The Lukan Census -- Updated

 

[Draft: Jun 22/2014; part two added Sept/2014; added a recent quote Sep/2015]

 

I have re-researched this ‘Luke, Quirinius, and Herod’ objection, and frankly have been surprised at how much ‘dogmatic certainty’ is held about this objection.

 

For example, the deeper I dug into the timing/offices of Quirinius (for example) the less certain I became of various scholarly ‘timelines’ of the leaders of Syria and/or the career of Quirinius, the frequency of the allegedly-uniform censuses, the purpose of an ‘enrollment’, the supposed immunity of client-kings from taxation, and the actual interpretation of the grammar of the passage.

 

So, I want to restate the main points of my response to the objection/problem as a semi-FAQ here.

 

This will now be divided into several sections, and I will hot-link them as they become available.

 

Part One: The event itself (this document, qr1.html)

 

·         What specifically did Luke say happened in the event?

 

·         Was this apographe a Roman census for taxation purposes (as in provinces) or an enrollment for unspecified purposes?

 

·         Do we have any indications that Augustus issued some kind of universal-counting enrollment decree?

·         Are there any historical events/processes in this time period that might require such a non-taxation enrollment of this scope?

 

·         If not, could there have been a ‘taxation-centric’ census in a client-kingdom like Herod’s?

 

·         How much ‘hard data’ do we even have about imperial or senatorial decrees, or about actual census processes/events in the Empire?

·         Do we have any evidence for enrollment/taxation/census mechanisms in Herod’s Judea ("Roman style" or other)?

 

·         What would be the relationship between a universal decree and the census events within individual geographies (e.g., Egypt versus Germany), differing government status (e.g. senatorial province, imperial province, Italian cities, etc), and differing internal situations (e.g. turbulence in the Augustus/Herod relationship, impending death, preparation for annexation)?

 

·         What is the relationship between the location of enrollment and Davidic ancestry (if any)?

 

 

 

Part Two: The timing/dating of the event ( qr2.html)

 

·         What explicit timing indicators are present in the passage (if any) and what does the grammar of the passage argue for?

 

 

 

Part Three: Quirinius and "How confident can we be that we have enough hard data to decide against any particular interpretation of the historical aspects of this passage?" (future document, qr3.html)

 

·         What does the passage say is the relationship of Quirinius to Syria?

 

·         What do we know/believe about the relationship of Q to Syria, from other sources?

 

·         What does the passage say about the relationship of Quirinius to Luke’s enrollment (if anything)?

 

·         What do we know/believe about the relationship of Q to census activities, in Judea or otherwise?

 

·         Who actually would conduct a census in a locale? What Roman officials were responsible for Roman census proceedings?

 

·         How certain are we of Q’s census of 6/7 AD (a la Josephus)?

 

·         How certain are we of Q’s career/location/roles in the 4-2BC timeframe?

 

·         What other historical data points  or trajectories might confuse the issue for us?

 

 

………………………………………………………………. ……………………………………….

 

Part One: The event itself

 

 

 

 

What specifically did Luke say happened in the event?

 

The passage relates these things:

·         Augustus sends out a decree (dogma) that the entire inhabited world (oikoumenan) be enrolled in official lists (apographe).

·         Everybody had to travel to their home (“own”) city (polis) for this.

·         Joseph travels from Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David, “because” he is a descendent of David (‘from the house and fatherhood of David’) to be enrolled (apographe).

·         Mary, his pregnant wife-to-be, travels with him.

 

 

 

 

 

Was this apographe a Roman census for taxation assessment (as in provinces) or an enrollment for unspecified purposes?

 

We actually cannot tell from the term itself, from the passage, or from the passage's context--but all three of these items suggest that it was a simple ‘population registration’, and not specifically about tax assessments.

 

First, the term itself--apographe.

 

This word is not the technical one for taxation assessment although it can sometimes be used as such. By itself, it has historically been ‘tax neutral’ although most registrations in history (up through modern times) are used as the basis for administrative functions of government (e.g. taxation, military services, jury duty, citizenship/status differentiations, conscription, voting, punishment, entitlements).

 

The standard Greek lexicons emphasize the ‘writing down’ aspect, using terms like ‘registration’ and ‘enrollment’  and ‘census’, instead of emphasizing words in the semantic field of ‘taxation’ , ‘assessment’, and ‘valuation’. [Taxation is mentioned, of course, since registration is essential to that—but the two are not synonymous or even tightly correlated in the entries.]

 

So, here’s the entry from LSJ (Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.):

 

ἀπογρᾰ́φω, (Arc. ἀπυ-, SEG37.340.18 (Mantinea, iv b.c.))

I. write off, copy, and in Med., have a thing copied, have a copy made of, τι Pl.Chrm.156a, Plu.2.221b; commit to writing, ὀνόματα Pl.Criti.113b.

2. alter or cancel in copying, CID i 10.10 (iv b.c.).

II. enter in a list, register, ἔθνος ἓν ἕκαστον ἀπέγραφον οἱ γραμματισταί Hdt. 7.100:—Pass., to be registered, παρὰ τοῖς ἄρχουσι Pl.Lg.914c,. cf. Men.272; πρὸς τὸν ἄρχοντα Is.6.44:—freq. Med., register as one’s own property, ἄρνας δέκα δύο POxy.246.10 (i a.d.); declare as liable to taxation, PTaur.i vii ii (ii b.c.), etc.

2. Med. also, register, note for one’s own use, τὰ ἔτεα Hdt.2.145, 3.136, cf. Heraclid.Pont.ap.Ath.11.554e, etc.

3. Med., register oneself, οἱ Ἐλευσῖνάδε ἀπογραψάμενοι Lys.25.9; πρὸς τὸν ταξίαρχον εἰς τὴν τάξιν X.Cyr.2.1.18; ἔξεστι πᾶσιν ἀπογραψαμένοις ἐκκλησιάζειν Arist.Pol.1297a24; φυλῆς ἧστινος ἂν ἀπογράψηται IG2.54b11 (iv b.c.); ἀπεγράψανθο ἐμ πελτοφόρας ib.7.2823 (Boeot.); ἀ. εἰς ἀγῶνας πυγμὴν ἢ παγκράτιον enter oneself for .., Plb.39.1.8; but ἀπογραψάμενος πύκτης AP11.75 (Lucill.); γέρδιος -όμενος POxy.252.4 (i a.d.); ἐπὶ στρατηγίαν ἀ. enter as candidate for .., Plu.Sull.5; also ἀπογράψομαι ἐμαυτόν PGrenf.1.45.6 (ii b.c.); αὑτοὺς ἀ. Plu.Nic.14.

b. metaph., subscribe to, τῇ ἐμῇ αἱρέσει Vett.Val.271.18.

III. as Att. law-term,

1. ἀ. τινά enter a person’s name for the purpose of accusing him, give in a copy of the charge against him, And.1.12, etc.; generally, inform against, denounce, X.HG2.3 11: c. acc. et inf., ἀ. τινὰ μορίαν ἀφανίζειν Lys.7.29: Med., enter one’s name as an accuser, indict, τινά Antipho 6.37: abs., ibid.; of the magistrate who receives the charge, ἀπογράφεσθαι τὴν δίκην Antipho 6.41:—in Pass., of the person accused, ἀ. φόνου δίκην ib.36, Lys.7.2, etc.

2. hand in a list or inventory of property alleged to belong to the state, but held by a private person, Id.17.4, al., D.53.1,2; ἀ. οὐσίαν τινὸς ὡς δημοσίαν οὖσαν Hyp.Eux.34; generally, give in a list or statement of property, τοῖς ἄρχουσι τὸ πλῆθος τῆς αὁτῶν οὐσίας Pl.Lg.754d; τὰ χωρία καὶ τὰς οἰκίας D.22.54:—Pass., 40.22:—Med., have such list given in, see it done, Lys.12.8, al., ἀπογραφὴν ἀπογράψασθαι D.42.16; τίμημα μικρόν Is.7.39, cf. 11.34; ἀ. ἀπόλειψιν have it registered, D.30.17.

b. c. acc. pers., ἀυτέγραψεν ταῦτα .. ἔχοντα αὑτόν gave a written acknowledgement that he was in possession of .., Id.27.14; but ἔχειν ib.47:—in Pass., to be entered in the list [of debts], Id.25.71.

 

 

Notice that the emphasis is on the ‘enter into a list’, and that tax liability is only peripheral to this core concept.

 

 

BDAG can place a bit more emphasis on the tax-list aspects:

 

ἀπογράφω mid.: fut. ἀπογράψομαι; 1 aor. ἀπεγραψάμην. Pass.: 2 aor. ἀπεγράφην LXX; pf. ptc. ἀπογεγραμμένος (Hdt. et al.; ins, pap, LXX, En; TestSol 28:8 B; TestAbr) to ‘write-off’ i.e. to copy, a common term for the making of copies of official documents. Hence to enter into a list, register

of official registration in tax lists (Philol 71, 1912, 24; POxy 249, 5; 250, 1; PLond III, 904, 32 [I A.D.] p. 126 et al.; cp. ἀπογραφή) mid. as t.t. register (oneself) (Arrian, Anab. 3, 19, 6) Lk 2:3, 5; pass. vs. 1; w. obj. of Joseph ἀπογραψομαι τοὺς υἱούς μου I shall have my sons registered GJs 17:1, foll. by πῶς αὐτὴν (Μαρίαν) ἀπογράψομαι; in the same sense prob. ἀπογράψασθαι ὅσοι εἰσὶν ἐν Βηθλεέμ loc. cit. (For the sense ‘declare’ [property] s. PTaur LVII, 11 [II B.C.]; cp. POxy 246, 10 [I A.D.]; add. reff. DGE s.v.)

of records kept by God, fig. ext. of a (the Book of Life; cp. En 98:7 and 8; TestAbr A 12 p. 91, 11 [Stone p. 30] al.; ApcPl 10 p. 39f Tdf. πάντα τὰ πραττόμενα παρʼ ὑμῶν καθʼ ἡμέραν ἄγγελοι ἀπογράφονται [=‘write down’] ἐν οὐρανοῖς=daily the angels write down in heaven the things that we do) πρωτότοκοι ἀπογεγραμμένοι ἐν οὐρανοῖς firstborn registered in heaven Hb 12:23. S. ἀπογραφή.—EDNT. M-M s.v. ἀπογράφομαι. New Docs 1, 79f, w. examples of a typical return (BGU 2223) and an extract from a register (BGU 2228), both II A.D..” [Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.]

 

 

But this emphasis is heavily skewed by the census papyri (mostly of Egypt). The wider literary usage shows a wider range than simply ‘tax records’.

 

And even the Egyptian papyri reveal a wider range for the meaning.

 

Brill's New Pauly points out that it could be a written notice (of status or ownership) or an entry in an official registry:

 

"(ἀπογραφή; apographḗ) was in Athens any written statement in respect of an authority, especially the submission of a list of goods to be confiscated by the state. Subsequently the application for confiscation of the listed stock and the whole confiscation process were also called apographe [1]. Trial by jury, normally presided over by the Eleven Men, was responsible for the proceedings. In Egypt apographe meant a written notice to a public authority on property or personal status as well as an entry in the public land registry [2]. [Brill’s New Pauly]

 

 

Rostovtzeff describes an apographe that is a simple registering of workmen, with no taxation elements involved:

 

"Addaeus urges that the work be begun  at once, as later on it would cost more   (P.S.I.   486).   I   have dealt already with the interesting document P.S.I. 488 of the same year. The contractor who here addresses Zenon and Apollonius and wants the work on the dykes to be given to him, proposes exactly those conditions with which we are familiar from the other papyri quoted above. As in the P. Lille 1, he makes his work subject to the approval of the oeconome and the engineer. He is probably already working somewhere in the neighborhood, as he informs Zenon that he is busy in registering (apographe) the somata, i.e., workmen furnished by the population."  [A Large Estate in the Third Century B.C. - A Study in Economic History, Michael Rostovtzeff, University of Wisconsin studies in the Social Sciences and History, Number 6, Madison:1922, p. 62.]

 

 

And sometimes it is an 'insertion into an existing list of something'. In the Rylands Papyri 102.33 (Hermopolis, H2 of the 2nd century AD), the reference is to a list of attendees in the local school:

 

“Registration (apographe) in the list of minors from the gymnasium, quarter of the Western Guard-house, Herodes also called Polydeuces, son of Polydeuces and Tereus daughter of Dioscorus, aged 1 year in the 21st year of the deified Hadrian"

 

 

Outside of Egypt/papyri/taxation contexts, for example, it can refer to a ‘persecuted status list’ in 3 Macc:

 

“He (Ptolemy) proposed to inflict public disgrace on the Jewish community, and he set up a stone on the tower in the courtyard with this inscription:  “None of those who do not sacrifice shall enter their sanctuaries, and all Jews shall be subjected to a registration (laographe, not apographe) involving poll tax and to the status of slaves. Those who object to this are to be taken by force and put to death; those who are registered (apographe) are also to be branded on their bodies by fire with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysus, and they shall also be reduced to their former limited status” (3 Mac 2:27–29).

 

“And when this had happened, the king, hearing that the Jews’ compatriots from the city frequently went out in secret to lament bitterly the ignoble misfortune of their kindred, ordered in his rage that these people be dealt with in precisely the same fashion as the others, not omitting any detail of their punishment.  The entire race was to be registered (apographe) individually (‘out of their names’), not for the hard labor that has been briefly mentioned before, but to be tortured with the outrages that he had ordered, and at the end to be destroyed in the space of a single day.  The registration (apographe) of these people was therefore conducted with bitter haste and zealous intensity from the rising of the sun until its setting, coming to an end after forty days but still uncompleted.” (3 Mac 4:12–15).

 

“Besides, they all recovered all of their property, in accordance with the registration (apographe), so that those who held any of it restored it to them with extreme fear. So the supreme God perfectly performed great deeds for their deliverance. 23 Blessed be the Deliverer of Israel through all times! Amen.”  (3 Mac 7:22–23).

 

 

Or the heavenly ‘citizen register’ of Hebrews 12:23:

 

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled (apographe) in heaven” (Heb 12:22–23).

 

 

It can refer to simply registering a marriage:

 

"Those who register (apographomenous) the formalization of their marriage with the kosmophylax…" [line 69 in the inscription from ancient Kyzikos in Mysia (in Anatolia), 1st century AD , edited by E. Schwertheim, ZPI 29 (1978) 213-28, plates 11,12; referenced in NEWDOCS4, article 2]

 

 

 

 

 

Note briefly that there IS another more technical term for ‘enrollment/valuation for taxation’--the apotimasis word--but it is rarely manifest in the primary literature. It shows up Plutarch’s evaluation of Crassus’ consulship:

 

“Such, then, were the memorable things in the consulship of Crassus, but his censorship passed without any results or achievements whatever. He neither made a revision of the senate, nor a scrutiny of the knights, nor a census [apotimaesis] of the people, although he had Lutatius Catulus, the gentlest of the Romans, for his colleague. But they say that when Crassus embarked upon the dangerous and violent policy of making Egypt tributary to Rome, Catulus opposed him vigorously, whereupon, being at variance, both voluntarily laid down their office.” [Plutarch. (1916). Plutarch’s Lives. (B. Perrin, Ed.). Medford, MA: Harvard University Press.]

 

Likewise, Josephus:

 

“When Cyrenius [Quirinius] had now disposed of Archelaus’s money, and when the taxings [apotimesis] were come to a conclusion, which were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over Antony at Actium, he deprived Joazar of the high priesthood” [AJ 18.26]

 

And LSJ gives the meaning of ‘pledge of property’ as the central focus, but with it being the equivalent word for the Latin census:

 

ἀποτῑμησις, εως, ἡ,

I. pledging of a property, mortgaging, D.31.11.

II. = Lat. census, Plu.Crass.13, J.AJ18.2.1.

2. valuation, of a ἡρῷον, SEG30.1354 (Miletus, iii a.d.), Just.Nov.2.4.

III. tax, AB437, cf. OGI476.2 (Dorylaeum, i a.d.).

 

So, ‘that all the world should be taxed’ (KJV/RSV) would be a more accurate translation if apotimesis was used, instead of our ‘enrollment’ word apographe.

 

This cannot be pressed too far, however, because both Luke and Josephus use apographe for the tax-centric enrollment of 6-7 AD, and there is data to support the view that apotimesis was only for Roman citizens:

 

"Palme has argued, nonetheless, that the census as recorded in Luke does match the major features of a provincial census as recorded in the papyri, but with some distinctions from the language of the Egyptian censuses. He shows first that there is development in the form of the provincial census report, and that there is a clear distinction between the imperial census of citizens (ἀποτίμησις) such as Augustus ordered and the provincial census of the non-citizens (ἀπογραφή). The features of similarity between the Egyptian and Lukan census accounts include the following. (1) Luke uses the correct terminology for the provincial census, ἀπογραφή (Lk. 2:2) and ἀπογράφομαι (Lk. 2:1, 5), unlike Josephus, who uses ἀπογραφή only in War 7.253, but ἀποτίμησις elsewhere, the term used in papyri and the Res Gestae 8 for an imperial census of citizens. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the term ἀπογραφή seems to have been used for both census returns of people and property returns…" ["Reasons for the Lukan Census", Stanley E. Porter, in Wedderburn, A. J. M., & Christophersen, A. (2002). Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world: essays in honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (Vol. 217, pp. 165–188). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

But the documents from the Babatha archive have both terms applied to a Jewish person who was not a Roman citizen at all (albeit wealthy), who lived in the Roman province of Arabia:

 

"Recently, Rosen has suggested that one look not to Egypt for the best comparison, but to a manuscript from Arabia. Instead of looking at a personal census return, he suggests that we examine the tax system, in particular the property return documents. In this light, he cites P.Yadin 16,65 one of the manuscripts of the Babatha archive. Babatha was the twice-married woman from Maoza, who apparently took her archive of documents with her to her death in the cave of letters during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–35 CE). This collection of documents includes a property return that she filed with the provincial government office in Rabbath, indicating that she owned four groves of date palms at Maoza. This property registration occurred at the same time as an imperial provincial census called by the legate Titus Aninius Sextius Florentinus (11. 8–9). According to Rosen, there are several features of this property return worth noting: (1) Babatha was accompanied to Rabbath by her husband, Judah, who acted as her tutor or κύριος, called ἐπίτροπος in 1. 15; (2) even though she was from and owned the land in Maoza, she went to Rabbath, apparently where the local tax office was located; (3) the census is called a ἀποτίμησις (1. 11), and the registration of property uses the term ἀπογράφομαι (1. 15); (4) the document was dictated, then copied, and receipted, thus requiring Babatha and Judah to remain in the city while this process was occurring from 2 December to 4 December 127 CE. … Rosen thinks that these features indicate that the Lukan census has more resemblance to the imperial census of Arabia than it does to the provincial censuses of Egypt. However, P. Yadin 16 is not a provincial census return but a property return." ["Reasons for the Lukan Census", Stanley E. Porter, in Wedderburn, A. J. M., & Christophersen, A. (2002). Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world: essays in honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (Vol. 217, pp. 165–188). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

 

 

 

But it still stands that apographe is more indicative of a ‘population/status/property registration or declaration’ than a tax-centric poll-tax registration and property value assessment:

 

Barnett makes the point that usage even in Josephus shows this non-technical usage of the word:

 

[A]pographe and apographesthai refer to ‘registering’ or ’enrolling ’. That ‘registering’ or ‘enrolling’ might be distinguished from ‘assessment’ (for taxing) is suggested by Josephus’ description of the activities of Quirinius in A.D. 6-7. Antiquities XVIII, 3-4 at one point affirms that ‘the Jews were at first shocked to hear of the registration’ (epi tais apographais) and that Judas and Saddok said that ’the assessment (ten … apotimesin) carried with it a status amounting to downright slavery ’. This distinction is implicit in the other reference to A.D. 6-7, Wars VII, 253 which states that ‘Judas ... induced multitudes of Jews to refuse to enroll themselves (me toieisthai tas apographas) when Quirinius was sent as censor (timetas) to Judaea. … It is evident that apographe can stand as ’enrolment’ or ‘registration’ and that the idea of ‘assessment’ (for tax purposes) is not necessarily implied. For example, Josephus used the word in the plural to refer to ’lists of slaves’ [AJ 12.31]) in a context unrelated to taxation.” [Paul W. Barnett, “Apograhe and apographesthai in Luke 2 1-5”, in The Expository Times 1974 85:377ff]

 

 

And, note briefly, that there is another word for 'registration' that is NOT about 'population' or 'headcount': anagrapho. This is not used in the NT, but is used in the Apocrypha and  appears in Augustan documents. From the Intermediate grammar:

 

"(1) to engrave and set up, of treaties, laws, etc., to inscribe, register, ἀν. τι ἐν στήλῃ or ἐς στήλην, Thuc., Dem.

(2.) of persons, to register his name, Isocr.:—Pass., ἀναγραφῆναι πατρόθεν to be registered with his fathers name, Hdt.; ἀναγράφεσθαι εὐεργέτης to be registered as a benefactor, Id." [Liddell, H. G. (1996). A lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English lexicon. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]

 

Augustus used this type of 'registration' to control priestly credentials in Egypt (4BC):

 

"…therefore, I order a registration (anagrapho-word) of the priest who take up their function…Those not of the priestly order shall be removed from office without delay" [BGU 1199]

 

So, our word is 'registration of a person or resident', while ἀποτίμησις is 'registration of property valuations' and anagrapho is 'registration for recognition'.

Secondly, the passage itself doesn’t give us enough detail with which to determine the purpose of the enrollment.

 

The few details we have are these:

 

·         It is differentiated from a better-known enrollment done by Quirinius later (or at least from the TIME of Quirinius’s leadership role in Syria—more on this later).

·         It required travel to some ‘home’ city (although 'home' is not a technical/legal term, since it is also used of Nazareth by Luke a few verses later (2.39).

·         Everyone had to enroll in that city--even if travel was required.

·         Joseph’s home in Nazareth was not relevant--it had to be some kind of birth or ancestral home.

·         He had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, because it was the ancestral home of the line of David.

·         Joseph was a legally-recognized descendent of David.

·         There is no indication that Joseph owned property there (if he did, the tenants should have offered him a guest room if they could have--but they had to try the local inn).

·         There seemed to be a large influx of people, since the local inn was full. (But we do not know if the influx was due to the enrollment, or to some other cause--like the never-ending building project in nearby Herodium).

·         (I understand katalumati to be referring to a local inn, as opposed to a 'guest room' of a private home--as it can often mean--because of the presence of the definite article ('the' inn), the absence of any reference to a specific local house, and the high probability of multiple houses being owned by descendents of David. We know that the descendents of David were examined probably 3 times between 70-100 AD [HI:JURR, 351f], and at least one church leader called himself a 'cousin' of Jesus. So, there is no real reason to believe that there was only ONE house that would have been an implied reference in Luke, housing ALL the people of Davidic descent at that time. But the arguments of this series of articles on the credibility of Luke does not require any specific meaning for this word--either 'guest room' or 'inn' fits fine.]

·         The pregnant Mary travels with him, but it is not stated that she has to enroll herself: (“Joseph did not make the census trip alone. Mary was with him despite her condition. The phrase σὺν Μαριάμ (syn Mariam, together with Mary) belongs naturally to the main verb, ἀνέβη (anebē, he went up), of 2:4 and not to the idea of registration in 2:5 (…). Luke’s point is not that they registered together, but that they traveled together. If the verse is read in this way, it does not insist that Mary had to come up for the census, though that may have been the case (…).” [Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke: 1:1–9:50 (Vol. 1, p. 205). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]…”Why Mary would have accompanied Joseph (v. 5) has puzzled some commentators, since her presence for the registration was not necessary. In view of her pregnancy’s full term, however, and in view of the criticism which might have been directed against her for being pregnant before her marriage, it is not surprising that she accompanied Joseph” [Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 35). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.])

 

All of these elements are consistent with various forms and various localized taxation schemes, but none of them require this enrollment to be a taxation event at all. Travel to a central place of property ownership generally fits with Egyptian taxation records. The (possible) enrollment of Mary fits with Syrian taxation records. Travel to one’s place of birth records fits with various pre-Roman tax districting (e.g. toparchies under the Seleucids) and later Egyptian "reintegration initiatives" of the Roman Empire. Travel to a tax office to register property owned elsewhere (e.g. property owned by Joseph in Nazareth) fits with records from Arabia in the Babatha archive.

 

In fact, even in the province of Egypt, the census does not match up perfectly with taxation:

 

"When considering the control of population in Roman Egypt the backbone was, of course, the house-to-house census, which at some point took the form of a fourteen- year cycle. The census was devised primarily to support the poll tax, but not exclusively, otherwise it would be difficult to understand why Roman or Alexandrian citizens, exempted from poll tax liability, were also obliged to file their census returns." ["hupomnamata epigennaseos: the Greco-Egyptian Birth Returns in Roman Egypt and the case of P.Petaus 1-2", Carlos Sanchez-Moreno Ellart, Archiv fur Papyrusforschung 56/1, 2010,p96]

 

So, the only reason we might connect this enrollment with Roman taxation would be the mention of Qurinius (henceforth, Qx) and/or Augustus. But the reference to Qx is ambiguous at best (for that association) and controversial (see Part Two on ‘timing’), and the reference to Augustus means nothing because he counted everything he could find—taxable or not!

 

 

Thirdly, the context of the passage doesn’t give us any additional detail with which to determine the purpose of the enrollment.

 

There are timing indicators before and after our passage (i.e., 1.5 "In the days of Herod, king of Judea"--the announcement of the birth of John the Baptiser and 3.1 "In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Ceasar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee…" -- the beginning of the ministry of John), but no other details or mentions of an enrollment.

 

There is also no mention of any unrest due to this enrollment (which did accompany the Qx census) or of the presence of Roman officials in the area to collect the revenues, but Luke would not be required to mention that in this account, given his literary aims.

 

So, there is no real evidence in the terminology, details, or context of the narrative to suggest that this enrollment was for taxation purposes (like the Qx one). It COULD have been for that purpose, but it is not obvious that it is nor demanded from the content of the passage.

 

 

Do we have any indications that Augustus issued such a universal-counting enrollment decree?

 

Yes, we do, but we must remember the general “scarcity” of data about the originals of such decrees.

 

Of the thousands of decrees that Augustus would have made during his role as Emperor, we have only a handful of these in their original form/source. Almost all of our knowledge of his decrees come from his own auto-biographical writing (Res Gestae), the writings of Roman historians (Suetonius, Tacitus, Velleius Paterculus), and other biographers/commentators (Nicholas of Damascus, Horace, Virgil). There are only a handful of actual inscriptions of decrees of his, located in the provinces, and dealing with local matters (e.g., the Cyrene edits on judicial process).

 

Take Josephus for example. Some of the best-known of Roman decrees are known only from a single textual source (e.g., the ‘Pro-Jewish’ Roman laws described by Josephus in Ant. 14.225-7; 14.256-8; 18.162-5 by Augustus), and the authenticity and accuracy of some of this material is disputed. Of the numerous edicts he refers to, we only have additional evidence in one case (papyrus of Claudius’ edict) and corroboration in another Jewish writer (rights of assembly, mentioned by Philo), but this does not lead (most) scholars to believe he ‘made it all up’. [We will examine this issue more closely in Part Three.]

 

Decrees of this type could be archived in a number of places--we do not know where Josephus accessed them, but we do know that it could not have been in the ‘bronze tablets’ in the library of the Capitol:

 

“Regarding the unstable nature, on principle, of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in diaspora cities, we should note that the letters written by Roman magistrates to the magistrates and the council of the Greek cities seem to have been deposited in the archives of the individual cities to which the letters were sent. The edicts issued by emperors may have been published in the capitol or at the imperial residence in Rome; some edicts were published in the imperial temple of a province, e.g., Augustus’s edict sent to the Jews of the province of Asia and “set up in the most conspicuous [part of the temple] assigned to me by the federation (koinon) of Asia in Ancyra” (A.J. 16.165).” [Schnabel, E. J. (2008). "Jewish Opposition to Christians in Asia Minor in the First Century". Bulletin for Biblical Research, 18, 249.]

 

“Introducing the documents pertaining to Julius Caesar, Josephus tells us: ‘Since many persons, however, out of enmity to us refuse to believe what has been written about us by Persians and Macedonians because these writings are not found everywhere and are not deposited even in public places but are found only among us and some other foreign peoples, whole against the decrees of the Romans nothing can be said—for they are kept in the public places of the cities and are still to be found engraved on bronze tablets in the Capitol ...—from these same documents I will furnish proof of my statements.’ … Moehring convincingly argued that Josephus could not have found any of his documents on the Capitol since eight thousand bronze tablets were burnt in the Capitol in the fire of December 69. Vespasian replaced more than a third of these tablets, but it is hard to believe that Vespasian would have cared to restore documents concerning the Jewish people, against whom he had fought a long and expensive war. [Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. lvii, no. 1, spring 2006, p.7, “Josephus’ Ambiguities: His Comments on Cited Documents”, by Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev]

 

But even though we have little-to-no ‘outside’ confirmation of these decrees or little-to-no knowledge of where Josephus found this material, we generally accept much/most of the content as being historically real:

 

”From the examples seen above, it clearly emerges that Josephus was not in full control of the material he quotes. It also appears, however, that mistakes, inconsistencies and unfulfilled promises may also be construed as pointing in the direction of a basic good faith on Josephus’ part. Otherwise, he could well have forged a document attesting to the civil rights of the Alexandrian Jews and one on the taxation rights of the Jews of Asia and Libya, or, if he was not able to write an entire document, he could have added these notions between the lines of one of the existing documents he quotes. [Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. lvii, no. 1, spring 2006, p.10, “Josephus’ Ambiguities: His Comments on Cited Documents”, by Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev]

 

“Josephus may select only favorable decrees (and only the most favorable parts of such decrees), but their limited yet public and falsifiable nature, in a work submitted to potential imperial examination, among other factors, indicates that he did not simply invent such precedents.” [Keener, C. S. (2012–2013). Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Vols. 1 & 2: Introduction and 1:1–14:28 (p. 452). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

So, in the absence of the originals of (most of) the decrees of Augustus, we will have to build our historical case/reconstruction based upon other data points.

 

Fortunately, these other data points are surprisingly strong.

 

One. Augustus was the first major Roman figure to be zealous about and proud of his extensive counting and descriptions of the Roman Empire. His descriptions of his census of Roman citizens is given in his Res Gestae (8):

 

"In my fifth consulship I increased the number of patricians by order of the people and the senate. Three times I revised the roll of the senators. And in my sixth consulship (28 BC), with Marcus Agrippa as my colleague, I conducted a census of the people. I performed the lustrum after an interval of forty-two years. At this lustrum 4,063,000 Roman citizens were recorded. Then a second time, acting alone, by virtue of the consular power, I completed the taking of the census in the consulship of Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius (8 BC). At this lustrum 4,233,000 Roman citizens were records. And a third time I completed the taking of the census in the consulship of Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius (14 AD), by virtue of the consular power and with my son Tiberius Caesar as my colleague. At this lustrum 4, 937,000 Roman citizens were recorded." [Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.12]

 

 

Two. Augustus was the first to implement the all-Italy census decrees of Julius Caesar. In the "Law of Caesar on Municipalities" (44 BC), "Provision was made for a complete census of Roman citizen in Italy", but "so far as is known, the proposed census was not taken until under Augustus." [HI:ARS, 93, 97n17]

 

 

Three. Augustus explicitly took a census in areas known to be exempt from such!

 

"Column I of the Table cites the few literary texts that refer to particular censuses, column II epigraphic testimony to census officials, and column III other documentation: allusions to tributum capitis which clearly imply registration of persons, as well as direct testimony to registration of either persons or property; and references by Ulpian and Paul to the ius Italicum or immunity of certain cities, which would not have been relevant to their works de censibus had not the tribute paid in the provinces where those cities were situated been based on censuses. Not indeed that we must infer that the census did not extend to these privileged communities; ILS I146 shows that it was taken at Lugdunum, and Phlegon proves this for Philippi, though both possessed ius Italicurm. " [Review by P. A. Brunt of The Revenues of Rome by Lutz Neesen, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol 71 (1981), p164]

 

 

Four. He was a 'counting innovator' being the first Roman leader to implement the census process in the provinces, and he is known as making major reforms to the administration of the Empire and its dependents. His census activities do not seem to be limited to when geographical areas were added to the empire, but occurred on an on-going pattern.

 

"Augustus took the first provincial censuses only a year after he had completed his first census of Roman citizens, and the form of the old Roman census, which unlike the Egyptian involved registration of property as well as of persons, corresponds more closely than the Egyptian to that ' forma censualis' which Ulpian describes. Roman practice then probably provided Augustus with the inspiration, and a pattern to be followed or adapted, though again wherever the communes had already taken censuses, he could adopt or modify local procedures … The greatest innovation of the Principate, due to Augustus, was the institution of the provincial census." [Review by P. A. Brunt of The Revenues of Rome by Lutz Neesen, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol 71 (1981), p163]

 

“On one of these journeys, in Gaul in 28 B.C., Augustus took a census of the people. Our total evidence on this event, the Epitome of Livy (134) and Dio (53, 23, 5) hardly says more than that; nor does either source make clear that no provincial census, numbering persons and recording property, had ever been take before.” [HI:RGWE1, 298]

 

The provincial census was instituted by the emperor Augustus. In part this was to provide accurate information for the imposition of direct taxation, specifically the tributum soli and the tributum capitis. The evidence suggests that Gaul and perhaps Spain may have had a census in 27 B.C. (Dio Chrysostom Or. 43.22.5). Other Augustan censuses are recorded for the provinces of Lusitania and Syria. This may have included details of Roman citizens living in the provinces.” [Gill, D. W. J. (2000). Taxation, Greco-Roman. In (C. A. Evans & S. E. Porter, Eds.) Dictionary of New Testament background: a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

“Note also these remarks by C. E. B. Cranfield, “Some Reflections on the Subject of the Virgin Birth,” Scottish Journal of Theology 41 (1988): 182: “A far-reaching reform of the administration of the empire was certainly carried out under Augustus. And it certainly did involve censuses or taxation-assessments of a very thorough and comprehensive kind. Plenty of evidence for them has survived. The work of assessment took varying amounts of time according to the circumstances obtaining in particular areas: it could take several decades.” [Bock, D. L. (2002). Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

“It is important to stress that the taking of a census of this type, the counting of a provincial population and the assessment of their property for the purpose of the payment of tribute, was not a long-standing feature of Roman government, but an innovation by Augustus. The earliest ever attested is that take by Augustus in Gaul in 27 BC; in Gaul the imposition of the census was to provoke disturbances and resistance in the course of Augustus’ reign” [RNE, 46]

 

"Fortunately, an incredible amount of information about the Egyptian census process is known. Bagnall and Frier, who give us the most detailed and complete discussion, suggest that the dates of the six censuses in Egypt under Augustus were 11/10 B.C.E., 4/3 B.C.E., 4/5 C.E., 5/6 CE., 11/12 CE., and 12/13 CE…. The first census papyri that came to light near the end of the last century strongly suggested that there was a firm lapse of fourteen years between censuses, but this evidence is from later in the Roman period than evidence which has subsequently come to light. A fourteen-year cycle has been the basis of much argumentation regarding the Quirinian-Lucan census(es), but it has become clear that this fourteen-year cycle is not attested in the Ptolemaic era or prior to the census of 11/12 C.E. On the contrary, much of the evidence for the Augustan censuses in Egypt has only very recently been pieced together. … Supplementary to the points already made above concerning the Egyptian census and its possible parallels to the Palestinian process, two points in specific need to be drawn out. First, the Augustan period was one which saw probably four censuses take place in Egypt. This squares well with the idea that Augustus was concerned with establishing accurate records of his empire, and it may provide the basis for Luke's statement in Luke 2:1: έγένετο δέ έν ταΐς ήμέραις έκείναις έξήλθεν δόγμα παρά Καίσαρος Αυγούστου άπογράφεσθαι πασαν τήν οικουμένην. In fact, it is very possible that this passage in Luke sheds some light on the census process in Egypt. Second, if the dates of the censuses in Egypt are paralleled in Herod's census process, the dates are very close to those which we would expect if Jesus' birth is to be connected, as Luke connects it, with the death of Herod in 4 B.C.E.” [Pearson, 273f]

 

 

 

 

Five. He is explicitly said to have counted resources in the client-kingdoms as well (as being considered 'part' of the Roman Empire):

 

Tacitus refers explicitly to such a record (which included 'kingdoms') in Annals 1.11:

 

"After this all prayers were addressed to Tiberius. He, on his part, urged various considerations, the greatness of the empire, his distrust of himself. "Only," he said, "the intellect of the Divine Augustus was equal to such a burden. Called as he had been by him to share his anxieties, he had learnt by experience how exposed to fortune's caprices was the task of universal rule. Consequently, in a state which had the support of so many great men, they should not put everything on one man, as many, by uniting their efforts would more easily discharge public functions." There was more grand sentiment than good faith in such words. Tiberius's language even in matters which he did not care to conceal, either from nature or habit, was always hesitating and obscure, and now that he was struggling to hide his feelings completely, it was all the more involved in uncertainty and doubt. The Senators, however, whose only fear was lest they might seem to understand him, burst into complaints, tears, and prayers. They raised their hands to the gods, to the statue of Augustus, and to the knees of Tiberius, when he ordered a document to be produced and read. This contained a description of the resources of the State, of the number of citizens and allies under arms, of the fleets, subject kingdoms, provinces, taxes, direct and indirect, necessary expenses and customary bounties. All these details Augustus had written with his own hand, and had added a counsel, that the empire should be confined to its present limits, either from fear or out of jealousy." [Tacitus, Annals 1.11]

 

And the military counts of two client-kingdoms are mentioned in 4.5 of the same work:

 

"Tacitus (Ann. 4.5) conveniently listed the armed forces of the Roman Empire under the year 23 CE, a decade after the death of Augustus. He gives the legions province by province. But between them, as if on a par with the exercitus of legions, he inserts the forces of two client kings, Rhoemetalces (PIR2 R 67) of Thrace and Juba (PIR2 I 65) of Mauretania."[HI:HAAP, 304; "Client Kings' Armies under Augustus: The Case of Herod", Denis B. Saddington]

 

He was known to have taken censuses in vassal/client-kingdoms:

 

Schürer did not think that Augustus would have a census taken in Palestine during Herod’s reign. Certainly Herod had enough autonomy as indicated by his being allowed to mint coins. However, the Romans did take a census in vassal kingdoms. In fact, in Venice a gravestone of a Roman officer was found which states that he was ordered by P. Sulpicius Quirinius to conduct a census of Apamea, a city of 117,000 inhabitants, located on the Orontes in Syria, which was an autonomous city-state that minted its own copper coins. In A.D. 36 under Tiberius a census was imposed on the client kingdom of Archelaus of Cappadocia. Again, the powerful Nabatean kings in Petra, who had the right to mint coins were, it seems, obliged to have the Roman financial officers in their domain.” [Hoehner, Harold W. (2010-06-29). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Kindle Locations 105-124). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.]

 

The territories were generally included in his understanding of 'the empire':

 

'Kings, and dynasts, and decarchies belong to the emperor's portion, and always have done' (Strabo xvn. 3. 25, 840). The document compiled by Augustus which listed the resources of the state and was read out after his death included the number of men under arms, the fleet, the kingdoms, the provinces, state revenues and disbursements (Tacitus, Ann. I. 11). Both these well-known passages make the assumption, which is explicitly elaborated in this study, that the allied kings (…) were as much a part of the Roman empire as its directly administered provinces. [Book review of David Braund's, Rome and the Friendly King--the Character of the Client Kingship, StMartinsPress:1984]

 

 “…the last sentence of Strabo’s Geography: “Moreover, kings and dynasts and dekarhiai belong to his (the emperor’s) portion, and always have done.” Strabo is of course referring to the division of the Roman provinces between those of the emperor and those of the Roman people, which he has just described. [17,3, 25 [840])… It is clear enough that Strabo is asserting that kings (basileis) and dynasts (dynastai - minor rulers without the title of king) belong in the emperor’s sphere… A couple of paragraphs earlier he had said that part of Roman territory ‘is ruled by kings [basileuetai].” Apart from provincial territory proper, he goes on to say, there are free cities, and ‘there are also dynasts and tribal heads [phylarchoi] and priests [hiereis] [who are] under them [the Romans]”… The second quotation comes from Suetonius’ Life of Augustus, and still looks at the kings from the point of view of Rome [Div Aug 48]: ‘As regards the kingdoms of which he [Augustus] gained control by right of war, he returned them, apart from a few, to the same kings from whom he had taken them, or to external ones… Nor did he treat any of them [the kings] other than as members and parts of the Empire.’…  [HI:REWE2: 230, 231]

 

"It is of interest that Suetonius (Aug. 48) makes Augustus care for the reges socii, the allied kings as he calls them, as "members and parts of the empire"."[HI:HAAP, 304; "Client Kings' Armies under Augustus: The Case of Herod", Denis B. Saddington]

 

"Augustus, following precedents set by Caesar and Antony in particular, made client kings a more integral part of the Roman empire than they had been. Most client kings were now granted Roman citizenship and regularly sent their sons to stay with the imperial family at Rome. In their kingdoms, kings founded or refounded cities which they named Caesarea, cities which often contained edifices named after members of the imperial family. These cities also became centers of the imperial cult, and a few kings, notably in the Crimean Bosporus, actually appointed themselves priests of the imperial cult. Coins were minted depicting the image of the ruling emperor." [Braund, D. C. (1992). Client Kings. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (1065–1066). New York: Doubleday.]

 

 

“From the commencement of his reign, Augustus always aimed at a stronger centralization of the empire. Already, under Julius Cæsar, there had been undertaken, with a view to a more exact assessment of taxation, a great statistical work, a complete survey of the empire, descriptio orbis. This work, which occupied thirty-two years, was only finished under Augustus. This prince never ceased to labour in the same direction. After his death, Tiberius caused to be read in the Senate, in accordance with instructions contained in the will of Augustus, a statistical document, which applied not only to the empire properly so called, but also to the allied kingdoms, —a category to which the states of Herod belonged. This document, called Breviarium totius imperii, was written entirely by Augustus’ own hand. It gave “the number of the citizens and of allies under arms, of the fleets, of the kingdoms, of the provinces, of the tributes or taxes.” The compilation of such a document as this necessarily supposes a previous statistical labour, comprehending not only the empire proper, but also the allied states. And if Augustus had ordered this work, Herod, whose kingdom belonged to the number of regna reddita, could not have refused to take part in it." [Godet, F. L. (1881). A commentary on the gospel of St. Luke. (E. W. Shalders & M. D. Cusin, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 120–121). New York: I. K. Funk & co.]

 

“It could be objected that, since at the time of Jesus’ birth Judaea was a client state and not part of the empire, a tax-assessment by Augustus’ authority could not have taken place there. But a Roman tax-assessment was carried out in the autonomous city-state of Apamea by Quirinius, and the fact that towards the end of his life Herod was not in high favour with Rome makes it far from improbable that a Roman tax-assessment was instituted in Judaea.”” [Bock, D. L. (2002). Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

[Tacitus, Ann. 6,41]: “'At about the same time the people of the Cietae, subjected to the rule of the Cappadocian Archelaus, because they were forced to undergo a census of Roman type, and to endure direct taxation, migrated to the heights of the Taurus, and by the use of the terrain defended themselves against the weak royal troops, until the legionary commander [legatus], M. Trebellius, dispatched by Vitellius, governor of Syria, with 4,000 legionaries and selected auxiliaries, besieged the two mountains… which the barbari had occupied, and forced them to surrender.' Such passing reports, though suggestive, are hardly satisfactory [to document the power relations of Empire in the kingdoms]. This last one, however, does indicate clearly that a census of a type imitated from the (quite recently instituted) Roman provincial census could be applied within the bounds of a dependent kingdom. But it remains a mere allusion.” [HI:REWE2, 239]

 

 

 

 

 

Six. Later historians refer or allude to the extensiveness of his counting and 'taking inventory' of all the resources at the disposal of the Empire:

 

“THE ENROLMENT (2:1–7)—Although Judæa did not become a Roman province until the removal of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great (6 A. D.), yet at this time it was tributary to Rome. Cæsar Augustus, called in his youth Caius Octavian, was the great–nephew and adopted son of Julius Cæsar. Augustus, meaning “majestic,” was conferred on him by the Roman senate, 27 B. C. He usurped absolute power under the disguise of republican forms, and so he became the first Roman emperor, and his reign was prosperous. Quirinius, who, according to Wolsey, may have been commissioned at that time and later governor of Syria, or according to Karl Zumpt, governor twice, appears to have had charge of this census or enrolment, preparatory to the taxation. After the death of Augustus a document was found written in his own hand, enumerating the strength of the empire and its tributary kingdoms and doubtless referred to this census. However, in the fourth century the document of this census according to Chrysostom was found in the Roman archives. … The Roman method, like that in America, was to take the census of a city or community of the persons living there, but Judæa, not yet being a Roman province, took the census according to the Jewish method, which was based on the tribes and their families. Under the Roman law, women were subject to the capitation tax, so Mary accompanied Joseph to Bethlehem. All things were moving for the accurate fulfilment of prophecy.” [Ainslie, P. (1908). Among the Gospels and the Acts being notes and comments covering the life of Christ in the flesh, and the first thirty years’ history of His church (pp. 171–172). Baltimore: Temple Seminary Press.]

 

 

"The silence of historians in regard to this fact proves simply nothing against its reality. Wieseler gives a host of examples of similar omissions. The great statistical work previously accomplished by Julius Cæsar, and about which no one can entertain a doubt, is not noticed by any historian of the time. Josephus, in his Jewish War, written before his Antiquities, when giving an account of the government of Coponius, does not mention even the census of Quirinius. Then it must not be forgotten that one of our principal sources for the life of Augustus, Dion Cassius, presents a blank for just the years 748–750 U.C.—Besides, this silence is amply compensated for by the positive information we find in later writers. Thus, Tertullian mentions, as a well-known fact, “the census taken in Judea under Augustus by Sentius Saturnius,” that is to say, from 744–748 U.C., and consequently only a short time before the death of Herod in 750. The accounts of Cassiodorus and Suidas leave no doubt as to the great statistical labours accomplished by the orders of Augustus. The latter says expressly: “Cæsar Augustus, having chosen twenty men of the greatest ability, sent them into all the countries of the subject nations (τῶν ὑπηκόων), and caused them to make a registration (ἀπογραφάς) of men and property (τῶντε ἀνθρώπων καὶ οὐσιῶν).” These details are not furnished by Luke. And if the task of these commissioners specially referred, as Suidas says, to the subject nations, the omission of all mention of this measure in the historians of the time is more easily accounted for.” [Godet, F. L. (1881). A commentary on the gospel of St. Luke. (E. W. Shalders & M. D. Cusin, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 120–121). New York: I. K. Funk & co.]

 

 

 

Seven. He counted all matters related to himself, especially his property (which documents/records, btw, would have required updating upon the death of Herod---who willed a considerable sum of money to Augustus):

 

"Benoit (“Quirinius,” 697) refers to Suetonius Aug. 28.1; Dio Cassius 53.30.2; Tacitus Ann. 1.11.7 on Augustus: “Among the documents that he left at his death figured a Brevarium totius imperii, which he had prepared as far back as 23 BCE.” In this memorandum, all of the empire’s sources of income are listed. According to Dio Cassius (54.35.1), Augustus also conducted an assessment of his property in 11–10 BCE.” [Bovon, F., & Koester, H. (2002). Luke 1: a commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]

 

 

["One of the most striking things to note about Herod’s distribution is that Augustus Caesar and his wife, Livia, were included as major heirs. Herod willed Augustus ten million denarii (=one thousand talents), silver and gold vessels, and expensive clothing (Jos. Ant. 17.190). Augustus, moreover, was in charge of disposing and ratifying the terms of the will (Jos. War 1.669). To Livia (along with other, unnamed, Roman friends) he gave five million silver coins (=five hundred talents) (Ant. 17.190)." Hanson, K. C., & Oakman, D. E. (1998). Palestine in the time of Jesus: Social structures and social conflicts (48–49). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]

 

 

Eight. Counting was the role of the censors (strictly speaking), but Augustus began usurping this role early. The New Pauly (Vol 3, Cat-Cyp, s.v. 'Censors') points out that the office had responsibilities of

 

“a) official supervision of the public scribae; b) the administration of the official roll; c) the procedural arrangements for the assessment of capital holdings; d) the implementation of the popular count … It is also the function of the census to examine state assets and financial management by the magistrates, and if necessary undertake their reorganization”

 

And that Augustus takes over the function:

 

“Although the office is revived again under the Augustan restoration, and often during the 1st cent. AD even appears amoung the emperor’s titles as a part of his formal functions, at least in important cases the prerogatives previously belonging to the censors are now entirely the emperor’s, even when he does not himself formally occupy the office of censor.”

 

 

 

Augustus starting counting things very early in his career, and never stopped. His attempts at enumerating the resources and might of the Roman Empire (and then leveraging those for imperial and/or personal advantage) were unprecedented and encompassed EVERYTHING under Roman power: Rome/Italy, senatorial provinces, imperial provinces, and client-kingdoms.

 

Augustus never bragged about instituting census-for-taxation processes throughout "his" empire, but he DID brag about KNOWING the 'totals' of headcount and resources. He bragged about knowing this at a point in time (the final version of the Brevarium), and had implemented 'snapshots' like this at multiple times in his career.

 

Any modern executive of a large organization will tell you that this type of effort and this level of result requires what is known as 'management will'--a core-driven pursuit and CONSTANT push upon lower levels of management to accomplish. It requires a CONSTANT assessment of 'progress to date' and 'rework'. It requires a 'phased approach' in which layers of implementation--of the same executive directive--are done in sequence (not parallel) and sometimes repeated.  The evidence of both Augustus 'tallies' at the end of his life and evidence of counting activities/mechanisms in EVERY geography 'under the influence' of Rome argues conclusively for some type of 'universal decree' (or at least 'universal stated goal' or policy) of enumeration (which required enrollment for practical reasons of non-duplication, comprehensiveness, allocation of resources, etc).

 

The usage of local administrations, local practices, and pre-existing infrastructure does not count against this perspective. The 'thinness' of the Roman administrative apparatus required that the 'heavy lifting' be done mostly by local structures--even when the military was required to supplement them.

 

And we have more recent data, illustrating again the "Imperial PR" aspect of these activities:

 

"The provincial census was one of the most durable and pervasive institutions of the Roman Empire. Although organized at the provincial level and marked by local variation, the institution was an emblem of imperial rule. Luke’s famous narrative of the nativity census, while problematic in detail, is important evidence for the provincial impression of the census as universal and stemming from the direct command of the emperor. The census reinforced imperial ideals, strengthening the notion that the emperor could “see everything and hear everything,” even when ruling from the Palace in Rome. It also of course aided imperial interests, such as the collection of revenue and the maintenance of social hierarchy. For most provincials, on the other hand, the census and the closely-related poll tax were simply facts of life and burdens from which there was little chance of escape; for some, the imposition of a poll tax and regular censuses could have become “a potent symbol of subjection to Roman rule.” In short, the census was a common feature of the imperial experience and a key component of Rome’s control over provincial society… In our opinion, it seems safest to conclude on present evidence that the Romans perpetuated Ptolemaic methods of population registration, supplemented by ad-hoc arrangements, until it was decided to hold a general census through household declarations in 11/0 BCE." [W. Graham  Claytor and  Roger S.  Bagnall, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 55 (2015), pp 637-8, 644]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there any historical events/processes in this time period that might require such a non-taxation enrollment of this scope?

 

Yes, there are three that 'fit' with this time period (circa 7-3 BC), although they may be related.

 

We should note at the outset that Luke's time marker for the decree of Augustus is not very specific. The "In those days…" phrase could easily refer back to the Roman-centric worldwide census which Res Gestae states was completed in 8 BC. If this 'core Roman census' was then followed by provincial enrollments (running in parallel to each other, depending on the 'cooperation' of the locals) and then followed by client-kingdom enrollments (perhaps in parallel with the provincials, or in a subsequent 'phase'), the total count wouldn’t be available for easily 10-12 years after 8 BC.

 

Census activities --even simple registrations--were difficult to do, took a long time to complete, and the process was accompanied by difficult and outright resistance, even by Romans, but especially among non-Roman populations.

 

We have already noted the revolt of the Cietae:

 

[Tacitus, Ann. 6,41]: “'At about the same time the people of the Cietae, subjected to the rule of the Cappadocian Archelaus, because they were forced to undergo a census of Roman type, and to endure direct taxation, migrated to the heights of the Taurus, and by the use of the terrain defended themselves against the weak royal troops, until the legionary commander [legatus], M. Trebellius, dispatched by Vitellius, governor of Syria, with 4,000 legionaries and selected auxiliaries, besieged the two mountains… which the barbari had occupied, and forced them to surrender.'

 

it is precisely the revolt in Cappadocia that should illustrate for us that Roman censuses of non-Roman populations were resented and resisted.” [Pearson, 273]

 

There is one documented for Thebes (first of many…):

 

"Rathbone ("Egypt, Augustus and Roman Taxation, 88), observing that the revolt in Thebes in 26 B.C.E. (recorded by Strabo Geogr. 17.1.53) was the first of many revolts caused by the imposition of the direct Roman poll tax, argues that the poll tax was an Augustan innovation." [Rathbone Dominic. "Egypt, Augustus and Roman taxation", in  Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz, 4, 1993. pp. 81-112., cited in "The Lucan Censuses, Revisited" by Brook W. R. Peason, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly vol 61 (1999), page 273n29]

 

There is the revolt mentioned by Josephus (and Luke in Acts):

 

"Josephus refers to the Quirinian census in A.J. 17.13.5 §§354-55; 18.1.1 §§1-10; 18.2.1 §§26-27; B.J. 2.8.1 §§117-18; 2.9.1 §167.7 He refers to the census as a cause of the revolt by one Judas, grandfather of the Menahem ben Judas involved in the First Jewish War." [Brook W. R. Pearson, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly vol 61 (1999), page 264]

 

There is the resistance of the Gauls:

 

"When we take account of such simple practical problems of communication and government, it is obvious that conducting a census would not be a simple matter. In addition, Roman enrolments were carried out for tax purposes, and for that very reason were regularly resisted throughout the empire. One such census in Gaul, for example, was so unpopular among the people that it took forty years to complete! When all these considerations are taken into account, it is virtually certain that a census completed by Quirinius in A.D.6 or 7 must have taken a long time to carry through, and would be based on information collected much earlier than the date when it was finished. The emperor Augustus was very keen on gathering statistics, and he might well have persuaded Herod the Great to carry out a census. Quirinius was sent in A.D.6 to clear up the mess left by Archelaus, and it is quite possible that he would use information gathered earlier rather than beginning the same tedious process all over again. If this was indeed the case, then there is no convincing reason to suppose that Luke’s information about the census is contradictory to the rest of the evidence that he and other writers supply, all of which suggests that Jesus was born about 5B.C.” [Drane, J. W. (2000). Introducing the New Testament (Completely rev. and updated., p. 57). Oxford: Lion Publishing plc.]

 

And then the emperor Claudius admits that it is difficult even for the Roman people:

 

"When my father Drusus was subduing Germany, it was they [the Gauls] who by their tranquility provided undisturbed and profound peace in his rear--and that too, although he was called to war while taking the census, which was at that time a new and strange imposition for the Gauls. How difficult a task the census is for us, even in this present day, we have learned by bitter experience, although nothing is required from us beyond an official record of our resources…" [Oration of Claudius on the Admission of Gallic Citizens to Roman Offices", 48 AD, in [HI:ARS, 145f].

 

 

What this means for us is that the 'decree' of Augustus could have been issued years and years BEFORE it 'filtered down' to Herod, and thus to Joseph and Mary.

 

Even with this uncertainty, we can at least begin with a narrow range of, say, 10-6 for the issuance, and perhaps 7-3 for one phase of its implementation under Herod.

 

 

So, what three things were cooking within this time frame?

 

 

The first/big one was the institution of a new mandatory 'oath of loyalty' to Augustus.

 

In Judea, this seems to have been in conjunction with a 'refresh' of an oath to Herod.

 

Smallwood describes the situation:

 

"Herod's fall from imperial favour led to an internal conflict which brought Pharisaic hostility to a head. Many years earlier Herod had imposed an oath of allegiance to himself, a feature of Hellenistic monarchy, on his subjects; most had acquiesced, but there had been some overt Jewish opposition, and Herod had respected the conscientious objections of the Pharisees and the strict sect of the Essenes to all oaths by exempting them from it.133 Now, late in his reign but possibly before his reconciliation with Augustus, Herod required his subjects to take an oath of allegiance to himself and the emperor jointly. This may equally well have been either a spontaneous gesture aimed at recovering imperial confidence or a test of loyalty demanded of him by Augustus, since the oath recalls the provincial oaths of loyalty apparently introduced at about this time (the earliest known example is dated 4/3 B.C.). Renewed protest was inevitable, especially with the emperor's name included, and six thousand Pharisees again refused to swear. " [HI:JURR, 98]

 

Humphreys calls Orosius and Josephus to witness:

 

"The problem can be resolved if the census was not for taxation purposes but was instead a census of allegiance to Caesar Augustus. The fifth century historian Orosius states,

 

[Augustus] ordered that a census be taken of each province everywhere and that all men be enrolled. So at that time, Christ was born and was entered on the Roman census list as soon as he was born. This is the earliest and most public acknowledgement which marked Christ as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world. . .since in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and through the participation in the census, were made part of one society.

 

"Josephus appears to refer to the same event: ‘when all the people of the Jews gave assurance of their goodwill to Caesar, and to the king’s government, these very men [the Pharisees] did not swear, being above six thousand.’  From the context of Josephus’ words, this census of allegiance to Augustus occurred about one year before the death of Herod the Great." [“The Star of Bethlehem, A Comet In 5 BC And The Date Of Christ’s Birth”;   Colin J. Humphreys, (1992). Tyndale Bulletin, 43(1), 30-51.]

 

 

Barnett gives the text of the oath taken at Paphlagonia and suggests that the administrative mechanism used for actual tax registration, assessment, collection, and reporting could also have been used for non-tax apographe:

 

"In c. 7 B.C., after his relationships with Augustus had become strained, Herod required the people to take an oath of allegiance to Augustus and himself. That this was a nation-wide oath taking in Judaea is established by Josephus’ words : ’.... when the whole Jewish people affirmed by an oath that it would be loyal to Caesar and to the king’s government these men (i.e., the Pharisees), over six thousand in number, refused to take the oath ...’

 

"Josephus fails to record the oath formula. Nevertheless there are several examples of oaths of this kind from other parts. Of the oath formulae which are extant the one nearest to 7 B.C. is that taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia at Gangra in 3 B.C.

 

"I swear by Jupiter, Earth, Sun, by all the gods and goddesses, and by Augustus himself, that I will be loyal to Caesar Augustus and to his children and descendants all my life in word, in deed and in thought, regarding as friends whomever they so regard, and considering as enemies whomever they so adjudge ; that in defense of their interests I will spare neither body, soul, life, nor children, but will in every way undergo every danger in defense of their interests ; that whenever I perceive or hear anything being said or planned or done against them I will lodge information about this and will be an enemy to whoever says or plans or does any such thing; and that whomever they adjudge to be enemies I will by land and sea, with weapons and sword, pursue and punish. But if I do anything contrary to this oath or not in conformity with what I swore, I myself call down upon myself, my body, my soul, my life, my children, and all my family and property, utter ruin and utter destruction unto all my issue and all my descendants, and may neither earth nor sea receive the bodies of my family or my descendants, or yield fruits to them.

 

"In c. 7 B.C. the whole Jewish people were required to subscribe to an oath which must have been similar in form to this. Since the 'whole Jewish people' were involved in what must have been a begrudged action, it is probable that some machinery for enrolment would have been established to ensure the execution of the oath taking. Details are lacking but we, may suppose that some form of apographe was involved. Was it for this apographe that Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem to make their oath of allegiance to Augustus?

 

"It is probable that a uniform method of registering people obtained in Judaea regardless of the exact purpose of registration-whether for oath taking or for tax-assessment. Luke’s familiar story of the nativity indicates enrolment each ‘to his own city’ according to lineage (2.3-4). It is significant that with reference to the Quirinius assessment of A.D. 6-7 Josephus employs apographe in the plural form (AJ XVIII, 3, 4, BJ VII, 253) confirming the idea of local listings." [Paul W. Barnett, “Apograhe and apographesthai in Luke 2 1-5”, in The Expository Times 1974 85:378]

 

 

Barnett's assumption that some type of enrollment 'machinery' was in existence is confirmed by a passage in Josephus. Pearson draws our attention to an almost-passing reference to a provincial census official title:

 

" In A.J. 16.7.3 §203 and its parallel in B.J 1.24.3 §479, Bernice reports to her mother Salome that Alexander and Aristobulus, Herod's doomed sons, have made the threat that, when one of them ascends to the throne he will make all of his half-brothers "Village scribes" (κωμογραμματεΐς) because they are so well educated. The office of κωμογραμματεύς is mentioned in well over two hundred different papyri {POxy. 79,240,251,252,254,255,288, and 488 are among the more important).

 

"In a census, the κωμογραμματεύς was responsible for the collection of statistics regarding property and its taxation. One papyrus, POxy. 488, is a complaint against a dishonest (or perhaps just slovenly and petty) κωμογραμματεύς who, by reporting that certain people had much more property than they actually had, forced them to pay more taxes. In POxy. 254 and 255 we have census returns actually addressed to the κωμογραμματεύς among others. Another papyrus, POxy. 288, a list of the taxes paid over a period of several years by a landholder, ends with a list of his family connections (for purposes of identification) which are open for inspection έξ απογραφής κωμογραμ-ματέως! The census returns themselves are listed by this Oxyrhynchite as returns o/the κωμογραμματεΐς. As Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt state with regard to POxy. 251, a declaration, addressed to the κωμογραμματεύς and the τοπογραμματεύς, that the declarant no longer owns any property in the nome of Oxyrhynchus, "It seems that even in the metropolis of the Oxyrhynchite nome there were τοπογραμματεις and κωμογραμματεΐς who were specially concerned with the revision of the census lists." They also state that "the returns in the Fayûm papyri are addressed to the ... κωμογραμματεύς [among others]."

 

"It seems fairly clear, then, that, at least in Egypt, the office of κωμογραμματεύς was intricately tied to the census. It is difficult to believe that this office, so casually mentioned in the threats that Bernice reports to her mother, was drastically different in Herod's kingdom. It is indeed Josephus' casual manner of mentioning the office that is striking: he apparently assumes that his readers will know exactly what the office entails. It is too low on the social scale even to rate a mention anywhere else in his account. Josephus, as a Roman citizen, would have been aware of both the office and its function, and its inclusion in his narrative goes a long way to prove that while Herod's administrative system was not a provincial one, it still drew from the Roman model. This, of course, only makes sense. Herod was a Roman at heart, and he did his best to introduce as many things Roman into Palestine as he could. 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." [Brook W. R. Pearson, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly vol 61 (1999), page 271f]

 

 

[Although we will discuss this later, the Romans essentially 'adopted and adapted' local administrative mechanisms instead of replacing them with their own. The census-related infrastructure in Judea goes back to the Persians--but more on this later.]

 

But back to the oath…

 

The data that we have on the oath--the earliest being the one from Paphlagonia cited above--amounts to the following points:

 

Although there were many oaths of allegiance in the Roman Republic and Empire, this particular oath was unique and another innovation of Augustus. The oath was to him and his family and NOT to Rome.

 

“When the client-king Deiotarus of Paphlagonia died in 6 BC, his domain was annexed to the Empire and assigned to the province of Galatia. Three years later [tanknote: 4/3 BC, in the same time frame as the Lukan account of the pre-nativity enrollment trip of Mary/Jospeh] this oath of allegiance to Augustus was taken, first at Gangra, the administrative seat, by delegates from all the cities of the region, and subsequently by all the Paphlagonians in their local communities. Introduced by Augustus in the days of this death struggle with Antony, this personal oath of allegiance to the chieftain from the civilian population as well as the military became a standard ritual of the empire.” [Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.34]

 

“The Paphlagonian record is revealing for the position of the emperor in the East. It was to him in person and to his children and grandchildren—not to Roma or to the state—that allegiance was sworn. For the population, both native and roman, Augustus was himself the representative of the power of Roma.” [HI:DRE, 206]

 

 

 

Subsequent emperors also required such oaths—they were not restricted to the event of becoming a province-- and the praise-wording of the oath grew ever grandiose.

 

Upon the accession of a new princeps appropriate celebrations were proclaimed throughout the empire. In addition, following the precedent established by Augustus, the military forces and the entire civilian population took an oath of allegiance to the new emperor and renewed this oath on each anniversary of his accession. And every year on January 3 prayers were offered in the Capitol in Rome and in the military camps of the provinces throughout the Empire for the health and safety of the emperor during the year ahead. It is worth noting how the language of these declarations grows in fulsomeness with the increasing autocracy of the regime.” [Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.85f]

 

 

The oath was taken at the local temples of Augustus (requiring travel by many folks), but this would obviously have been something different in Judea:

 

“The same oath (from Paphlagonia) was sworn also by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts. In this manner did the people of Pazimon, who inhabit the city now called Neapolis, all together swear the oath in the temple of Augustus at the altar of Augustus.” [Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.35]

 

“In extending the imperial cult in the East, the authorities seem to have taken full account of the religion of the peoples with whom they came in contact. Thus in their treatment of the Jews the Romans followed in Egypt and elsewhere the precedents of the Hellenistic kings. While statues of the emperor were being erected in all temples, the Jews were not required to place his statue in the synagogues where there were no images in human form [Footnote 4 here:  See Philo Judaeus, Leg ad Gaium 21-23, 140-158, where the writer, commenting on the statues of Caligula placed in the synagogues, cites the precedents of the Ptolemies and of Augustus and Tiberius. Augustus' consideration of the customers of his subjects is especially stressed. The synagogues had previously been adorned not with statues but with such monuments of the emperor as golden shields, crowns, pillars, and inscriptions (20, 133)]. They were permitted to make prayers not to him but for his safety. Here the Roman representatives showed the practical attitude that characterized the development of the cult of Augustus. It was employed as an effective means of government and was modified to accord with the beliefs of men whose religion was opposed to the exercise of the cult in its fullest form [HI:DRE, 207-208]

 

 

 

The oath was not just for Roman citizens, but all inhabitants:

 

Roman authorities must also have been responsible for securing oaths of allegiance from the inhabitants of regions added to the empire. When Paphlagonia was incorporated in the province of Galatia in 6 B.C., all the inhabitants, both native and Roman citizens, were forced to take an oath of allegiance of a prescribed form that must have come from the governor of the province or his deputies. The oath, of which a copy has been preserved to us, was administered in every city of the region at the altar of Augustus before the temple of Augustus. The date when it was taken was the sixth of March, the anniversary of Augustus' election to the office of pontifex maximus, which we have seen reason to associate with the establishment of official oaths by the emperor. The oath was taken by the Greek triad familiar in oaths, Zeus, Ge, and Helios, and by all the gods and goddesses and Augustus himself—not in this case, as usually in Greek records, by his Tyche. [HI:DRE, 206]

 

As the wording of the oath becomes more grandiose, we begin to see references to the emperor being a parent or father of the people:

 

Mantennius Sabinus to the strategi of the Heptanomia and of the Arsinoite Nome, greeting. I have ordered a copy of the edict sent by me to the most illustrious Alexandria to be appended hereto, so that you may all be informed and may hold festival for the like number of days. I wish you good health. Year 1 of the Emperor Caesar Publius Helvius Pertinaz Augustus, Phamenoth 10…. Copy of edict: It is meet, people of Alexandria, that you should hold festival for the most fortunate accession of our lord the Emperor Publius Helviius Pertinax Augustus, princeps of the sacred senate, father of his country, and of Publius Helvius Pertinaax his son, and of Flavia Titiana Augusta [his wife], offering public sacrifice and prayer en masse on behalf of his enduring rule and of all his house, and wearing garlands for fifteen days beginning form today. “ [Berlin Papyrus No. 646; Ad 193, cited in Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.88]

 

“The partnership in government with the senate which was inherent in the Augustan conception of the Principate quickly proved to be unworkable. The senate receded into impotence, and the emperor’s domination became more and more complete. From all quarters of the Empire we hear a chorus of praise for the ruler of the Roman world, swelling in volume and adulation as we pass from the Julio-Claudians and Flavians of the first century to the ‘Good Emperors’ of the second. We find it in poetry, history, philosophy, and other writings, as well as in the language of officialdom. The dominant them in this constant peaeaning is the enjoyment of peace and prosperity under the protection of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-virtuous, divinely ordained ruler.” [Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.97]

 

“But it would be a difficult thing to administer so great a dominion otherwise than by turning it over to one man, as to a father. At all events, never have the Romans and their allies thrived in such peace and plenty as that which was afforded them by August Caesar from the time he assumed the absolute authority and is now being afforded them by his son and successor, Tiberius, who is making Augustus the model of this administration and decrees.” [Strabo, Geo. VI.IV.2, from LCL, cited at Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p.97]

 

“Here is the picture of the father of our state as I for my part seem to have discerned it both from his speech and from the very manner of its presentation. What weight in his ideas, what unaffected genuineness in his words what earnestness in his voice, what confirmation in his face, what sincerity in his eyes, bearing, gestures, in short in his whole body!” [Pliny the Younger’s panegyric to the Emperor Trajan lxv-lxxx (abridged), ad 100, cited in Roman Civilization, Sourcebook II: The Empire, Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper:1955, p. 99]

 

 

And this brings us to the second—and probably related—event: the ascription of father of the people to Augustus in 2 BC, as the culmination of Augustus’ efforts toward “self-deification”.

 

It is beyond the scope of this article to trace the steps he took toward this novelty in Roman religion, but the period from 12BC (when he   becomes pontifex maximus) through 2 BC (when he is given the title ‘father of the people’) is replete with his maneuverings, and with the acceptance of these by the people.

 

This period sees the first use of Roman officials to promulgate his cult outside of Rome:

 

“The establishment of the state cult at Rome soon had its effect on the provinces and the municipalities. In the East, to be sure, the worship of the emperor seems already to have become practically universal in the cities and in the leagues of the various provinces. New temples and new altars were constantly being set up, but those erected as late as 12 B.C.— for instance the temple of Augustus which the prefect of Egypt dedicated in that year at Philae 1—were probably not institutions of a new worship but new monuments to house a worship that already existed. If the older provinces were like Paphlagonia, every city had its shrine of Augustus. What seems to be new at this time is the activity of Roman officials in promoting the cult. Its value for maintaining rule had been so fully realized that the authorities were deliberately extending it. Hence the interest of the prefect of Egypt in securing adequate monuments for the worship. In Asia the proconsul Paullus Fabius Maximus, probably in 9-8 B.C., carried through a reform of the calendar in honor of Augustus, and henceforth the year began with the birthday of Augustus, a day that was itself called Sebaste. The first month was known as Kaisarios. Roman officials may have been similarly active in other portions of the East, where the emperor's name and his titles are used as designations for months and sometimes for days. [HI:DRE, 205]

 

The penetration of his cult into the provinces was somehow incorporated into regular government operations (such as justice, enrollments, selection of officials) and was accomplished during his lifetime:

 

"There is therefore no definite evidence of the institution of the cult in provinces later than the time of Augustus. It is not unlikely that the provincial cult was established as a part of the regular process of government in all the provinces of the West before the death of Augustus." [HI:DRE, 212]

 

The shift in the cult of Augustus was seen in the East in this period:

 

"While the peoples of the West were adopting the cult of Augustus, a group of the kings of the East, who had been naming their cities Caesarea and Sebaste, determined to honor the new cult of the Genius. They planned to complete the colossal temple of Olympian Zeus begun by Pisistratus at Athens and to dedicate it to the Genius of Augustus. There is no record of the date of this plan, but it seems probable that it should be assigned to the period after 12 BC when the kings would have means of knowing of the new importance of Augustus' Genius in Roman cult." [HI:DRE, 213f]

 

 

This was a title he had long sought (and prepared for…):

 

“There was one more great monument of the house of Augustus to be dedicated—the temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus which had long been in the process of construction. A few months before it was dedicated in the year 2 B.C. Augustus’ position as head of the Roman state family was further signalized by the title pater patriae which was conferred on him at a meeting of the senate held on February 5. Valerius Messala, who acted as spokesman for the occasion, began his speech with a prayer for the future of Augustus and his house. There was another honor that was closely analogous to one of Caesar’s—the title parens patriae bestowed on him in 45. This new title was by special decree inscribed in the Curia, in the vestibule of the Palatine house, and on the qaudgriga of the emperor set up in the Forum of Augustus, which was dedicated in the same year.” [HI:DRE, 200].

 

 

The Augustian oath was connected both with (at least) two titles: pontifex maximus and pater patraiae, both of which were also connected with his cult. The oath itself was originated at 12 BC, at his election to pontifex maximus, so any apographe that was serving the purpose of world-wide oath taking would have started at that time and taken years to administer throughout the lands under Roman domination:

 

"The citizens of Italy were at first not so eager to urge on the emperor divine honors as were the Roman senators with their adulatory decrees or the Roman citizens of the East in contact with Orientals who turned to divine honors as the most natural way of expressing loyalty and enthusiasm. There are no instances recorded where the emperor refused divine distinctions from Italian towns. But the citizens of the municipalities, after nearly a century of disorder and confusion, were highly sensible of the peace and prosperity that Augusts had brought to Rome. They had gone in great numbers to Rome to vote at the comitia that chose Augustus as pontifex maximus, and they had become familiar with the worship of the Lares and the Genius of August which had been instituted at the street crossings of their towns." [HI:DRE, 223]

 

"At them [altar/temple in Pompeii] the sacerdos Augusti, known in the records of Pompeii, officiated. The word genius was, to be sure, suppressed in the title of temple and priest, but that was not without parallel. At Trimalchio's dinner, when the guests poured the customary libation to the Genius of the reigning emperor, what they said was simply Augusto patri patriae feliciter. The altar in front of the temple was probably used, like the altars of August in the Paphlagonian cities, for the official oath which Roman citizens took by the Genius of the emperor." [HI:DRE, 217f]

 

 

Roman authorities must also have been responsible for securing oaths of allegiance from the inhabitants of regions added to the empire. When Paphlagonia was incorporated in the province of Galatia in 6 B.C., all the inhabitants, both native and Roman citizens, were forced to take an oath of allegiance of a prescribed form that must have come from the governor of the province or his deputies. The oath, of which a copy has been preserved to us, was administered in every city of the region at the altar of Augustus before the temple of Augustus. The date when it was taken was the sixth of March, the anniversary of Augustus' election to the office of pontifex maximus, which we have seen reason to associate with the establishment of official oaths by the emperor. The oath was taken by the Greek triad familiar in oaths, Zeus, Ge, and Helios, and by all the gods and goddesses and Augustus himself—not in this case, as usually in Greek records, by his Tyche.” [HI:DRE, 206]

 

 

 

Martin [CKC:89-90] argues for a 3-2 BC date for the birth of Jesus on the time required to administer an oath, and using that as a ‘vote’ by the people--appealing also to later historians:

 

" A sixth reason for placing the nativity of Jesus in 3 or 2 B.C. is the coincidence of this date with the New Testament account that Jesus was born at the time when a Roman census was being conducted: "There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the [Roman] world should be registered" (Luke 2:1). Historians have not been able to find any empire-wide census or registration in the years 7-5 B.C., but there is a reference to such a registration of all the Roman people not long before 5 February 2 B.C. written by Caesar Augustus himself: "While I was administering my thirteenth consulship [2 B.C.] the senate and the equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title Father of my Country" (Res Gestae 35, italics added). This award was given to Augustus on 5 February 2 B.C., therefore the registration of citizen approval must have taken place in 3 B.C. Orosius, in the fifth century, also said that Roman records of his time revealed that a census was indeed held when Augustus was made "the first of men"--an apt description of his award "Father of the Country"--at a time when all the great nations gave an oath of obedience to Augustus (6:22, 7:2). Orosius dated the census to 3 B.C. And besides that, Josephus substantiates that an oath of obedience to Augustus was required in Judea not long before the death of Herod (Antiquities I7:4I-45). This agrees nicely in a chronological sense with what Luke records. But more than that, an inscription found in Paphlagonia (eastern Turkey), also dated to 3 B.C., mentions an "oath sworn by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts." And dovetailing precisely with this inscription, the early (fifth century) Armenian historian, Moses of Khoren, said the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was conducted by Roman agents in Armenia where they set up "the image of Augustus Caesar in every temple.''. The similarity of this language is strikingly akin to the wording on the Paphlagonian inscription describing the oath taken in 3 B.C. These indications can allow us to reasonably conclude that the oath (of Josephus, the Paphlagonian inscription, and Orosius) and the census (mentioned by Luke, Orosius, and Moses of Khoren) were one and the same. All of these things happened in 3 B.C."

 

This 'father of the people' was understood to apply to the entire Roman empire, which, as we have seen, included anything and everything under Roman power.

 

"In 2 BC, the title PP was conferred on Augustus by the Senate, the equestrian order and the people of Rome (fast. Praenestini CIL V Z33; R. Gest. div. Aug. 35; Suet. Aug. 58, cf. an inscription from Sion dating to as early as 8 BC, ILS 6755). For the first time, the title referred to the salvation of the entire patria (i.e. the population of the imperium Romanum; for the termi­nology cf. [4. 3Z9, 3 31 f.I), who were now placed under the Mela of Augustus as pater." [Brill's New Pauly, vol 10, Obl-Phe, s.v. "Pater Patriae".]

 

 

 

 

 

The double-barreled affront of a required loyalty oath to Augustus (with its pagan theological overtones) and a 'forced vote for Augustus' (with its implied divinization of a human leader) would have been seen as a major anti-Jewish move, and Barnett believes this might explain why Luke did not mention it in his birth-narrative. Accordingly, he understands Luke's 'silence' about the purpose of the enrollment in terms of Judean discomfort with such an oath:

 

"An apographe  for oath taking c. 7 B.C. would accord well with Luke’s representation of an Augustan dogma 'for all the world ’, though no one would argue that it was other than piecemeal in its execution throughout the Hellenistic kingdoms and, apart from Judaea, willingly offered. The phrase ’ that all the world should be enrolled ’ is too exaggerated to fit the circumstances of the local Judaean apographe  of A.D. 6-7 associated as this was with the annexation of the territory. ... Luke’s failure to specify the purpose of the apographe  may have been to avoid the implication that the parents of Jesus had taken an oath, which in the experience of many of Luke’s gentile readers would have been in the blasphemous oath terminology with which they were familiar. Doubtless the oath of 7 B.C. in Judaea involved not the gentile deities, but the name of Israel’s LORD." [Paul W. Barnett, “Apograhe and apographesthai in Luke 2 1-5”, in The Expository Times 1974 85:379]

 

 

 

 

 

And then the last/third thing—oddly enough (with a slight glance at the phrase ‘universal tax registration’!)—is the apparent initiative of Augustus to actually unify the tax processes (but not the tax ‘versions’ in the localized situations) and institute a common birth registration and "social-status recording" system. This is more of a process than an event, and so the timeline must be considered as well.

 

It is widely accepted that Augustus undertook an Empire-wide (which included the client-kingdoms in his perspective, according to his historians) reform of the tax processes and implemented 'birth and status' registrations. In an increasingly-document 'dependent' world, participation in these processes by non-Romans increased in the first-century, for reasons of inheritance and legal protections.

 

"It was probably Augustus who introduced the uniform and more rational system of taxation which is attested later in the empire. … Regular censuses were required in all provinces both to register property and to count the population. Such censuses began under Augustus, and continued for the next two and a half centuries." (HI:TRE, 164, 165)

 

Discussing the documentary evidence (for slave-status) in Roman Egypt, Bagnall makes the point that Augustus instituted large-scale documentation:

 

"Why does the documentation for slavery flourish in the Roman period only to decline in late antiquity? Part of the answer certainly does lie, as I suggested, the Roman predilection for rigid and precise classification and recording of the various elements of the population, as defined by Roman law and imperial decisions. The major elements of this regime go back to the reign of Augustus, notably the institution of the census, the imposition of a poll-tax, and the definition of a section of society that although juridicially Egyptian was recognized as culturally Greek and privileged through the concession of lower rates of capitation taxes. This system generated paperwork: census declarations, declarations connected to requests for recognition of privileged status, birth and death notices, and population lists."

 

The connection with inheritance also provides a plausible reason to 'visit his hometown'--the establishment of witnesses in case later disputes came up:

 

"For civilians, registration and census lists, of the sort referred to in the nativity story in Luke, would indicate the citizenship of the people on them. Because these lists were also the basis of their tax collections, the Roman bureaucrats worked hard to keep them up to date. From the time of Augustus, all Roman citizens were required to register their legitimate children. Non-citizens usually registered theirs, too, to forestall disputes over inheritances. A child not on a registration list would have a difficult time establishing a claim to his parents’ property. Fragmentary copies of such lists still exist today (4.59). If any question arose about an individual’s legal status, a magistrate from another town could write to his hometown and inquire about his citizenship." [Bell, A. A. (1998). Exploring the New Testament world (p. 107). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.]

 

Government use of documentation increased in this period, and Roman involvement would have created an impetus for local and non-Roman governments to do the same:

 

"On the other hand, in Hellenistic times the legal status of private documents seems to have changed: 'At least, official facilities for registering private contracts gradually spread, and this presumably indicates some recognition that the custody of such documents was of vital important'. The time when local archives were established differed from place to place, with some cities having set up archives by the third century B.C.E. already. Along with the establishment of city archives, the registration of private documents gradually came to be considered essential for proving the validity of one's claims… For the members of the Roman upper classes of the first century BCE written contracts had become the norm… The governmental use of documentation certainly increased in Roman times and also affected provincials. Landed property had to be registered and receipts were given for the taxes paid. Also, 'in certain regions, at least, the use of written documents such as wills, marriage contracts and divorce settlements because much more common during the first century AD and long remained so'." [HI:JLIRP:294, 295]

 

While archives and mandatory "sign off" by officials afforded non-citizens some level of protection from one another, the overall thrust of the Roman 'imposition' was likely aimed at social control:

 

"Roger Bagnali and Bruce Frier, writing with specific reference to Egypt, suggest, however, that, regarding the taxation process, we should pay attention to the vigor with which the Roman administration sought to maintain social control. 'Accurate records were the basis of this type of social control, and accurate records were formed in the first instance by accurate census declarations, supplemented by birth and death registrations. It is entirely possible that both taxation and control of the population were among the government's motives from the beginning of the periodic census.... It is also possible that the symbolic value of the poll tax, representing subjection to Roman power, extended to the census itself—that the census itself was a means of demonstrating Roman control of the world.'" [Bagnall/Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt, p29-30, cited in Pearson, opcit, 266]

 

Roman citizens--wherever they lived--were still subject to specialized taxes, and they HAD to be registered in some kind of census (i.e., Roman homeland, Roman provinces, or Roman territories). For Herod (himself a Roman citizen), this might have been one of his responsibilities to Augustus (presumably also with the other client-kings)--to keep a current record of citizens, non-citizens, and 'other':

 

"As in Egypt, if there were capitation taxes, the persons liable must have been registered, and so must urban real estate and moveables, if they were also subject to tax. Moreover, Roman citizens, wherever resident, were liable to the vicesima hereditatium, and the government had to know what they were worth. The old census of Roman citizens provided this information. So far as we know, such a census of citizens was taken after A.D. 14 only by Claudius and Vespasian, but it may well be that citizens were also listed with their assets in provincial censuses; certainly they had to be reported in Egypt (Wallace 103), and under Hadrian Phlegon drew particulars of centenarians from the census records alike for Italians, citizens of Roman colonies, e.g. Philippi which possessed ius Italicurn, and for non-Roman provincials (EGH no. 257, F 37)." [Brunt, Revenues of Rome, op.cit., p163]

 

 

 

Now, the timeline considerations have to be considered, because many of the official proclamations of the requirements above seem to have occurred AFTER the events of the nativity sequence.

 

So, the requirements of birth certifications for Roman citizens are generally understood to have been instituted in the Lex Aelia Sentia (4 AD) and the Lex Papia Poppaea (9 AD), and the 5% inheritance tax was instituted in the Lex Julia de vicesima hereditatum (5 AD).

 

But the Aelia Sentia was about manumission, and birth records were instituted as proof-of-age for that specific process. There must have been other ways to document one's age, since the vast majority of offices in the Roman government and religion had minimum age requirements. These ages were often inscribed on official 'announcement' monuments:

 

"The use of chronological age in inscriptions indicates a need to record the exact ages of individuals. Although at times far from accurate, these ages point to the desire to utilize a systems of exactitude with the potential for the sophisticated recording of a person's age. However, the level of inaccuracy can inform us about who was using chronological age and what it may have been used for. The pattern of inaccuracy would appear to have been directly affected by the status and gender of the person. High levels of inaccuracy were found for all groups in Italy with the exception of the local town councilors. The fact that a minimum age for office was applied in the majority of cases may have caused the age of all councilors to be recorded officially…What is clear though is that the age of officials serving a city was displayed in public." [HI:GUGOAR, 11,12]

 

And proof-of-age (at least within bands of 5 years) was required by pre-Augustan legislation. The Lex Falcidia was passed in 41/40 BC, and required the jurists to calculate life expectancy:

 

"The prediction of chronological age was also utilized in the calculation of tax to be paid on bequests in the form of an annual return on property. The bequest had to conform to the Lex Falcidia that ensured that no more than three quarters of a testator's estate was left as a legacy to anyone apart from the principal heir. To do this, Roman lawyers needed to calculate what life expectancy could be (Dig. 35.2.68 pr). This was defined by the following formula: any person under twenty years old was to receive maintenance for a further thirty years: a person between twenty and twenty-five - twenty-eight years' maintenance; a person between twenty five and thirty - twenty-five years' maintenance; a person between thirty and thirty-five - twenty-two years' maintenance…(etc)" [HI:GUGOAR, 12]

 

And proof of childbirth would have been required for decades--the Lex Papia of 65 BC expelled non-citizens and prosecuted those falsely claiming to be citizen. This would have required something other than simply the census records (which had been adequate previously, before large grants of citizenship began to be given in the Roman expansion) [HI:LLR, p46].

 

And incentives (and therefore proof of compliance) would have existed as far back as 59BC:

 

"A whole range of rewards and penalties was intended by various regimes to encourage child-rearing and to discourage celibacy. For instance, Julius Caesar's laws of 59 BC made land available to fathers of three or more children as well as to Pompey's veterans. Cicero felt that in a well-run state the censors should forbid celibacy, and in 46 BC he urged Caesar to use his autocratic powers to encourage larger families." [HI:FARNP, 9]

 

Augustus had issued the Julian Law on Classes Permitted to Marry in 18 BC, and although the provisions of this law are frequently fused/confused with the Papian-Poppaean Law of 9 AD (even in the ancient sources), there is no reason to doubt that some mechanism of birth records (other than those which might have been used earlier) existed at the start of that period (c. 17BC). These two laws established minimum ages for marriage, offered official incentives for larger families, and granted special status to legitimate children (over illegitimate--in the legal sense).

 

"Augustus carried through legislation in 18 BC and again in AD 9 (the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus and the lex Papia Poppaea) to give political preference to fathers of three or more children, and to impose political and financial liabilities on childless couples and unmarried persons over the age of 20 (for women) and 25 (for men)." [HI:FARNP, 9-10]

 

And the "lateness" of the inheritance tax is not really a problem here, since testamentary law -- requiring documentation of 'levels of kinship'--had been in existence for centuries. Roman citizens --in the transition from Republic to Empire--had several specialty taxes, which required various levels of valuation/assessment -- this was not new with Augustus' inheritance tax of 6/5AD.

 

What IS important here--timewise--however, is that some movement toward these more-document-centric processes and procedures must have begun earlier, and could easily have been part of the general 're-organization' of the Roman empire that Augustus initiated and pursued during his entire career. What seems to be new here in the case of registrations is (at least) the requirement that the registration be made within 30 days of the birth. [The Roman census process implicitly granted '5 years', and registrations to document privileged status could be several years after one's birth.]

 

For example, the detailed aspects of the birth records indicates that somebody gave significant thought to the process. The birth registration had a master copy on a wooden tablet (album) stored by month/year in the Forum of Augustus (or provincial office/Tabularium), a codex copy of the contents was made, each document had an 'quasi-abstract' on the outside of the document --- for faster indexing by Google, presumably (smile), and the relevant party had their own copy.

 

"A certain number of such boards formed a unit. We may call these units for convenience sake volumes, although the boards were not bound together. Each board in such a volume had a certain number and was divided into several columns which were called paginae. There existed, however, at the Tabularium besides the album another register of births of a more handy form, written in a codex or a papyrus roll. Such a book was absolutely necessary for two reasons. It was technically almost impossible to record at once every professio on the large wooden boards of the album. The official certainly first took the profession down ad acta, and later, when several professiones had come together, ordered a painter to make the entries in the album. On the other hand the album was not kept for an indefinite time. According to Roman administrative custom an album had only a short life. It was indeed quite impossible to store these alba for years and years, for very soon a vast forest of such boards would have grown up. The album was removed and destroyed after a certain time, only the register written in a codex or a papyrus roll was preserved at the Tabularium. This book, being written in the form of a diary, was called kalendarium. … So the Roman register of births consisted in fact of two registers, the kalendarium and the album, both of course in substantial agreement with each other. Each professio was first recorded in the kalendarium and afterwards, ad kalendarium (according to the kalendarium), in the album." ["Roman Registers of Births and Birth Certificates", Fritz Schulz, Journal of Roman Studies / Volume 32 / Issue 1-2 / November 1942, pp 88; DOI: 10.2307/296462, Published online: 24 September 2012]

 

 

This was not intended for Italian-only Romans--but extended throughout the provinces too (but with higher requirements):

 

"For freedmen and provincial citizens the requisite number of children was increased, for some but not all benefits, from three to four or five. The notion of a sliding scale appears in some of the legal texts; cf. Paulus and Lex Mal.,loc. cit., Tit. Ulp. 29. 3-7; Gaius 3. 42, 44, 50." [Sherwin-white, The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary, 1966, page 558]

 

And, although the full procedure was only available to full citizens, there was a substitute allowed for non-citizens or 'half-citizens' ('illegitimate'):

 

"This registration, however, as established by the two Augustan statutes, was strictly confined to legitimate children in possession of the Roman citizenship. (a) The register was barred to illegitimate children. This is expressly stated in no. 16. There was, however, a substitute for the forbidden registration. The parents were allowed to make a private statement of the birth before witnesses, a so-called testatio and to draw up a document on this declaration. Whether such testationes were expressly allowed by the two Augustan statutes, is as yet not quite clear. Reading no. 15 (' se testari ex lege Aelia Sentia et Papia Poppaea ') one might be inclined to believe it. Anyhow they were not forbidden, as our documents give us examples of them (nos. 12-16)." [Schulz, op. cit. 81]

 

 

But these processes were mainly for Roman citizens or half-citizens only--but that didn’t stop the Romans from legislating similar procedures (for non-Romans) elsewhere:

 

"If the child had not the Roman citizenship, it was excluded from the register. We possess, however, a number of documents, written in Greek by peregrini and addressed to the grammateis metropoleos or, in a village, to the komogrammateis requesting the registration of a child. But this registration was fundamentally different from that which is discussed in this paper. 1. The purpose is different, the registration being made on account of the taxes. 2. Only boys were registered. 3. The report of the parents was made by letter and often several years after the birth. 4. The parents are peregrini and consequently their children also. It is, however, remarkable that this registration also was established by the Romans. It was apparently unknown to the Ptolemaic administration." [Schulz, op. cit., 83]

 

 

[Notice that the komogrammateis office is the one mentioned by Josephus as being in Judea at the time of Herod… suggesting that such registrations and/or census-centric procedures were also Roman-instituted, even though it was technically a 'client/vassal kingdom'….smile]

 

The point of this last/third process (i.e. the creation of an 'enrollment machine') is that it is a necessary precursor to the visible processes we see throughout the Roman world at the turn of the millennium. An enrollment machine--perhaps modeled on the Republican census and utilizing existing registration mechanisms in the various territories--was placed into service around the time of Augustus' election to pontifex maximus in 12 BC. In calling for a world-wide oath of allegiance and in preparation for the 'vote' for Father of the People, Augustus ordered his government officials and clients (which included Herod) to 'make this happen' -- regardless of the social or civic status of their constituencies.

 

 

Unfortunately for Herod, this 'launch' of a campaign to create an Augustus-centric image of the Roman world came at the worst possible time--the years 13BC-4BC were times of intense difficulty and problems for Herod. The problems were largely with his own family, but there were external crises as well (one of which got him in hot water with Augustus). It was in this difficult period that Herod had to implement the universal oath that created the discord mentioned by Josephus and that created the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem.

 

So, I personally think the data supports a non-taxation enrollment, universal in scope, originating around 12 BC, focused on an oath of allegiance to Augustus (not Rome), and utilizing existing and perhaps newly-enhanced enrollment mechanisms documented in Josephus and Roman Egypt.

 

This enrollment was not about taxes (at least not at first), but about knowing the resources of the world and aligning those resources for achievement of Augustus personal ambitions and vision for what he thought the Empire should become.

 

 

 

 

If not, could there have been a ‘taxation-centric’ census in a client-kingdom like Herod’s?

 

 

The obvious answer to this is 'yes', since we documented earlier several such cases.

 

To recap some of that here, though:

 

Smallwood--who does not accept the account in Luke as being 'probable'--still points out that Herod paid tribute and land-based 'tax' to Rome:

 

"Tribute had been paid to Rome by the Jewish client kingdom ever since 63 B.C. in the form of a tax on the produce of the land, which had been regulated by Julius Caesar in 47. As a province Judaea con-tinued to pay a land-tax (tribtitum soli). But annexation [tn: in AD 6] made the Jews automatically liable also for the tribtitum capitis, the personal tax paid by provincials, as well as for the vectigalia, the indirect taxes paid by the whole empire, of which the most important were the harbour dues (portoria). The first Roman administrative act in the new province was therefore the holding of a census (a land-survey as well as a count of the population) in order to obtain the accurate information about its manpower and financial resources needed for assessing its tax capability. For this purpose Augustus instructed the newly appointed legate of Syria, P. Sulpicius Quirinius, who had just conducted a census in his own province, to go to Judaea to organize the country as a province and in particular to take a census, an operation which was evidently regarded as beyond the capabilities of the junior and inexperienced eques who was to be left as Judaea's first governor, one Coponius, who, like most of his successors, is otherwise completely unknown to history. Its outcome was the imposition of the tributum capitis in the form, apparently, of a flat-rate tax which by c. 30 was one Roman denarius per head, the "tribute-money" of the Gospels. The responsibility for the collection of the direct tax passed from the Herodian officials to the procurator and his staff....A census in Judaea, carried out on orders from Augustus while the country was still a client kingdom, though improbable, is not wholly impossible, since tribute had been paid since 63 B.C." [HI:JURR, The Jews under Roman Rule, From Pompey to Diocletian: A Study in Political Relations, 150f, 568]

 

Other records point out that other client-kings paid tribute, were subject to registration/census, or were otherwise under financial 'oversight' of Rome. Hoehner mentions Apamea/Syria, Cappadocia, Nabatea, and pre-provincial Samaria:

 

“Roman census in Herod’s reign. Schürer did not think that Augustus would have a census taken in Palestine during Herod’s reign. Certainly Herod had enough autonomy as indicated by his being allowed to mint coins. However, the Romans did take a census in vassal kingdoms. In fact, in Venice a gravestone of a Roman officer was found which states that he was ordered by P. Sulpicius Quirinius to conduct a census of Apamea, a city of 117,000 inhabitants, located on the Orontes in Syria, which was an autonomous city-state that minted its own copper coins. In A.D. 36 under Tiberius a census was imposed on the client kingdom of Archelaus of Cappadocia [see Tacitus, Ann, 6.41]. Again, the powerful Nabatean kings in Petra, who had the right to mint coins were, it seems, obliged to have the Roman financial officers in their domain. Another indication of Augustus’ role in the finances of client kingdoms occurs when Herod’s domain was divided among his three sons. Augustus ordered that the Samaritan’s taxes should be reduced by one-fourth (because they had not revolted against Varus) and this was before Samaria became a part of a Roman province. Hence, it is seen that the Roman emperor became involved in taking censuses in the vassal kingdoms. Normally, it seems that Herod collected his own taxes and paid tribute to Rome. However, in 8/7 B.C. Herod came into disfavor with Augustus and was treated as a subject rather than a friend. This would mean Herod’s autonomy would be taken away. It is interesting to note that the people of Herod’s domain took an oath of allegiance to Augustus and Herod which points to a greater involvement of Augustus in Herod’s realm. Herod was getting old and ill and he had much trouble with his sons who were struggling to acquire the throne. Hence, it would have been a good time for Augustus to have an assessment of the domain before Herod’s death so as to prepare for the future rule of his realm. Therefore, since Augustus had taken censuses in other vassal kingdoms and since Herod had come into the emperor’s disfavor as well as having troubles in his realm, it is more than probable that Augustus had conducted a census assessing Herod’s kingdom while Herod was still alive.” [Hoehner, Harold W. (2010-06-29). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Kindle Locations 105-124). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. ]

 

 

The revolt of the Cietae (chronicled by Tacitus) is discussed by Peason, highlighting the 'force' of the Roman emperor on a client-king:

 

"This (passage in Tacitus Ann 6.41) is clear evidence from outside of Palestine that Roman troops had an integral role to play in client kingdoms' affairs, and that a census "in the Roman style" was conducted in this particular client kingdom (not a Roman census, but one in the Roman style: Per idem tempus Cietarum natio Cappa-doci Archelao subiecta, .. . nostrum in modum déferre census, pati tributa adigebatur).  Perhaps Herod's particular brilliance, as I have intimated, was in never letting on to the people that the censuses he was conducting were in the Roman style. When Quirinius came in to register the property of Archelaus'  former subjects, he instituted a census that was completely in the style of the Romans, a census that alerted the people to the fact that they were now under direct Roman rule. It is precisely the revolt in Cappadocia that should illustrate for us that Roman censuses of non-Roman populations were resented and resisted.

 

"Sherwin-White believes that this reference in Ann. 6.41 "is a matter of a client king introducing the Roman census of his own initiative."30 If this is true, then the relationship of this particular client king with Rome needs to be explained. It is more probable, especially in this phase of the relationship between Cappadocia and Rome, that the census was a Roman imposition carried out by the king. Otherwise, why would Roman troops have been dispatched to handle the rebellion of the Cietae? Such a state of affairs can be explained only by supposing that Rome had a much larger part to play in this "kingdom" than is often assumed. While it is probable that Herod had more freedom than his later Cappadocian counterpart, it is most likely that the Roman census process was something which extended to all of Rome's territories, whether they were administered by client "kings" or by Roman governors. " [Pearson, op. cit., 271f]

 

This thesis--that the 'census process' extended to all of the territories--matches the 'process establishment' idea I advanced earlier as the 'third event/process' that would have required a universal enrollment. Pearson might argue that the enrollment was both for the oath and for the 'next step: census time, folks!' policy of Augustus.

 

 

Occasionally, I will see statements in the (older) literature that 'client kings' were exempt from such Roman 'interventions', but there is simply no real data to support such a thesis. The 'role' of a 'client-king' is not one that is 'defined' anywhere in the ancient literature--the 'client-king' role or status actually had NO real definition or rules associated with it. There was no legislation about taxation or non-taxation, registration or non-registration, etc--the relationship was 'negotiable' in every sense of the word. It is therefore historically inaccurate to assert that client-kings were 'exempt by law' or some such from ANY demands of the Roman emperor.

 

“The Roman Empire in the Near East at the time of Augustus was a patchwork rather than a system. It constituted not so much an organized structure as a circuitry of relationships and dependencies. The influence of Rome manifested itself most conspicuously in provinces and governors. But that was only part of the grid. An intricate set of associations was also held with what we conventionally term ‘client kings’. The institution was malleable and fluid, a matter of mutual interest. No formal duties, no uniform constitutional principles underpinned the responsibility fo the parties to such arrangements. Only conventional practices, still in process of evolution in the Augustan Age, linked a number of rulers, especially in the east, to Roman hegemon. In this nebulous netwok, Herod has served as chief exemplar. Modern reconstructions regularly depict him as the quintessential instance of the client king, a loyal and trustworthy satellite of empire. The assessment can benefit from further scrutiny. “ [HI:HAAP,pages 14f; “Herod, Rome and the Diaspora”, Erich S. Gruen, 14-27; The footnotes fault Schurer, Baumann, Schalit. “The statements of Suetonius (Ag. 48,60) delivered from the distant perspective of the High Empire under Hadrian, envision a tighter set of interconnections in the Augustan Age than the evidence would support.”, and faults Grant, Schurer, Smallwood, Baumann, Richardson, Geiger, Schalit for such a portrayal of Herod.]

 

 

We should also note here that there were two factors which might have triggered Augustus to 'apply' his universal provincial (if not 'universal territorial'--which is what the evidence seems to point to) census program to Herod's kingdom: (1) the instability of Herod's kingdom toward the end of his life; and (2) the 'standard' Roman practice of preparing territories for incorporation as provinces once they had become sufficiently 'civilized'.

 

The former factor would have been specialized to Herod's situation--Augustus would have been preparing to take direct control in the case of 'problems' with the heirs. This would have prompted several impositions of imperial will upon Herod, one of which would have been a census, a valuation, and an up-to-date accounting of Augustus' properties (and soon-to-be properties, as granted by Herod's will). [But this would not have been related to a 'universal decree', IMO, so I don’t think it could be very relevant.]

 

The latter factor would have been universal to all territories, but would have been 'imminent' in the case of Herod's kingdom--since Herod had done much to 'Romanize' / 'Hellenize' it. The general policy was to 'civilize' the territories and then incorporate them into the Empire proper. In Herod's case, this would have been the natural next-step after his death, but since the problems in the succession were so severe, these preparations (including the census) would have been wasted--and perhaps needing to be repeated in the near future. So, annexation could be 'good' (a recognition of progress) or 'bad' (a recognition of needing a heavier ruling hand…). [This could have been related to some 'universal decree', but it would have been peripheral, IMO. This factor, though, would be more likely to be connected to a universal policy/decree than the former factor, which was specific to Herod's situation. The universal decree--connected to the 'organizing principle' of the oath to the (divine) Augustus--would logically be a requirement for incorporation of all the territories, so it is worth at least presenting the data for the policy here.]

 

 

 

Factor One: preparing to take over Herod's kingdom in case of problems with the succession and enforcement of Herod's will.

 

"Normally, it seems that Herod collected his own taxes and paid tribute to Rome. However, in 8/7 B.C. Herod came into disfavor with Augustus and was treated as a subject rather than a friend. This would mean Herod’s autonomy would be taken away. It is interesting to note that the people of Herod’s domain took an oath of allegiance to Augustus and Herod which points to a greater involvement of Augustus in Herod’s realm. Herod was getting old and ill and he had much trouble with his sons who were struggling to acquire the throne. Hence, it would have been a good time for Augustus to have an assessment of the domain before Herod’s death so as to prepare for the future rule of his realm. Therefore, since Augustus had taken censuses in other vassal kingdoms and since Herod had come into the emperor’s disfavor as well as having troubles in his realm, it is more than probable that Augustus had conducted a census assessing Herod’s kingdom while Herod was still alive.” [Hoehner, Harold W. (2010-06-29). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Kindle Locations 105-124). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. ]

 

"During the last two or three years of his life Herod was suffering from a serious and painful illness causing acute mental instability as well as severe physical degeneration,153 and it is charitable to suppose that during that period he was not fully responsible for his actions. Down to c. 7 B.C. he had been a firm, stern ruler, and if the Jews hated him, it was primarily for his Hellenism and his attitude towards Judaism rather than for cruelty or oppression. After the execution of Alexander and Aristobulus, he is depicted as a bloodthirsty tyrant. His ferocious punishment of the people who removed the Temple eagle, some of whom were burnt alive (not a normal method of execution), was out of all proportion to their offence; in Christian tradition he ordered the murder of all boys under two years of age in the hope of eliminating a possible rival, a child reported to have been born "King of the Jews"; and only a few days before his death he is said to have imprisoned a large number of prominent Jews at Jericho and given Salome instructions, which she ignored, to have them killed immediately after his death to ensure that it was greeted with mourning, not jubilation…. But whatever may lie behind the tale of the proposed slaughter at Jericho, its conclusion suggests an awareness at his court that in his last days Herod's mental powers were so seriously impaired that his judgment could no longer be trusted. Modern medical and psychological knowledge can explain the background to Herod's last years and provide some excuse for his excesses. Herod's contemporaries and his historian nearly a century later could not, and for them his reaction to the removal of the Temple eagle was a conscious and deliberate piece of barbaric cruelty, for which he expired in well deserved agony… Herod died at Jericho early in 4 B.C. after vain attempts to find alleviation for his pain and then to commit suicide, and his splendid funeral cortege toiled slowly up to the heights of Judaea to bury him at his own request in his fortress of Herodion. Then, with his iron control removed, his kingdom soon dissolved into chaos. [HI:JURR,103,104]

 

"But the much vaunted personal friendship was inevitably conditional on Herod's unquestioning political obedience, and it is possible that he had aroused Augustus' misgivings during recent years by unrecorded acts of undue independence, so that his Nabataean expedition, breaking the pax Romana on the eve of the dedication of the Ara Pads, was the last straw. The fact that Saturninus was not disgraced suggests that Augustus endorsed his decision but that Herod's vengeance had exceeded what the legate had authorized. A year or two later, however, Augustus had the grace to admit that he had been over-severe, by allowing Nicolas of Damascus to come and state Herod's case. Nicolas managed to convince him that the villain of the piece had been Syllaeus, but despite the superficial reconciliation it immediately became apparent that Augustus' confidence in Herod was not fully restored. Obodas of Nabataea had recently died (probably c. 9), and though Augustus, annoyed at the presumption of Aretas IV in taking the throne instead of waiting to have it bestowed on him officially, now contemplated giving the kingdom to Herod, he decided against it, ostensibly on the grounds that Herod with his advancing years and increasing family trouble could not carry the extra responsibility". [HI:JURR, 97ff]

 

"He (Augustus) even thought seriously of turning over the entire kingdom of Arabia to Herod. Such a move would have doubled the size of Herod's kingdom and had the advantage of uniting the two sides of the Jordan Valley, which had for so long been rivals of one another. But Augustus was compelled to acknowledge that internal turmoil in the court of Herod made it unwise to add so substantial a responsibility to those which Herod already had. And so, reluctantly and with no great enthusiasm for the king himself, Augustus confirmed Aretas, known to modern historians as the fourth king of that name, in his rule over the Nabataeans." [HI:RArabia,52f]

 

"When Herod died shortly thereafter, in the spring of 4 B.C., Augustus must have been confronted with a major dilemma in his Near Eastern policy. He was discontent with the situation under Aretas in the Nabataean kingdom, and he had no basis for confidence in the group of relatives to whom Herod had bequeathed the various parts of his kingdom. A multiplicity of Herodian tetrarchs was unlikely to ensure stability in Judaea, and the current Nabataean king had no particular reason to be grateful to Augustus." [HI:RArabia, 53f]

 

 

Factor Two: preparing to take over Herod's kingdom because it was possibly 'ripe' for it--it had been civilized 'enough' for incorporation as a province.

 

"Extensions of territory were not the only indications of Roman confidence in Herod. In 23 Augustus, evidently envisaging at least one further generation of client kings before Palestine was ripe for annexation, gave Herod the high-sounding right to nominate his successor from among his sons. (Footnote: In practice, however, it meant little; it did not amount to declaring the throne hereditary in the normal sense, since events were to show that Herod's choice was subject to Roman ratification.) In 20 Augustus appointed Herod financial adviser to the province of Syria with power to supervise all actions by the procurators there; but what this amounted to in practice is obscure, as there is no record of his advice being either proffered or sought.” [HI:JURR,87f]

 

“With this episode [event described in Pliny/Trajan correspondence], however, we have already passed beyond the period when dependent kingdoms played an important part in the political and military structure of the Empire in the East. For the first and early second centuries had seen a steady tendency, marked by occasional reversals, toward the eradication of dependent kingdoms and their replacement by direct provincial government. Even if we leave out complex minor cases, a summary list of major transformations from kingdom to province would include the following: Cappadocia (AD 18), Mauretania (42), Judaea (44), Thrace (46), Armenia Minor (64), Commagene (72 or 73), Emesa (70s?), the territories of Agrippa II (90s?), Nabataea (106).” [HI:REWE2, 235]

 

 

"W. T. Arnold (The Roman System of Provincial Administration to the Accession of Constantine the Great [new ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1906] 14), with regard to the general Roman practice concerning Rome's client kings, says that "she interfered with their affairs so far as to appoint princes who would rule in her interest, and whose task it was to tame and civilise their subjects till they were fit to come directly under Roman rule." [Pearson, op.cit. p.267, n15]

 

"As Ε. T. Salmon points out regarding client states in general, "client kings were encouraged to foster urbanization and general economic improvement; when their kingdoms had reached a level compatible with that generally prevailing throughout the Empire, they could be and usually were incorporated so as to become provinces or parts of provinces," for Augustus "had made it unmistakably clear that client kingdoms possessed no more than an interim status: annexation was always intended as soon as they were sufficiently romanized." [Pearson, op.cit., 268 - referencing E. T. Salmon, A History of the Roman World from 30 B.C. to A.D. 138 (Methuen*s History of the Greek and Roman World 6; 6th ed.; London: Methuen, 1968) 104-5.]

 

 

"Ultimately all of the major client states of the first century ad were annexed and placed under direct rule. The process looks deliberate and purposeful: pas­sage from indirect rule by friendly king to direct rule by provincial governors. In the absence of any ancient account detailing the motives for annexing most of these kingdoms one is forced to speculate. Friendly kings are seen as a tool of imperial policy, ruling 'backward' areas, 'civilizing' them (for instance, by encouraging the growth of cities and towns in the areas they ruled) and preparing them for full incorporation into the empire. Regarded in this way, the annexation of a kingdom was a sign of its success rather than an indication that its ruler had been incompetent. But this supposes a clear strategy on the part of emperors. There are some vague indications that certain emperors, such as Tiberius and Vespasian, preferred direct rule, but that others, such as Caligula and Claudius, favoured kings. Overall Rome seems to have preferred direct rule over cities, perhaps because city territories tended to be smaller and their resources divided among a number of great civic families, meaning that they were weaker and easier to dominate than the major client states. The process of imposing direct rule looks complete by the early second century, after the annexation of Nabataea in 106." [HI:RSNE, 89]

 

 

 

So, not only is there evidence for census and census-type activities in Judea and in other client-kingdoms, there are also plausible explanations as to why one might be done in Herod's kingdom at that time in history.

 

 

 

How much ‘hard data’ do we even have about imperial or senatorial decrees, or about actual census processes/events in the Empire?

 

 

The answer to this is two-fold:

·         "Surprisingly little, yet enough to believe in an Augustan census policy/reform universal in scope"

·         "Surprisingly little, yet not enough to dismiss the Lukan account as being impossible or inconsistent with Roman praxis"

 

Let's look at each piece of these two statements.

 

"Surprisingly little"

 

* As for general edicts about taxation, we have no 'originals' or even 'copies of originals' (of course), and only a handful of records of edicts by the various emperors. Most of these deal with very specialized cases (e.g. Augustus on Cyrene issues, found in Cyrene; Nero on taxes on overseas shipping).

 

* As for evidence of census/taxation events in the provinces (supposedly all being under Roman taxation demands), we cannot find ANY evidence for 9 of the 32-33 provinces in that time frame.

 

Brunt gives a table of the various types of evidence in the review of Neesen's work [Review by P. A. Brunt of The Revenues of Rome by Lutz Neesen, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol 71 (1981)]. He collates the evidence into three categories:

 

"Column 1 of the Table cites the few literary texts that refer to particular censuses, column II epigraphic testimony to census officials, and column III other documentation: allusions to tributum capitis which clearly imply registrations of persons, as well as direct testimony to registration of either persons or property; and references by Ulpian and Paul to the ius Italicum or immunity of certain cities, which would not have been relevant to their works de censibus had not the tribute paid in the provinces where those cities were situated been based on censuses. Not indeed that we must infer that the census did not extend to these privileged communities; ILS 1146 shows that it was taken at Lugdunum, and Phlegon proves this for Philippi, though both possessed ius Italicum." (p. 164)

 

So, here's the table (summarized, without the specific citations--I probably would need permission to reproduce the table in toto). The BLUE entries are for senatorial provinces, the RED for those under an Imperial Legatus; and Green for those under an Imperial Equestrian. (Of course, the status, organization, and geographical boundaries of these changed frequently, but this will give enough data for the current purpose.) PDF is available at crc.pdf.

 

 

Literary Evidence

Inscriptional Evidence

Oblique evidence

No evidence

1

SICILY

 

 

 

1

2

SARDINIA / Corsica

 

 

 

2

3

BAETICA

 

 

 

3

4

LUSITANIA

 

YES

YES

 

5

TARRACONENSIS

 

YES

YES

 

6

GALLIA  COMATA

YES

YES

YES

 

7

GALLIA NARBONENSIS

 

YES

YES

 

8

LOWER  GERMANY

 

YES

YES

 

9

UPPER GERMANY

 

YES

 

 

10

BRITAIN

 

YES

YES

 

11

RAETIA

 

 

 

4

12

NORICUM

 

YES

 

 

13

DALMATIA

 

 

 

5

14

PANNONIA

 

YES

YES

 

15

MOESIA

 

 

 

6

16

THRACE

 

YES

 

 

17

DACIA

YES

YES

YES

 

18

MACEDON / Epirus

 

YES

YES

 

19

ACHAEA

 

 

YES

 

20

BITHYNIA-PONTUS

 

YES

YES

 

21

ASIA

 

 

YES

 

22

LYCIA-PAMPHYLIA

 

 

 

7

23

GALATIA

 

YES

YES

 

24

CAPPADOCIA

YES

YES

 

 

25

CILICIA

 

 

YES

 

26

CYPRUS

 

 

 

8

27

SYRIA (including JUDAEA)

YES

YES

YES

 

28

CRETE  and CYRENAICA

 

 

implied?

?

29

AFRICA

 

YES

YES

 

30

MAURETANIA (Caesariensis)

 

YES

 

 

31

MAURETANIA (Tingitana)

 

 

 

9

32

(UNKNOWN province/s)

 

YES

 

 

33

Egypt (prefect)

YES

YES

YES

 

 

 

28 with no literary evidence (no actual edict copies on the 5 WITH evidence)

13 with no inscriptions

18 without oblique data

9 with zero attestation

 

 

Our data is 'opportunistic' at best:

 

"We know by chance of censuses in Gaul and perhaps in Spain in 27 B.C. (Dio LIII, 22, 5), and of later censuses under Augustus in Gaul, Lusitania and Syria." [Brunt, 164]

 

"The Table indeed shows that there is no testimony to a census in some senatorial provinces but that is equally true of some imperial provinces, and no reason can be given why a census should have been taken in Macedon but not in Lycia, in Pannonia but not in Moesia. It is mere chance that we have any evidence, direct or indirect, for the practice in any province, and apart from Gaul, the documentation is not significantly greater for imperial than for senatorial provinces." [Brunt, 164]

 

As you can see, the data is surprisingly sparse for something as economically significant as the census (e.g. zero attestation in 30% of the areas).

 

 

"…yet enough to believe in an Augustan census policy/reform universal in scope"

 

Brunt--in contrast to the conclusions reached by Neesen-- consistently affirms the universality of the census process (or extent?), while still pointing out the paucity of the data:

 

"Certainly there was no uniform type of census. In Egypt, with its house-to-house declarations required every fourteen years, its land survey annually revised, and other declarations of moveable goods, there was nothing like the forma censualis described by Ulpian (p. I67). Nor, as N. points out (34 ff.), was there any need for the registration and valuation of property in this forma in provinces where the land tax consisted in the exaction of quotas of produce: what was then required, as in Republican Sicily, was an annual record of the cultivators, whatever their title to the land (subscriptioa ratorum) and of the acreage under particular types of cultivation (…). But it does not follow that no kind of census would then have been necessary. As in Egypt, if there were capitation taxes, the persons liable must have been registered, and so must urban real estate and moveables, if they were also subject to tax. Moreover, Roman citizens, wherever resident, were liable to the vicesima hereditatium, and the government had to know what they were worth. The old census of Roman citizens provided this information (infra). So far as we know, such a census of citizens was taken after A.D. 14 only by Claudius and Vespasian, but it may well be that citizens were also listed with their assets in provincial censuses; certainly they had to be reported in Egypt (Wallace 103), and under Hadrian Phlegon drew particulars of centenarians from the census records alike for Italians, citizens of Roman colonies, e.g. Philippi which possessed ius Italicurn, and for non-Roman provincials (FGH no. 257, F 37)." [Brunt, p.163]

 

"Another piece of evidence points to the universality of the census: Nero's ruling ' ne censibus negotiatorum naves adscriberentur tributumque pro illis penderent ' (Tac., Ann. XIII, 51). In the course of an argument that tributum was probably assessed only on land and its appurtenances, N. suggests (p. 59) that this refers to ships ' quae exportandorum fructuum causa parantur ', which were part of the instrumentum fundi (Dig. XXXIII 7. I2. 1). The context rebuts this suggestion; Tacitus' immediately preceding words state that 'temperata apud transmarinas provincias frumenti subvectio ', and show that he has in mind a privilege analogous to those recorded in Dig. L. 6. 6 etc, conferred not on landowners exporting their own produce but on shipowners employed in the Roman grain trade, especially but not exclusively from Africa and Egypt (cf. G. Rickman, op. cit. ch. v), whose ships had previously, at any rate if not owned by Italians or perhaps if not based on Italian ports, been assessed for tribute in provincial censuses." [Brunt, 164]

 

"And the evidence for tributum capitis is so chancy and so scattered that it is hard to believe that it was not universal, though not of course uniform in incidence," [Brunt, 165]

 

"It follows that the dearth of evidence on provincial censuses does not in itself make N.'s agnosticism plausible; general considerations make it probable that in some form they were universal and regular in the Principate." [Brunt, 166]

 

Smallwood--who believes that Luke misrepresented the policy--still admits that the universal perspective is still probably correct:

 

"And although there is no reference elsewhere to Augustus ever having ordered a simultaneous, universal census, there is sufficient evidence for censuses in various places during his principate to make it credible that work was carried out piecemeal over a period of years to achieve a complete census-record of the whole empire…" [HI:JURR ,568]

 

 

 

"… yet not enough to dismiss the Lukan account as being impossible or inconsistent with Roman praxis"

 

As one might suspect by now, the implementation of Roman policy (especially large-scale operations like taking a valuation-census or enrolling a population or having each resident take a loyalty oath in an 'official setting'), required considerable resources. But Rome never had 'considerable resources' in its territories, with the exception of the army in imperial provinces. Rome always 'adopted and adapted' local administrative mechanisms to fulfill its goals. Using local administrative resources and policies necessarily produced 'non-uniform' results, and this can be clearly seen in the data about enrollments, censuses, and taxation. With so much variation in the historical data, one cannot simply dismiss the Lukan account (as simplistic and terse as it shows up in the text) as being 'impossible' or 'inconsistent' with some generalized view of Roman practice.

 

The variations in the data about the census (especially considering the position discussed immediately above--about the 'universal scope' of census policy) are clearly seen:

 

"There was, however, still no uniformity (in taxation in the Republic); indeed diversity in direct taxation persisted after the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine." [Brunt, p.161]

 

"But some diversity (as N. thinks) must surely be ascribed to the Roman preference for not changing practices they found in operation or had once established." [Brunt, p.162]

 

"The diversity of taxes in different provinces is, however, in itself enough to deter us from generalizing from the Egyptian evidence, unless there are at least hints suggesting that it has a wider application." [Brunt, p. 162]

 

"Roman practice then probably provided Augustus with the inspiration, and a pattern to be followed or adapted, though again wherever the communes had already taken censuses, he could adopt or modify local procedures." [Brunt, p. 163]

 

"Certainly there was no uniform type of census." [Brunt, p. 163]

 

"Hence, the fact that Ulpian's forma censualis cannot have been universally applicable does not prove that some kind of census was not taken in every province. Luke's error would in fact have been more natural if the practice had already been universal in Augustus' time." [Brunt, p.163f]

 

"However it is clear, and important, that the Roman government never sought to impose uniformity in taxation on all provinces. Rome normally took over the existing tax-system, and though changes were occasionally introduced, diversity persisted even after Diocletian. " HI:TRE,183]

 

"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." [Brook W. R. Pearson, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly vol 61 (1999), page 277]

 

"In other words, there is growing evidence from what we know of ancient census-taking practices to believe that in fact Luke got far more right in his account than he got wrong." "Reasons for the Lukan Census", Stanley E. Porter, in Wedderburn, A. J. M., & Christophersen, A. (2002). Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world: essays in honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (Vol. 217, pp. 165–188). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

 

 

BTW, Brunt assumes Luke is incorrect, but only on the basis of misunderstanding the passage: "N. rightly doubts the reliability of very late sources that he had the whole empire systematically surveyed, and denies (39 ff.) that a census was taken simultaneously in all provinces, as Luke (2, I) supposed." But we don’t generally understand Luke to have meant this: "…has been challenged by those who claim that there never was a single census of the entire Roman Empire. However, is this what Luke meant? Probably not. What is meant is that censuses were taken at different times in different provinces—Augustus being the first one in history to order a census or tax assessment of the whole provincial empire." [Hoehner, Harold W. (2010-06-29). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Kindle Locations 83-93). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.] and "But Luke’s statement “all the world” (LK. 2:1 NRSV) does not necessarily mean that every area of the empire was enrolled at the same time.” [Silva, M., & Tenney, M. C. (2009). In The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, A-C. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation.].

 

 

Before going to the next topic, let me remind us that I see the enrollment of Luke 2 as different from a money-centric census (although using the same mechanisms of such), and being more focused on the oath of allegiance. All of the data about the census in the above discussion is still relevance, however, in that it supports the idea of the 'universal policy' orientation of Augustus and the implied mechanisms required to implement many of the individual initiatives (as expressions of that policy).

 

Of course, the data also encourages us toward 'humility' against taking strong positions that Luke simply 'cannot be correct'…smile.

 

 

 

Do we have any evidence for enrollment/taxation/census mechanisms in Herod’s Judea ("Roman style" or other)?

 

 

The answer to this is "yes".

 

We already noted the specific evidence from Josephus that the 'recorder' positions which were used for census and registration processes were present in Herod's Judea.

 

Here we will document more fully that Roman practice was to utilize existing local mechanisms, and that such mechanisms must have been in place in Herod's Judea (and, actually, all the governments before him--Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Hasmonean).

 

 

* Rome did not keep many resources in the provinces, and this required usage of local resources for administration.

 

"Roman rule has justifiably been characterized as 'government without bureau­cracy'.  The empire can be seen as a project in which the local elites conspired. They drew honours and privileges by conniving with the centre of power, employing its symbols to their own ends, and reciprocating by giving Rome their support. Occasionally the strategy did not work. The Jewish revolt has been seen as the result of a conflict between the desires of Rome and the local elites which it backed (in this case the priestly families) and those of a broad mass of lower classes. In this case the strategy failed because the elites did not command the respect of the people. In general, however, the project seems to have functioned well. It enabled Rome to rule by deploying the minimal num­ber of officials — perhaps no more than 350 senior officers for the entire empire c. ad 200. It was an extreme economy of government.

Roman Syria was therefore a collection of self-regulating political entities of various sizes and types, usually ruled by local elites, all of which were loosely managed by a small number of officials appointed by the emperors. … The governor, who was a senator and former consul, was assisted by a tiny group of officers of lower rank: the senatorial legates, each of whom commanded a legion, and a financial officer (procurator) appointed by the emperor." [HI:RSNE, 80]

 

 

 

* It was Roman practice to 'adopt and adapt' local administrative processes and resources.

 

“In addition, during the Republic and later, the term census describes the entering into the tax registers of subiecti liable for tax under Roman jurisdiction--i.e. those who are not cives Romani--together with an estimation of their taxable assets (caput). This is primarily a responsibility of provincial administrations and associated city states, in late antiquity also of the praetorian prefectures (Dig. 50, 15; Cod. Iust. 11,38,10). [Bril’s New Pauly, Encyclopedia of the Ancient World.; vol 3, s.v. “Census” (2).; col 111] 

 

"the whole world to be registered. Or “to register itself.” Luke employs here apographesthai, and in v. 2 apographē, “registration,” the technical Greek equivalents for Latin census (see BDF § 5.3).” [Fitzmyer, J. A. (2008). The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28, p. 400). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

"They (Ptolemies in Egypt) had exploited the whole economy by an extraordinary diversification of direct and indirect taxes, monopolies and licences. In principle this system was adopted by Rome. Even what seem to be Roman innovations may have been anticipated by the later Ptolemies, for whose practice we are less well informed than for the third century B.C. Most Roman taxes in Egypt have a Ptolemaic origin." [Brunt, 162]

 

"The individual is liable to his city, the city to the Roman government. Collection within city territories was normally in the hands of local magistrates or liturgical official." [Brunt, 168]

 

"Further evidence includes the apparent use of Ptolemaic administrative practice in Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine from the third century bce, as evidenced in the Zenon papyri and P. Vindob. G 24,552 (260 bce; SB V no. 8008). During the Herodian period, the system of toparchies instituted by the Ptolemies and retained by the Hasmonaeans was utilized in Judaea (see Josephus, War 3.54–56, using the term κληρουχιαί; Pliny, Nat. Hist. 5.14.70), and included such positions as στρατηγός, τοπάρχης, τοπογραμματεύς, κωμάρχης, κωμογραμματεύς, all well known in the papyri for their administrative functions, with the στρατηγός, τοπογραμματεύς and κωμογραμματεύς being especially prevalent in the census documents." [Porter,…]

 

"As with political systems, so too with taxation: the Romans annexed the traditional financial systems of the states they conquered and did little to change themMethods of assessment differed from one region to another, with no appar­ent logic behind the system. As Roman power expanded in the eastern Mediterranean, the different, traditional tax systems of various communities and regions were incorporated into the fiscal system without much alteration, and Rome then accepted whatever cities and provinces could offer. … The burden of collecting tax fell heavily on the cities, probably because the state recognized them as centres responsible for organizing local production and redistribution. City councils had to elect officials from among their mem­bers to collect the tax. Responsibility for all assessments, and for payment of any tax assessed but not collected, fell upon these officials." [HI:RSNE, 189ff]

 

 

* Herod's administration and will would have required developed and mature data gathering, recording, and utilization mechanisms--such as for census and property valuations. And much material from previous local censuses could be used/revised by later (Roman) ones.

 

"Sherwin-White has stated that "a provincial census in Judaea in the time of the kingdom is an impossibility." This statement is true in the sense that there was certainly no provincial census under Herod's rule. But the supposition that there was a census in Herod's kingdom is necessary for much of the material in Josephus to make sense; contrary to received opinion on the matter, Josephus records a great deal of indirect evidence that a careful and detailed system of census and taxation existed under Herod." [Pearson, 265]

 

“As Pearson has noted, Herod’s will included detailed knowledge of his territory’s resources, including revenues, information probably unavailable without some type of census. This kind of information was used by both Herod and Caesar for various taxation purposes (Josephus, Ant. 15.365; 16.64; 17.319). Therefore, it makes perfect sense to posit some form of census around the time of Herod’s death, even if it was not an official provincial census.” [Wedderburn, A. J. M., & Christophersen, A. (2002). Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world: essays in honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (Vol. 217, p. 177). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

"As F. M. Heichelheim states, "there were poll and land taxes which were directly owed to the king"; furthermore, 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. 17.9.5 §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).12 It seems implausible, therefore, to assume that Judaea had been without the practice of census taking prior to the establishment of direct Roman rule." [Pearson, 266]

 

"When all these considerations are taken into account, it is virtually certain that a census completed by Quirinius in A.D.6 or 7 must have taken a long time to carry through, and would be based on information collected much earlier than the date when it was finished. … The emperor Augustus was very keen on gathering statistics, and he might well have persuaded Herod the Great to carry out a census. Quirinius was sent in A.D.6 to clear up the mess left by Archelaus, and it is quite possible that he would use information gathered earlier rather than beginning the same tedious process all over again. If this was indeed the case, then there is no convincing reason to suppose that Luke’s information about the census is contradictory to the rest of the evidence that he and other writers supply, all of which suggests that Jesus was born about 5B.C.” [Drane, J. W. (2000). Introducing the New Testament (Completely rev. and updated., p. 57). Oxford: Lion Publishing plc.]

 

 

* Even if Herod were administering a Roman or Roman-like census/counting, he would have made sure that the 'appearance' of the action was 'local and Jewish looking'.

 

"Herod was naturally eager to avoid giving to the enrollment an entirely foreign and non-national character … Obviously, the best way to soothe the Jewish sentiment was to give the enrollment a tribal character and to number the tribes of Israel, as had been done by purely national Governments  Many censuses were taken in the Roman empire during the time of Augustus, and there is no reason why Herod might not have been asked to take one, especially in light of conditions near the end of his life. Since censuses were carried out locally, local customs were regarded and Palestine was a delicate area." [The Census And Quirinius: Luke 2:2 , Wayne Brindle, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. (1998) (electronic edition.). Garland, TX: Galaxie Software.JETS 27/1 (March 1984) 43-52]

 

 

 

What would be the relationship between a universal decree and the census events within individual geographies (e.g., Egypt versus Germany), differing government status (e.g. senatorial province, imperial province, Italian cities, etc), and differing internal situations (e.g. turbulence in the Augustus/Herod relationship, impending death, preparation for annexation)?

 

I honestly cannot see a possible relationship other than:

·         They would certainly use the same mechanisms of local administrations, albeit with some 'extra authority' associated with an imperial decree perhaps;

·         A universal decree might alter the timing of a local census by moving it earlier than perhaps originally scheduled.

 

Of course, the answer to this depends greatly on the TYPE of 'universal decree'. If it was/were a census/taxation decree, then the two possibilities above would obtain; if the universal decree was about an oath of loyalty, then the second possibility (i.e. change in timing of a census) would not really be relevant.

 

In our case, since I have argued that both factors were in play at the same time (i.e. a universal oath of loyalty and at least a 'movement toward' a universal census 'philosophy' [but not process or sequencing], then both would also apply.

 

Point one is almost a given: pre-Roman administrative mechanisms were reused/recycled by the Roman government, so there is certainly no reason to doubt that these 'newly-Roman' mechanisms were themselves reused/recycled for other Roman processes too (e.g. census mechanisms for loyalty oath registration).

 

Point two is difficult to assess since we really do not HAVE any firm 'periodization' of census activities in the Empire. One hears a lot in the literature about '14 year intervals', but this really is not a firm or trustworthy number--the sparse facts we have suggest either randomness or externally-driven implementation.

 

"The impression is that the system in the early empire was disorganized, inefficient and contingent (but this also made it flexible), despite some attempts by emperors to systematize procedures. Censuses do not appear to have been regular…" [HI:RSNE,189ff]

 

"Knowledge of censuses in the Graeco-Roman world has been greatly advanced in recent years by the publication of a range of evidence that has extended our knowledge of census procedure and dating. At the time of Ramsay’s writing, it was thought that censuses were held in Egypt every 14 years from 20 ce on. On the basis of Augustus’s censuses, Ramsay speculated that there were also censuses in 23 bce, 9 bce and 6 ce. Since that time, with further significant discoveries as recently as 1991,39 however, it has been established that Egyptian censuses occurred in 14-year intervals from 19/20 ce on (19/20, 33/34, 47/48, etc.), but before that at 7-year intervals, at 11/10 bce, 4/3 bce, 4/5 ce, and 11/12 ce, with the declarations made in the year given and the register established in the following one. There is thus some basis for thinking that there were four censuses in Egypt during the reign of Augustus, in the following regnal years: 20 (11/10 bce), 27 (4/3 bce), 34 (4/5 ce), 41 (11/12 ce). Direct papyrological evidence exists for the registration of 10/9 BCE (and thus by implication the declaration in 11/10), and the declarations and registrations, respectively, of 4/5 and 5/6 ce, and 11/12 and 12/13. It is also possible that one’s status declaration (ἐπίκρισις) was made in the year before the actual census declaration. As a result of the firmness of this evidence, it has been noted recently that the census of Quirinius in 6/7 ce clearly did not coincide in time with the Egyptian census of 4/5 ce, nor with any of the others. This is not surprising, however, since Quirinius’s census would have correlated with Judaea being annexed to the province of Syria, a necessary political action taken to show political control and to establish knowledge of the territory." [Porter, in Wedderburn, A. J. M., & Christophersen, A. (2002). Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world: essays in honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (Vol. 217, p. 177). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

Even in the case of the Roman internal census--the lustrum--the 'official' time period of 5 years was not implemented consistently. Augustus specifically stated in Res Gestae that there was a long gap in this: "And in my sixth consulship (28 BC), with Marcus Agrippa as my colleague, I conducted a census of the people. I performed the lustrum after an interval of forty-two years…"

 

What this means for me is that all of the evidence given by scholars to anchor the event in Luke in various types of censuses (as in 'taxation' and/or 'valuation') activities is basically irrelevant to the 'timing' issue, but does nonetheless demonstrate the existence of mechanisms which could be used for non-taxation enrollments such as the oath of loyalty or simple 'headcount' numbers.

 

 

 

What is the relationship between the location of enrollment and Davidic ancestry (if any)?

 

 

This is a bit tricky, because Luke's wording gives us no real clues as to any 'hard' connection.

 

The relevant elements are these:

·         'his own town' -- This is not a technical term (as we noted at the beginning of the article) since it applies to Nazareth a couple of verses later.

·         'town' -- is 'polis' , which is a reference to a Greek-type civic unit. Luke calls Nazareth a polis in the same sentence. It could, of course, be a REAL 'polis' (like Jerusalem) or a simple 'village' (kome) like Bethlehem (John calls Bethlehem a kome--John 7.42). It is more of a legal descriptor than a demographic one. Luke can use polis and kome in the same clause (8.1; 13.22), and he uses polis of Nazareth, Capernum, Nain, Bethsaida, Jerusalem, Arimathea. He uses kome of a suburb of Jerusalem (Bethany), while Mark and John call it a kome. So, there's not much info here.

·         'City of David' -- can only mean 'City of David's birth and birth-family'.

·         'Bethlehem' -- is merely a geographical detail (further connecting the Son of David with King David).

·         'because' (dia with the accusative)

·         "he was of the house (oikou) and lineage (patrias) of David" -- this is clearly a reference to legal and physical connection to David.

·         'House' -- could refer to the dynastic element (Joseph would recognize David's authority over him, even if there were no blood connection and share in the 'fortunes' of David, for good or ill) as in Zechariah's praise-song (1.69). But could just as naturally refer to 'shared responsibility over clan property' as in in Luke's first mention of Joseph (1.27)

·         'Lineage' -- would mean ancestry due to blood/biology (but it might be available through adoption, in some cases). It is a kinship word, and would be a membership word ('membership in the clan of David')

·         Both house and lineage suggest genealogy-based inheritance rights--Joseph is connected with promises of God (in Luke's narrative), and more mundane matters such as joint property ownership (and therefore some types of taxes and/or declarations of value on that property).

·         But it need not require ownership of property for a registration--it could be the simple 'family tree' listing that shows up in Biblical genealogies.

 

 

 

 

 

The travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem would likely have been made by many other people, since there had been a recent migration from Beth2Nazy (possibly for the employment opportunities in the building of Sepphoris):

 

"Archaeological evidence in the region of Nazareth indicates that many people had moved there from Judea, from the area near Bethlehem. Joseph may have had friends or relatives in Nazareth (cf. Lk 2:4). Nazareth was on a major road from the coast to Syria and only a few miles from the culturally diverse city of Sepphoris, which was being rebuilt at this time. Though small, Nazareth would not have been isolated from broader cultural currents of antiquity. .. Pottery samples suggest a recent migration of people from the Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time; Joseph’s legal residence is apparently still Bethlehem, where he had been raised" [BBC]

 

 

 

 

Even though Bethlehem was not a large town in the time of the Nativity, much of what WAS there was probably 'owned' by the 'house of David'. David's family was probably affluent and influential:

 

"The Bible hints that David’s family was affluent and socially prominent. The expression gibbôr ḥayîl (NRSV: “rich man”) used for Boaz, David’s great-grandfather, in Ruth 2:1 and for Kish, Saul’s father, in 1 Samuel 9:1 (NRSV: “man of wealth”) also occurs for David in 1 Samuel 16:18, where the NRSV “man of valor” makes the next descriptor, “man of war,” redundant. It may also be inferred from 1 Samuel 16:5, in which Samuel sanctifies Jesse and his sons after commanding the elders of Bethlehem to sanctify themselves, that Jesse was one of those elders and thus a leading citizen of the city." [McKenzie, S. L. (2005). David’s Family. In (B. T. Arnold & H. G. M. Williamson, Eds.) Dictionary of the Old Testament: historical books. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

Bethlehem had been resettled after the Exile, and the returnees seemed to re-occupy their tribal inheritances:

 

"Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town."  (Ezr 2:1; "Each to his own city clearly designates that the places from which the Babylonians exiled the Jewish people were to be occupied by the Jews. This shows that after a period of c. fifty-three years the memory of the places from which families were taken was still very much alive." [Fensham, F. C. (1982). The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (p. 48). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.])

 

 

So, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Bethlehem of Joseph's time had a strong Davidic 'contingent' and had enough people to authenticate someone's claim to membership in the clan and/or ownership of clan property.

 

Of course, Bethlehem as a city was an important (albeit small) town in Judean history, due to (1) its military-friendly location; (2) its strategic geographical location; and, in NT times, (3) its proximity to Herodium.

 

"As an early Canaanite settlement it was associated with the patriarchs, for Rachel died and was buried in its vicinity (Gn 35:16, 19; 48:7). The earliest known historical reference to Bethlehem occurs in the Amarna texts (14th century b.c.) in which battle reports refer to bitil u-lahama south of Jerusalem. … A branch of Caleb’s family settled there, and Caleb’s son Salma was known as “the father of Bethlehem” (1 Chr 2:51). Bethlehem was the home of a young Levite who served as priest to Micah (Jgs 17:8), and of Boaz, Ruth, Obed, and Jesse, the Bethlehemite, David’s father (Ru 4:11, 17; 1 Sm 16:1, 4). Bethlehem was the birthplace of David (1 Sm 17:12) and the home of one of David’s mighty men, Elhanan (2 Sm 23:24; 1 Chr 11:26). It was the scene of a daring exploit by three of David’s warriors; they broke through the cordon of Philistine marauders occupying Bethlehem to bring David water from the well (or cistern) “near the city gate” of his hometown (2 Sm 23:14–17). Much later, Bethlehem is mentioned as being adjacent to the village of Geruth Chimham, where Jews fleeing from the Babylonians stayed en route to Egypt (Jer 41:17). People from Bethlehem were among those returning from the Babylonian exile (Ezr 2:21; Neh 7:26; 1 Esd 5:17).

When Jesus was born there in NT times, Bethlehem was only a village (Mt 2:1–16; Lk 2:4–6, 15; Jn 7:42). It lay near the N-S highway connecting Jerusalem with Hebron to the south. A transverse route across the Judean hill country followed the Valley of Elah to Bethlehem, one of 7 such E-W roads. The central mountain ridge of Judea sloping E and W contracts from an average width of 8 miles to only 2 miles or less between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This feature provided a natural borderland, Jerusalem being the most southerly border town of the northern region, and Bethlehem the most important northern border town of the southern area of Judea. So although it remained small, Bethlehem was never a daughter settlement of Jerusalem. The arid Judean wilderness extended westward right to the gates of such cities as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tekoa, and Hebron, enhancing their strategic locations as outposts looking out on the desert. Bethlehem is situated on one of the highest summits of the Judean tableland. Its cultivated fields still occupy patches between the many ravines. Eastward, drought and desert nomads set the limit to cultivation, the land becoming pastureland. As an ecological borderland, wheat gave place to barley, a more drought-resistant grain (Ru 2:23). We know of shepherds in the area from stories of the boyhood of David (1 Sm 17:40) and of Christ’s nativity (Lk 2:8). As a border garrison, Bethlehem guaranteed the independence of Judea; hence the efforts of the Philistines to control it (2 Sm 23:14) and of Rehoboam to fortify it further (2 Chr 11:6). … Under the census decree of Caesar Augustus, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem “because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Lk 2:4). The family may still have had property there." [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House., s.v. "Bethlehem"]

 

"Bethlehem is located in the Judean hill country about five miles south of Jerusalem. It has an elevation of about twenty-five hundred feet above sea level and lies on a spur of the central north-south ridge that runs through Palestine. The ancient town occupied a strategic position. To the east was the Judean desert, the extremely rugged and arid band of land on the west bank of the Dead Sea that often provided sanctuary for rebels and dissident groups. To the west was the fertile Judean hill country that provided tillable slopes and valleys for the cultivation of cereal crops, vineyards, and love and gif orchards, as well as grazing land for sheep and goats. Consequently, there were economic and political implications to Bethlehem's surroundings. Agriculture and shepherding were always an important part of the economy of Bethlehem, and control of the site provided protection for the Judean interior to the west…Its role as a strategic military site in the hill country of Judah is reflected in the accounts of its Philistine occupation during the reign of David (2 Sam 23:14-16) and its fortification during the reign of Rehoboam (2 Chron 11:5-6)….And as if to provide a constant reminder of his presence in the area, Herod the Great constructed a palace-fortress, Herodium, four miles southeast of Bethlehem and in clear view of the town." [HI:COBW, s.v. "Bethlehem", 251f, 253]

 

"Joseph and Mary were natives of Bethlehem, where they had a 'house' according to Matthew (Matt 2:11). Luke concurs that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the 'city of David' (Luke 2:4-7); thus some scholars argue that the Gospel's attempt to link Jesus to a messianic role by emphasizing that his birthplace is Bethlehem. It is more likely, however, that Jesus' birth in Bethlehem was an embarrassment to the early Christians, because he did not act like a Davidic Messiah. According to the 1st century BCE, Psalms of Solomon, the Davidic Messiah would expel foreigners (e.g., the Romans) and brutally purify the Jewish people of sinners (Ps. Sol. 17). Jesus' complete lack of a political agenda of this nature makes the invention of Bethlehem as his birthplace rather improbable." [NIDB, s.v. "Bethlehem", Jerome Murphy-O'Connor]

 

"The mention of a “house” [Mtt 2.11] is often supposed either to contradict Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in a stable or to indicate a sufficient time-lapse to allow the family to relocate to better quarters in Bethlehem. It is, however, becoming increasingly recognized that the “stable” owes more to Western misunderstanding than to Luke, who speaks only of a “manger.” In a normal Palestinian home of the period the mangers would be found not in a separate building but on the edge of the raised family living area where the animals, who were brought into the lower section of the one-room house at night, could conveniently reach them. The point of Luke’s mention of the manger is not therefore that Jesus’ birth took place outside a normal house, but that in that particular house the “guest-room” was already occupied (by other census visitors?) so that the baby was placed in the most comfortable remaining area, a manger on the living-room floor. There is therefore no reason why they should not be in the same “house” when Matthew’s magi arrive." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 74–75). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

"Herodium. A palace-fortress built by Herod the Great on the site known in Arabic as Jebel el-Fureidis. It is situated 13 km S of Jerusalem, 6 km SE of Bethlehem (N of the biblical Tekoa), on the edge of the Judean desert."  [ABD]

 

"The Massacre of the Innocents (Matt 2:16), would have been the work of Herod’s royal troops—perhaps from Jerusalem or Herodium." [Kennedy, D. (1992). Roman Army. In (D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.]

 

So, Bethlehem might have been a logical place for census/enrollment actions (especially with an enforcement arm only 4 miles away in Herodium), but our text makes the travel relative to personal history ('each to his own town') and not to 'the nearest census center'. Thus, I don’t think Bethlehem is mentioned except as an indication of where Joseph's family is from.

 

 

So, why the mention of Joseph's family background (as being of the line of David)?

 

There are several lines of argument that tie the family background to the loyalty oath, and especially in rural population contexts.

 

 

One. Loyalty oaths (and the related 'treaties' and 'covenants') were often made by families, tribes, or other kinship groups. The family ethos of the ANE is well-known, and the samples we have of Roman oaths show entire cities or dynastic families 'swearing allegiance' to Rome. Even though the head-of-household or senior elder might be the one to 'shake hands', the entire kinship group would be expected to ratify this publically. Joseph would--under this common practice--be expected to participate in the loyalty oath proceedings of his kinship group in Bethlehem.

 

 

 

Two. This might have been especially important for the 'Davidic' kinship group, since messianic expectations were beginning to heighten. Although the Roman government itself would not be aware of it (and therefore, not particularly hyper about making sure the "potential Davidic messiahs" all swore allegiance (!)), the same cannot be said of Herod (who obviously WAS upset by the nativity events) nor of the public (as revealed in the Jewish writings of the period--especially Psalms of Solomon).

 

 

 

Three. People making loyalty oaths would still need to be 'identified' as being who they claimed to be, and family genealogies would provide a 'checklist' of who all needed to make the oath. The only real way to verify personal identity in the ancient world (outside of public officials and the elites) was through family and local witnesses. For someone to 'sign off' that Joseph was 'who he claimed to be' and that 'his slot' in the family records (probably also in the local admin archives) had made the loyalty oath, would require witnesses who were themselves already authenticated (i.e., known to the persons recording the oath-event). This, of course, essentially requires a trip back to the 'homestead' to fulfill these requirements.

 

 

 

Four. Kinsman knowledge of one another (as mentioned in the preceding point) was essential in all inheritance proceedings (and therefore in all asset/ownership valuations). This reality is evidenced in many ANE legal contexts of succession, and is a main component in Roman law as well. If our loyalty oath also included a reference to personal property (as being pledged or as being a possible punitive recourse in the case of oath-breaking), then the need for physical presence (for authentication) is also required.

 

 

From Roman law we find:

 

"If anyone who has no direct heir dies intestate the nearest male agnate shall have the estate. If there is not a male agnate the male clansman shall have the estate." [The Twelve Tables, Table V (Inheritance and Guardianship), items 4 and 5; footnote clarifies: "The family of the Roman civil law (ius civile) is the agnatic family; the family of the law of nations (ius gentium) is the cognatic family…Clansman include agnates, when these exist"; from HI:ARS:10,14]

 

 

 

 

Five. Tribal units contain smaller family units, although a tribe IS a family (genealogically speaking). Judah would be a 'tribe' and the 'lineage of David' would be a sub-group of that. Joseph is connected to the sub-group and not to the larger tribe of Judah (which would comprise too much of the population to be a meaningful classification unit). This would reflect ancient Israelite convention, where people were 'of the house of X' where X was a 'more famous' (and therefore recognizable) figure than perhaps the immediate parents or grandparents. So, we have "x of the house of Saul" (for a wide range of kingship connections) or "X son of Y son of Z" (with genealogical 'skips' over less-known persons in the line of descent). Joseph could have come through any of the sons of David (or even have married into the line of David)--e.g. Solomon or Nathan--and the reference to the greater name (i.e. DAVID) would still be common. Had all of the "house and lineage of David" moved from Bethlehem to some other place, perhaps Joseph would have had to go there to be at 'his own town'. But, given the tendency of families to 'stay put'--live on the land that they inherited generation after generation--this alternative scenario does not have to be evaluated. His kinfolk had 'returned to their own town' after the Exile, and stayed there through the Seleucid and Ptolemaic periods.

 

 

 

Six. People were identified by their tribe/families in the ancient world, and so much so that even 'fictive' kinship relationships were invoked to 'situate' an individual. Roman citizenship, for example, was based upon membership in one of the original 'tribes' of Rome, and non-Romans had to be artificially 'grafted' into one of the original families in order to be classified as Roman.

 

 

"THE NAME, FATHER, TRIBE and COGNOMEN of the persons selected to be indicated. The person who selects the 450 judices for this year…on the … day after he has selected them shall attend to the registration, on a tablet of white with black letters, of the names of all those persons who have been selected members of the panel of 450 for this year, in accordance with this law, and the names of their fathers and of their tribes and their cognomens, and he shall have them arranged in a list according to tribes, and he shall keep these lists posted during his magistracy. If anyone wishes to copy these, the praetor shall give permission and shall afford to whoever wishes it the opportunity of so writing." [Acilian Law on the Right to Recovery of Property Officially Extorted, section 7; from HI:ARS:39]

 

 

"THE GRANT OF CITIZENSHIP. If anyone of the aforesaid persons who is not a Roman citizen reports the name of another person as an offender in accordance with this law…shall be made a Roman citizen, if he wishes, himself and his children, who are born to him when he becomes a Roman citizen in accordance with the law, and the grandsons then born to said son shall be full Roman citizens; and they shall vote in that tribe in which the person accused in accordance with this law voted, and they shall be registered by the censor in that tribe, and they shall be exempt from military service…" [Acilian Law on the Right to Recovery of Property Officially Extorted, section 48; from HI:ARS:44]

 

"…we [Octavian] bestow on him [Seleucus son of Theodotus of Rhosos] , his parents, his children, his descendants, and his wife, whoever shall so become… citizenship… The aforesaid person, his parents, his children, and his descendants shall be members of the tribe Cornelia, their vote shall be cast in that tribe, and it shall be permitted…" [Letters and Decress of Octavian on a Grant of Citizenship, II.2,3; from HI:ARS:111; footnote clarifies: "Membership in a Roman tribe was necessary [for citizenship]. Seleucus was permitted to enroll in one of the old aristocratic country tribes."]

 

 

Seven. There never seemed to be much change in local administrative procedures from the pre-Exilic period on through the Romans. Towns had their one or two 'officials' (all locals) and records, and when the 'next conqueror' came through, the system remained the same. If it was tribal/family-based in its inception, it remained so during Babylonian, Persian, Seleucid, Ptolemaic, Hasmonean, and Roman periods (even during the Jewish revolts). What little data we have indicates more continuity than discontinuity, in the way population was measured, valued, taxed, and controlled. One would expect this to be the case for the reasons mentioned above: personal identity authentication, comprehensiveness of implementation/enforcement, and efficiency of 'habitual' compliance (i.e., minimal 'change management' costs). We have noted and documented this above/earlier, but here is some additional sources.

 

"Local “mayors” (komarchai) are not attested in the entire province; however, it seems probable that the Hasmonean Mattathias (prior to the Maccabean Revolt) and (afterward) his son Jonathan exercised (as “judges”) such an administrative function at Modein and Michmash, respectively (1 Macc 2:17; 9:73). Local traditions manifested themselves fairly strongly at the lower (local) level, whereas in the first half of the 2d century the Greco-Macedonian element predominated at the top of the administrative system." [Fischer, T. (1992). Palestine, Administration of: Seleucid Adminstration. In (F. H. Cryer, Trans., D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.]

 

"Once Jerusalem had been liberated and Israel redeemed, the Prince of Israel had to organize the land for the continuation of the revolt. The administrative machinery and the division of the land into toparchies which had been set up by the Romans were apparently retained by Bar Cochba. He controlled the land of Judaea, especially the fertile Shephelah, and from the new documents we learn additional names of villages and districts under his control." [Fitzmyer, J. A. (1997). The Semitic Background of the New Testament: Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament (pp. 335–336). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK; Livonia, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Dove Booksellers.]

 

"Typical of the narrative of the Gospels is the rural atmosphere of JUDEA and of the tetrarchies administered under the house of Herod and the procurators. As A. H. M. Jones (Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed. [1971]) has pointed out, the Ptolemaic system of villages, grouped into districts known as toparchies, prevailed in 1st-cent. Palestine. The village clerk administered the community as an official of the central government, and the commandant controlled the whole of the toparchy. A large village—possibly an 'îr in origin—acted as the administrative center of the toparchy. (See also S. Dmitriev, City Government in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor [2005].) … These large villages often had the size of a city, with even 10–15,000 inhabitants, but with legal precision Mark, for example, calls BETHSAIDA a village (Mk. 8:22–27). Luke and Matthew do not concern themselves with the precision of Mark, using the two terms “village” and “city” indiscriminately. To them CAPERNAUM, GADARA, and Bethsaida are “cities” (Matt. 8:34; 9:1; 11:20–23; Lk. 4:31; 9:10), possibly because they were the head villages of toparchies. The parable of the talents (Lk. 19:17–20) is an allusion to this system of districts under the control of major villages." [Silva, M., & Tenney, M. C. (2009). In The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, A-C. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation.]

 

"Municipal Government. The executive management of the Roman empire depended upon local self-government through a varied pattern of urban and rural or tribal communities (municipia, poleis, civitates, gentes). The economy of the ancient world was primarily agricultural and pastoral. The land produced not only food and drink but also the raw materials for clothing, housing, and shipping, and many luxury goods. Products were processed and distributed through townships and cities, which were the seat of local government and the residential centers of the landowning aristocrats, who in the Mediterranean area seldom lived on their estates. Hence a complex system of town life evolved. In the civilized lands such as Syria and Asia, where Christianity developed, public and social life, including dramatic, musical, and athletic festivals, religious celebrations, and the activity of local government, was concentrated in the Hellenistic townships. Power was in the hands of annual officers or magistrates, elected by an assembly of the free inhabitants of the commune, and of a civic council composed either of ex-magistrates and aldermen, holding office for life, or else annually elected councilors. Only the wealthy could hold office, and the councils and magistrates were generally the only ones possessing effective power. In some Greek cities, however, the assemblies of the people retained a limited power of decision, but no popular demonstrations could carry much weight. The magistrates not only managed the secular life of the city and its local jurisdiction, but also held the local priesthoods and maintained the public worship of the civic gods, an integral part of city life…. In Judea the pattern was different. Hellenized cities were rare. Large villages or rural townships, managed informally by councils of elders—“the rulers of the synagogue”—were the basic units (cf. Mk. 13:9; Mt. 5:21f.; 10:17; Lk. 8:41; 11:43; 20:46). These were grouped into “toparchies” administered by commandants (Gk. stragegoí) and village scribes for purposes of provincial government." [Sherwin-White, A. N. (1979–1988). Provinces, Roman. In (G. W. Bromiley, Ed.)The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans.]

 

"Roman provincial government has been described as “supervisory rather than executive” (Sherwin-White, ISBE 3:1027), which meant that few Roman officials were involved, detailed administration being in the hands of municipal authorities or, in the case of Judea, councils of elders grouped into toparchies. Revenue was raised by a system of tax farming. Local laws and religious customs were usually respected as long as they did not interfere with smooth government." [Edwards, R. B., Reasoner, M., & Porter, S. E. (2000). Rome: Overview. In (C. A. Evans & S. E. Porter, Eds.)Dictionary of New Testament background: a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

 

 

 

Eight. Objections to the position that genealogy COULD EVER BE a practical basis for taxation are subverted by (1) the nature of the event as one of loyalty oath rather than taxation; and (2) the fact that sections of Israel/Judah are KNOWN to have had 'real processes' based on genealogy.

 

"ENROLLMENT; ENROLLED [Heb yāḥaš, also kāṯaḇ; Gk apográphō, apographé̄ (Lk. 2:2), synkatapsēphízomai (Acts 1:26), katalégomai (1 Tim. 5:9)]; AV RECKONED, also GENEALOGY (2 Ch. 31:16–18), WRITTEN, TAXED (Lk. 2), TAXING (Lk. 2:2), NUMBERED (Acts 1:26), “taken into the number” (1 Tim. 5:9); NEB also REGISTERED, REGISTRATION, “entered in the roll” (Ezk. 13:9), “assigned a place” (Acts 1:26), “put on the roll” (1 Tim. 5:9), “citizens” (apográphō, He. 12:23). A listing or census of people according to family (tribal) relationship and/or occupation.

Although we have no details of how such enrollments were made or how and where such records were kept, there can be no doubt that the practice had a long history. In the Bible, for example, we find it from the wilderness period to the apostolic age.

Because of the great importance attached to keeping the tribal inheritance intact, family and tribal genealogical registers were kept. A “register of the house of Israel” is mentioned in Ezk. 13:9. A genealogical register seems to be preserved in 1 Ch. 1–8 (cf. 1 Ch. 9:1a, “So all Israel was enrolled by genealogies”). Josephus tells us that he has set down the genealogy of his family as he found it described in the public records (Vita 1). It is obvious that the Jewish marriage laws concerning prohibited degrees of consanguinity required a carefully kept system of genealogical records.

A specific use of genealogical registers pertained to the priests. In order to prove his right to serve as a priest and to receive support, a man had to be able to prove his descent from Levi (cf. Ezr. 2:61–63; Neh. 7:61–65). An enrollment (numbering) of the Levites was made by David (1 Ch. 23:3). Josephus, with indefensible hyperbole, says that the high-priestly record extended back over two thousand years (C. Ap i.36).

The use of the enrollment (numbering or census) for the purpose of raising an army — superficially similar to the “draft” — likewise is found. The first such enrollment was made by Moses at the command of God (Nu. 1:2f). This seems to have been more for the purpose of maintaining order in the encampments and marches than for war." [W. S. LASOR, in Bromiley, G. W. (Ed.). (1979–1988). In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans.]

 

 

 

Where this nets out to is basically this: Joseph went to his hometown for the government-required loyalty oath, because that was the way it 'had always been done' (i.e. local officials who knew the populace, kinfolk who could verify identity, and family records to check for completeness).

 

This would mean that the only connection between Davidic lineage and the registration is that of locale. He would be registered as taking the loyalty oath in the presence of his fellow-Davidic descendants.

 

 

Summary of Part One: Everything in the text of Luke fits with what we know about the Augustan context and local situation in Judea. "No trouble found" so far (smile).

 

…………………….

(End of Part ONE… will start on the next part on "TIMING" when I get a space to breathe…sigh/smile… ).

 

 


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