Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Gospel census (Luke 2:2)

Luke 2:2 "(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)"

Paul Barnett, explains the various historical scenarios that make the best sense of this verse. Luke puts the cenus in the days of Herod but Jospehus says it took place during the reign of Quirinius. So what are the options:

  1. Luke replicated an error in oral transmission
  2. Luke deliberately wrote the error in order to make a political point about the uprising of Judas 
  3. Jospehus got it wrong
  4. Luke was being vague when he said first, he meant the first of several
Barnett favours the last, because the census' that took place under Quirinius were a big deal eventually leading to Judas' (different Judas, one of many!) revolt so it's unlikely that Josephus got it wrong. Luke's role as an historian would mean that he know there was no need for people to cross Herodian borders for an internal (non-Roman) census, eliminating an error of oral transmission. Luke's gospel isn't as politically subversive as Mark's gospel so it's most likely that Luke, for reasons that are still unclear, was just being frustratingly vague. Barnett notes that Roman census-like-activity was taking place around the time Luke was referring to, (Augustus Caesar's requirement for all the Jewish people to make an oath to him in about 7 BC) it's just that there isn't a perfect alignment of details.