Herod’s death (Josephus A.J. 11.9.5 §229), Caesar used these records of taxation to remit a quarter of the Samaritans’ taxes, as the Samaritans had not taken part in the unrest (A.J. 17.11.4 §319).” It seems implausible, therefore, to assume that Judaea had been without the practice of census taking prior to the establishment of direct Roman rule.” (27)
This quote relates to the third point I brought up in the original video about Herod getting old and a proper assessment of his kingdom would be needed, which Divine Disbelief also omitted in their response. Instead, they focused only on the issue of ‘falling out of favor,’ and then kind of failed to address the real issue, which was how this related to Luke’s statement. They spent so much time on this one issue I think it got them a bit sidetracked from the overall point.
The last thing to address in this video is this closing slide, a quote from R. L. Fox:
To address this, it should be noted Luke doesn’t say Rome was taxing Judea directly and bypassing Herod. Pearson also notes there is enough evidence Herod adopted several roman practices, “We cannot think that in the process of romanizing his kingdom, he would incorporate Roman architectural, military, religious, and recreational techniques, models, and practices, but would reject their incredibly efficient administrative systems–or that he would be allowed to do so by his overlords.” (28)
Josephus also reports the use of “village scribes” in Judea under Herod (29), which was a position responsible for collecting the information regarding property for taxation during a census. The position is mentioned in 200 different papyri (Examples: POxy. 79, 240, 251, 252, 254, 255, 288, and 488). The fact that this occupation is mentioned as existing in Judea under Herod makes more sense if they were conducting censuses and mimicking the Roman versions, which is why we see similarities in Egyptian papyri (30). So, like before, the existence of this occupation associated with census duties fits with Luke’s account.
So suffice it to say, their claim that Luke made an error is not supported by the data they provided. This goes back to my original point, skeptics will assume passages in the Bible are in error because they have not been confirmed elsewhere. However, they would never do this with Plutarch, Josephus, or any other ancient historian. Typically, when we study these works we tend to assume they are accurate unless we have a good reason to doubt them. For example, we are not going to assume Josephus’ accounts of the Egyptian prophet and Pilate’s attack on the Samaritans were fabricated or questionable unless we encounter a separate contradictory source. We tend to take Josephus at his word, resting on the principle of charity, unless we encounter a good reason to doubt him. The Bible, on the other hand, is assumed to be in error until it finds supporting evidence. But Divine Disbelief did not provide any specific contradictory evidence, and mainly relied on reports of completely different censuses. So if we just employ the principle of charity, there is no reason to assume Luke is in error. Luke should be seen as historical, just like how we treat other ancient works as innocent until proven guilty. If there is a part 3 and 4 to their series I’ll address them here as well, as there is still more data I have saved I would like to cover.
- Licona, Mike, and Craig A. Evans. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2017.
- Pritchard, James B. “Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.” Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 245-248.
Vandersleyen, Claude. L’Egypte et la Vallée du Nil, vol. 2. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995, 325.
- Pearson, Brook W. R. “The Lucan Censuses, Revisited.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 2, Apr. 1999, p. 282.
- Deissmann, Adolf. “Light From The Ancient East (Classic Reprint).” Forgotten Books, 2016. p. 268.
- Kunkel, Wolfgang, and John Maurice Kelly. “An Introduction to Roman Legal and Constitutional History.” Clarendon Press, 1985.
- Overstreet, Larry. “Roman Law and The Trial of Jesus.” Bibliothecasacra, vol. 135, no. 540, Oct-Dec, 1978, p. 325.
- Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 277.
- Ramsay, W. M. “Luke’s Narrative of the Birth of Christ,” ExpTim 4, 1912, p. 483.
- Deissmann, LFTAE, 268.
- R. S. Bagnall and B. W. Frier. “The Demography of Roman Egypt.” Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy, and Society in Past Time 23; Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 5.
- Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 274.
- Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” xvi 9.3.
- Moberly, R. W.L. “Christ as the Key to Scripture.” He Swore an Oath: Biblical Themes from Genesis 12-50, by Richard S. Hess et al., Wipf & Stock Pub., 2007, p. 156.
- Kaplan, Yehiel. “The Changing Profile Of The Parent-Child Relationship In Jewish Law.” The Jewish Law Annual Volume 18, 2010, pp. 21–80., doi:10.4324/9780203855249-2.
- Kaplan, Yehiel S. “Child Custody in Jewish Law: From Authority of the Father to the Best Interest of the Child.” Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 24, no. 1, 2008, pp. 89–122., doi:10.1017/s0748081400001946.
- ibid, 92-93.
- O’Brien, Brandon J., and E. Randolph. Richards. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. IVP Books, 2012, pp. 144-145.
- Swamidass, S. Joshua. The Genealogical Adam & Eve: the Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry. IVP Academic, 2019.
- Hendricks, Obery M. The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of the Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted. Three Leaves Press, 2006, p. 56.
- Tacitus, Annals 6.41.
- Huebner, Sabine R. Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament. University Printing House, 2019, p.44
- Josephus, Antiquities 16.9.3
- Huebner, Papyri and the Social World, 45.
- Hunt, Robert D. “Herod and Augustus: A Look at Patron-Client Relationships.” Studia Antiqua 2, no. 1 (2002). https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/studiaantiqua/vol2/iss1/5
- Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 266.
- Ibid, 272.
- Josephus, Antiquities 16.7.3
- Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 271.