• Laurel A. Rockefeller

Repost: The Roman Census and the Nativity

by Jem Duducu.

Reposted from https://www.facebook.com/History-Gems-405343956153479/.

"Remember this is a history page, so lets have a look at the real history behind the nativity.

The Roman census was instituted by Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome in 435 BC. When Rome became a republic a few years later, the idea of regularly assessing its citizens and their property was thought to be a useful exercise which was continued through the era of the Republic and on into the age of empire.

The key word above is “citizen”. The Roman census was interested in Roman citizens; denizens of other nations were not of interest. So when the New Testament says that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem because of a Roman census, this makes no sense as they were Jews, and Jews were not Roman citizens.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say they were citizens. Maybe Joseph or Mary had some Roman blood, in which case there is another problem: no Roman census required people to travel back to their place of birth. In fact, any census is conducted to find out what the situation is now, not what was happening when you were born. The only census in history that required people to do this was the one mentioned in the Gospel of St Luke.

The final problem is one of dates. Romans were unusually good with their record keeping, but over the millennia, some have been lost. However, the list of censuses, when and where they were taken, is relatively intact; and there was a census taken near the time of Jesus’ birth. The problem is that it took place in 6/7 AD - close, but not close enough. Indeed, this census shows many of the standard Roman characteristics: it is called the Census of Quirinius and is named after the man who became the new Roman governor of Syria after the Jewish king had been exiled. It was a standard census for Roman citizens, with no need for the mass migrations of populations. There couldn’t have been an earlier census as the Herodian Jewish monarchs were still running the area.

To add further confusion to the Bible’s version of history, Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so if Jesus was born at the time of Herod, the calendar is wrong by four years and the census happened a decade later. If Jesus was born in 1 AD (there is no year 0), he missed both events; but if he was born during the census, the whole Herod part couldn’t have happened.

However, the writers who contributed to the Bible were never big on historical accuracy (all but one Egyptian leader is unhelpfully referred to as “Pharaoh”), and the Bible isn’t meant to be a history book. Instead it’s pointing to a spiritual truth. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (rather than, say, Nazareth) is essential because the location links his story to the city of David’s birth and coronation, a vital connection for Jews if they were going to accept Jesus as the Messiah. All that accurate Roman record keeping just gets in the way of the religious story."

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