Census of Quirinius

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The Census of Quirinius was a census of Judaea taken by Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Roman governor of Syria, upon the imposition of direct Roman rule in 6 CE.[1] The Jewish historian Josephus portrays the annexation and census as the cause of an uprising which later became identified with the Zealot movement.

The author of the Gospel of Luke uses it as the narrative means to establish when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5),[2] but places the census within the reign of Herod the Great, who died 10 years earlier in 4 BCE.[3] No satisfactory explanation has been put forward to resolve the contradiction,[4] and most scholars think that the author of the gospel made a mistake.[5]

The census

In 6 CE Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed Imperial Legate (governor) of the province of Roman Syria. In the same year Judea was declared a Roman province, and Quirinius was tasked to carry out a census of the new territory for tax purposes. The new territory was one of the three portions into which the kingdom of Herod the Great had been divided on his death in 4 BCE; his son Herod Archelaus was given Judea but complaints of misrule prompted his removal and Judea and Samaria were placed under direct Roman rule, although Galilee and other areas remained autonomous.[6]

The date of the birth of Jesus

Mary and Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic c. 1315.

The Gospel of Luke places the birth of Jesus under the reign of Herod ("In the days of King Herod of Judea..."– Luke 1:5) and links it to the census of Quirinius:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

— Luke 2:1–5

There are major difficulties in accepting Luke's account: the census in fact took place in AD 6, ten years after Herod's death in 4 BCE; there was no single census of the entire empire under Augustus; no Roman census required people to travel from their own homes to those of distant ancestors; and the census of Judea would not have affected Joseph and his family, living in Galilee.[5] While some scholars hold that Quirinius may have had an earlier and historically unattested term as governor of Syria, or that he previously held other senior positions which may have led him to be involved in the affairs of Judea during Herod’s reign, or that the passage should be interpreted in some other fashion, these arguments have been rejected by mainline scholarship as "exegetical acrobatics" (Geza Vermes, 2006),[7][8], and most most have concluded that the author of Luke's gospel made an error.[5]

See also



  1. ^ Gruen 1996, p. 157.
  2. ^ Edwards 2015, p. 68-69.
  3. ^ Gruen 1996, p. 157 fn.49.
  4. ^ Edwards 2015, p. 71.
  5. ^ a b c Brown 1978, p. 17.
  6. ^ Gruen 1996, p. 156-157.
  7. ^ Novak 2001, p. 293-298.
  8. ^ Vermes 2006, p. 28-30.


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  • Blomberg, C.E. (1995). "Quirinius". In Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802837844. 
  • Bond, Helen (2012). The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780567456489. 
  • Brown, R.E. (1978). An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814609972. 
  • Burkett, Delbert (2002). An introduction to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-00720-7. 
  • Charlesworth, James H. (2008). The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide. Abingdon Press. ISBN 9781426724756. 
  • Edwards, James R. (2015). The Gospel of Luke. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802837356. 
  • Freeman, Charles (2009). A New History of Early Christianity. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300125818. 
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  • Gruen, Erich S. (1996). "The Expansion of the Empire Under Augustus". In Bowman, Alan K.; Champlin, Edward; Lintott, Andrew. The Cambridge Ancient History. 10. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521264303. 
  • Maisch, Ingrid; Vogle, Anton (1975). "Jesus Christ". In Rahner, Karl. Encyclopedia of Theology. A&C Black. ISBN 9780860120063. 
  • Merz, Annette (2015). "The Quest for the Historical Jesus". In Van Kooten, George H.; Barthel, Peter. The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy. BRILL. ISBN 9789004308473. 
  • Millar, Fergus (1993). The Roman Near East, 31 B.C.-A.D. 337. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674778863. 
  • Novak, Ralph Martin (2001). Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts. Continuum International. ISBN 9780567018403. 
  • Perkins, Pheme (2009). Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802865533. 
  • Sanders, E.P. (1995). The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141928227. 
  • Theissen, Gerd; Merz, Annette (1998). The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Eerdmans. 
  • Vermes, Geza (2010). Jesus: Nativity - Passion - Resurrection. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141957449. 
  • Géza Vermes (2 November 2006). The Nativity: History and Legend. Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 978-0-14-191261-5. 

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