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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Post

Jimmy Akin has a series of posts on another board in which he looks at the ever-popular, yet seasonal issue of when Jesus was born.
  1. The 100-Year Old Mistake About the Birth of Jesus
  2. Jesus’ Birth and when Herod the Great *Really* Died
  3. Does Luke Contradict Himself on When Jesus Was Born?
  4. What Year Was Jesus Born? The Answer May Surprise You
This is a short precis of his material.
One often hears the figure of 6 or 7 BC for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. "The reasoning goes like this," Mr. Akin writes. "Jesus was born late in the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. Furthermore, the wise men saw the star rise in the east two years before they came to visit Jerusalem, where they met Herod. Back up two years from 4 B.C. and you get 6 B.C. Back up another year in case Herod didn’t die immediately after they visited, and you get 7 B.C." Couple this with the statement that Herod ordered all male children aged 2 and under, figure he was bracketing the age to make sure he got his target, and figure Jesus was born about a year earlier still!

However, traditional dating (translated to modern chronology) is summarized in this table, which Mr. Akin distills from Jack Finegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology (p. 291):

The Alogoi  4 B.C. or A.D. 9
 Cassiodorus Senator  3 B.C.
 St. Irenaeus of Lyon  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 St. Clement of Alexandria  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 Tertullian of Carthage  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 Julius Africanus  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 St. Hippolytus of Rome  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 “Hippolytus of Thebes”  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 Origen of Alexandria  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 Eusebius of Caesarea  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 Epiphanius of Salamis  3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
 Orosius  2 B.C.
 Dionysius Exiguus  1 B.C.
 The Chronographer of the Year 354  A.D. 1

Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Short) is the one responsible for our BC/AD dating and is an outlier. Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, and Hippolytus of Rome, Jimmy Akin points out, all wrote in the late 100s or early 200s, rather closer to the events. The consensus figure was that Jesus was born in 3 or 2 BC, not 7 or 6 BC

Dead Herod

But did Herod die in 4 BC?  Scholars had previously favored 1 BC and this seems to be supported by Roman sources. But in the late 1800s, a German scholar named Emil Schurer proposed the earlier date. "This view caught on among scholars, and so now it's common for people to date the birth of Jesus no later than 4 B.C." But this is based on some ambiguous interpretations of statement in Josephus.

Josephus states that Herod was appointed king by the Romans in the 184th Olympiad and in the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio. Alas, these indicate two disjoint years. But if we go by Dio Cassius, a Roman source, the appointment was made in 39 BC, consistent with the consulship. Josephus customarily skipped partial years in his enumeration, so he would have started his count at 38 BC. He said that Herod ruled 37 years from the time of his appointment, and that gives us 1 BC as the year of his death.

He further states that Herod ruled for 34 years after his conquest of Jerusalem and the slaying of the last Hasmonean king. But he dates the conquest ambiguously. It might work out to either 37 BC or to 36 BC. Adding 34 years, we get Herod dying either in 2 BC (if the conquest was in 37) or in 1 BC (if it was in 36).

But Josephus further said that Herod died between a lunar eclipse and Passover. A partial lunar eclipse occurred before Passover in 4 BC, but a total lunar eclipse occurred before Passover in 1 BC. The full eclipse left enough time for Herod to do those things Josephus says he did in that time frame, and is more likely than a partial eclipse to be thought significant.

So Herod the Great would have died between 10 Jan 1 BC (the lunar eclipse) and 11 April 1 BC (Passover), more likely closer to the latter.

Now it gets interesting

After Herod the Great died, his son Archelaus took over Judea and made such a royal hash of things that the Romans stepped in and instituted Direct Rule. They deposed Archelaus and sent a legate named Coponius in his place, and annexed Judea to the province of Syria, whose new governor was to be Quirinius (Cyrenius in Greek). Quirinius audited the books in Judea to see how bad things were.

Josephus writes:
NOW Cyrenius, a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul, and one who, on other accounts, was of great dignity, came at this time into Syria, with a few others, being sent by Caesar to he a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance. Coponius also, a man of the equestrian order, was sent together with him, to have the supreme power over the Jews. Moreover, Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus's money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion of Joazar, who was the son of Beethus, and high priest; so they, being over-persuaded by Joazar's words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute about it.
-- Antiquities of the Jews - Book XVIII, Ch. 1.
This was the hated Tax Census of Quirinius, dated to AD 6. Like most Roman tax censuses in other provinces, it led to unrest, tamped down here by the temple authorities. It marked the start of a Zealot movement that ended eventually in the destruction of Jerusalem, so to people of Luke's time, it would have been a significant benchmark in local history.

Luke gives us the following info:
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria." 
-- Luke 2:1-2
Here's the problem. If Quirinius took his census in AD 6 and Herod died in 1 BC, it would be impossible for Jesus to be born in Herod's reign (Luke 1:5) AND during Quirinius' tax-census (Luke 2:1-2).

So was Luke stoopid or what? But Luke wrote in the tradition of Greek historiography, and we should expect his research to have been meticulous. He may have made errors; but then so did Josephus and every other ancient historian. They would not, however, have been stupid errors.

Now, Luke's Greek (TOF is informed) is grammatically obscure at this point. It reads:
houtos apographē prōtos ginomai Kyrēnios hēgemoneuō ho Syria
N.T. Wright was not the first scholar to point out that in the Greek of the time, prōtos used in conjunction with the genitive case meant "before." We can translate the passage as
“This registration happened first, [before] Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
So why mention Quirinius at all?  The tax census of AD 6 was infamous, an historical benchmark in that part of the world. Luke was using it "to provide Theophilus with a general frame of reference. Luke is saying, in essence, 'You remember the cause célèbre that happened when Quirinius took a census as governor of Syria. Well, there was in fact a less famous census before that one, the very first census of its kind, which precipitated a journey by Jesus’s family to Bethlehem.' Chronological precision was not required even in very good Hellenistic historiography, and so Luke is content to let Theophilus know that the census he has in mind transpired before A.D. 6.”

What Census Was That?

The Romans took censuses for non-taxation purposes, mainly for loyalty oaths, headcounts, and the like, and did so in the provinces and even in the supposedly independent client kingdoms. And Augustus was all into censuses. Tacitus writes:
They [the Senators] 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..."
So it is quite clear that Augustus had carried out a fairly comprehensive nose-counting of Roman possessions and had himself prepared a precis of it. According to St.John Chrysostom the document of this census was found in the Roman archives in the fourth century. But that was before the Goths, Vandals, and Spaniards sacked the town.

Luke goes on to say:
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness."
-- Luke 3:1-2
This pretty much pins it down to AD 28/29.
Shortly after this Jesus begins his own public ministry. We find out
"Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age."
-- Luke 3:23
"About thirty" probably means within a tight interval. (Luke elsewhere states that the daughter of Jairus was "about 12," so he wasn't into rounding off to the nearest 5 or 10.) If Jesus was "around thirty"in AD 28/29, he would have been born in 3/2 BC -- remember, there is no Year 0 -- which is the consensus birth year that the early Church Fathers overwhelmingly supposed. Since Luke was not a drooling moron, this is further indication that he could not have meant that Jesus was born during Quirinius' census. "About thirty" would not likely include 22 or 23 years old!

BTW, those who are eager to equate the Jesus story with Horus or Orpheus or some other such deity or demigod are welcome to present the legends in which these characters are pinned down with even half as much precision by time and place. In whose "tetrarchy" was Osiris born? In what year of what emperor? Pfui, sez TOF.

34 comments:

  1. An important question seems to have been missed here. Why would the Romans require that people travel about the province in order to be counted in a census? This would be a logistic nightmare and not conducive to the order that the practical Romans were fond of. Are there any other historical examples of such a method of conducting a census?

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    1. The Roman Empire was not a centralized state. The number of actual imperial officials was small, and most city states and tribal areas within the Imperium were self-governing in most respects. There simply would not be enough census-takers, so procedures followed local customs.

      Enrollment was by tribe. This includes purely Roman enrollments. For example, when Seleucus son of Theodotus of Rhosos was enrolled by Octavian, he was enrolled into the Cornelian tribe. [Letters and Decress of Octavian on a Grant of Citizenship, II.2,3]

      Pottery samples suggest a recent migration of people from the Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time possibly for employment in the construction of nearby Sepphoris. Joseph’s legal residence may have still been Bethlehem, where he had been raised [BBC]

      Furthermore, loyalty oaths (and related 'treaties') for which this census was apparently held, were often made by families, tribes, or other kinship groups rather than by individuals. 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 practice--be expected to participate in the loyalty oath proceedings of his kinship group in Bethlehem.

      This may have been especially important to the Davidic kinship group. There may have been particular anxiety to have possible messiahs swear alliegance to the emperor and his legates and/or to the local puppet-king.

      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' on Joseph would require witnesses who were themselves already authenticated (i.e., known to the recorders of the oath-event). This, of course, essentially requires a trip back to the 'homestead' to fulfill these requirements (i.e. local officials who knew the populace, kinfolk who could verify identity, and family records to check for completeness).

      These comments from a rather obsessive-compulsive site, here:
      http://www.christianthinktank.com/qr1.html

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    2. Interesting speculation but not really convincing.

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    3. Have you ever worked for a government, or any large bureaucracy? Go work for the USN a few years. There is very little wasteful or onerous or inefficient that a government could do that would surprise me. Or take, for instance, some recent actions under our self-described "pragmatic" (a near-synonym for practical) current president. Sure, the Romans were probably much more practical than most governments currently extant in the West, but that really wouldn't take much. We are talking the same nation that, if I recall correctly, had two generals taking turns on alternate days leading the Roman army against Hannibal at Cannae.

      Of course, I am somewhat biased, having already accepted the story on other grounds, and inclined to consider Scripture innocent of error or falsehood until proven beyond reasonable doubt; by that standard, it is not necessary to have watertight, or even "convincing" (a somewhat vague and subjective term) speculation, merely plausible.

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    4. It would be more plausible if a few other examples of a census being done this way were known. It is certainly never done in the modern world. Can you imagine the expense, the chaos, the civil unrest. That is now and it would have been even worse in ancient times. Roman government may have been inefficient at times like all governments but this assumes that they were stupid beyond belief. This is acknowledged to a certain extent by TOF when he gives a reason why only Joseph and family had to move but then again doesn't Luke say that there was no room in the inn because a large number of people were on the move. A much simpler exclamation is that this is a MacGuffin and that Mathew came up with a different MacGuffin.

      TOF as YOS often criticizes the fundamentalists and atheists for being literalists and claims that the Catholic Church takes a more nuanced approach. Where is the nuance here?

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    5. We do, in fact, have a clear example of a census in Egypt about a hundred years or so later in which people were required to register in their original town if they had moved (we know a fair amount about that census because it was one of the few from which we still have some of the census forms). We also know from other cases that when client states (of which Judea was one) were involved, the handling of Roman policy often involved a fair amount of political negotiation; the Romans were not so stupid as to press for a census, associated with the potentially explosive matter of taxation, without any regard for local politics, particularly in regions of the empire known for revolts.

      I'm not sure what you think your argument is supposed to be; you criticized TOF for speculation, but your entire argument is speculative -- you assume the exact conditions in Judea were universal (for which we have no evidence), that the Romans 'would have' done something (which there is no evidence at any point that they ever actually did), and then for reasons completely unknown you seem to take this tissue of complete speculation to be 'simpler' than TOF's suggestions, despite the fact that the latter are based on specific evidences. And I'm not sure why you bring in 'Matthew' given that the census is in Luke. A slip of the keys, I hope.

      The nuance, of course, lies in recognizing that this kind of event involved a massive number of variables, a significant number of which we know nothing definite about, so a definitive answer one way or another simply on considerations of how the census appears to be handled is not possible. Particularly since Luke doesn't actually tell us how the census was handled, but only says a few things about it from which we can only draw inferences of varying degrees of probability -- he doesn't, for instance, even say that everyone had to register in their ancestral home, but only that a census was taken and that Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for it, because his family was associated with Bethlehem. There are any number of perhapses that could be given for why he did so; so the most that can actually be done is to lay out some probabilities and possibilities based on specific evidences -- which is what TOF did.

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    6. Brandon, please give me a link to the Egyptian census that you refer to.

      "I'm not sure what you think your argument is supposed to be ...": I can answer specific questions but not vague statements or innuendo.

      "your entire argument is speculative": I expressed skepticism of an unlikely event (the burden of proof and all that).

      "you assume the exact conditions in Judea were universal": no such assumption was made and in fact I said just the opposite. Please quote my exact words when you disagree and do not make things up. Also see below.

      "that the Romans 'would have' done something": what does this refer to? Quote please?

      "And I'm not sure why you bring in 'Matthew'": you surprise me. Matthew gives a different reason for the birth in Bethlehem.

      "he doesn't, for instance, even say that everyone had to register in their ancestral home": well, let's go to the source.

      1
      In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.
      2
      This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
      3
      So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.

      So, what is your answer now? Also note that Luke says the whole world and not just Judea.

      "which is what TOF did": I'm sure that he can speak for himself as we have been debating for years.

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    7. You beat me to it. We don't see this as a problem because from our available information, it isn't a problem at all- it isn't too dissimilar than how most population enumerations were taken throughout history. Even William the Conqueror sent royal officers to shire courts and expected town representatives to provide his government with the relevant information. A known exception to this rule would be how the Han Chinese undertook a detailed census by sending officials house-to-house. This practice, to my knowledge, is very unusual before the 19th century. And the consensus is that the Han census is to be taken as accurate as opposed to most ancient population enumerations.

      That the Romans regularized their enumerations doesn't mean they regularized their methodology. The purpose of most ancient censuses was to strengthen the central government or ruler, not to accrue accurate data or even to carry out policy- the important point was the Romans COULD carry out a census, not so much what the census data found. Data for taxes was a way to ensure economic and social class control over the upper classes of an area. If people slipped through the cracks or families were miscounted, it wasn't the Romans concern- the local rulers would make sure to overturn every rock to pay their own tax debts; and an inexact count would allow the Romans to decide through negotiation how much of their tax money would actually be invested in a client state. This last point shouldn't come as a surprise, because governments still miscount certain areas for political and economic reasons.

      It shouldn't come as a surprise that enumerations were most careful when there was a need for more military conscription (the Han dynasty undertook theirs for this reason.)

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    8. Wm Sears,

      http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/greek/census.html

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    9. ALot...,
      You Link to this "The census by household having begun, it is essential that all those who are away from their nomes be summoned to return to their own hearths": this clearly refers to individuals who are temporarily absent from home, and yes I know what nome means here. There is no mention of ancestral origin so thus Joseph would remain in Nazareth and not journey to a town that he may never have seen.

      Luke says "And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David" which is something very different. The census needs to know where people normally live not where a distant ancestor lived. The latter would produce a situation where most people would simply not have a clue as where they would go to be enrolled.

      "Even William the Conqueror sent royal officers to shire courts and expected town representatives to provide his government with the relevant information." No doubt, but how does this support Luke? Are you claiming that William demanded that all the Normans return to their ancestral homes in Normandy, or possibly Denmark, to be counted? The more that one explores this concept the more absurd it becomes.

      If you want to save this version of the nativity you have to consider the possibility that Joseph was temporarily away from his home in Bethlehem. This is closer to Matthew's version but it requires that you consider the possibility that Luke misunderstood the situation.

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    10. Wm Sears,

      You are remarkably defensive; I have no idea what 'innuendo' is supposed to be involved in saying that I don't understand what you take your argument to be. It's simply a baffling reaction, particularly when I went on immediately to say why.

      An example that shows you both assuming the conditions in Judea were like those everywhere and assuming thing about the way the Romans would have done things: "Why would the Romans require that people travel about the province in order to be counted in a census? This would be a logistic nightmare and not conducive to the order that the practical Romans were fond of." This only makes sense if the "order" that the "practical Romans" were "fond of" elsewhere were applicable to this particular case; and it involves assumptions about what Romans would or would not do in a census. If you were allowing for the opposing assumptions, you would have no objection: the opposing assumptions concede that Judea might have been an unusual case, and that Romans might have done things many different ways, including sometimes putting other things ahead of order, either of which would eliminate your objection. Therefore your comment provably makes the assumptions I said.

      "And I'm not sure why you bring in 'Matthew'": you surprise me. Matthew gives a different reason for the birth in Bethlehem.

      A bit surprised that you are surprised, since Matthew doesn't give any reason at all for Jesus being born in Bethlehem.

      So, what is your answer now? Also note that Luke says the whole world and not just Judea.

      It's exactly the same as it was, since the passage says exactly what I said it does. The "whole world" clearly refers to the census itself; it tells us nothing about how it was carried out locally. It gives no criteria whatsoever for what counts as 'one's own town'; it doesn't say that one's own town had to be one's ancestral home, or anything else. All it says is that the town Joseph registered in was Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was of the family of David; it doesn't say whether this was a general way of doing it, or if he was doing it because he fell under special circumstances, or anything else. Everything else you are putting into it is assumption. They aren't unreasonable assumptions; what is unreasonable is going around pretending that you aren't making assumptions relevant to the question.

      "which is what TOF did": I'm sure that he can speak for himself as we have been debating for years.

      And since I wasn't speaking for TOF but pointing out an obvious fact, this is as much an irrelevant smokescreen as everything else in your comment.

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    11. Just to throw in one wrench into your contentions Wm, but the US currently employs a very similar system related to voting. A person living in State X but registered as a resident of State Y must either return to State Y or file an absentee ballot with State Y to vote. The person may not vote in State X, even though he currently lives there.

      So, I don't see how this practice is so unusual to a person.

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    12. Brandon,
      I'll try to overlook your rudeness. I have made no assumptions at all but am doing what I always do in religious discussions which is attempt to elicit the ways that people justify various sections of the bible that appear to me to be problematic. I am generally sympathetic to Christianity but this does not mean that I think scriptures are inerrant. Thus your attempts to reverse the burden of proof are not going to work.

      "the opposing assumptions concede that Judea might have been an unusual case, and that Romans might have done things many different ways, including sometimes putting other things ahead of order, either of which would eliminate your objection.": I suppose that I should point out that in Luke Joseph lived in Galilee and not Judea. Also with enough "mights" I suppose just about any bizarre event becomes explainable and our debate would seem to be at an end.

      "Matthew doesn't give any reason at all for Jesus being born in Bethlehem." Of course he does. Matthew says that is where Joseph and Mary lived and moved away later because of King Herod.

      "They aren't unreasonable assumptions": thanks for that. What are your not unreasonable assumptions?

      TOF: it looks like I have inadvertently helped set a comment record on your site. :-)

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    13. Sorry Jay, but I do not see that this is remotely similar. As with the Egypt example it represents an attempt to find a vaguely similar example somewhere. It doesn't take long to establish residency in a new home and there is no house of David aspect to this. Also in your case Joseph would have stayed home and not risked the life of his pregnant wife since voting is not compulsory.

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    14. Thus your attempts to reverse the burden of proof are not going to work.

      If someone makes a claim about the circumstances of Jesus' birth (let's call it X), and there is insufficient evidence to rationally determine whether X is true, then the most that can be said is that X is rationally undetermined. That's it. We might, with the help of a few assumptions, construct a plausible narrative. But we cannot know with certainty. That is all you can say.

      But if a person wants to go further, and argue that X is false, then that person must recognize that that itself is also a claim which must be justified.

      In short, the burden of proof is on anyone making a claim -- whether that is claim is "X is true" or "X is false."

      You made the claim: A much simpler exclamation is that this is a MacGuffin and that Mathew came up with a different MacGuffin.

      Therefore, the burden of proof is now on you to justify this claim. Up to this point, you had only been expressing reasonable doubts about TOF's explanation -- making no claims yourself and therefore incurring no burden of proof. But once you went further, and made a claim yourself ("the simpler explanation is.."), then you incurred a burden of proof to justify that claim.

      Contrary to popular opinion among denizens of internet comboxes, burdens of proof can indeed shift in a debate ... depending on whether or not a person makes a claim regarding the truth of falsity of X.

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    15. Jmhenry,
      "You made the claim: A much simpler exclamation is that this is a MacGuffin and that Mathew came up with a different MacGuffin.

      Therefore, the burden of proof is now on you to justify this claim."

      You want me to justify the claim that this is a simpler exclamation (I know I should have said explanation - I blame autocorrect). Isn't it obviously simpler or do you want me to prove that it is true which is a claim that I did not make?

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  2. Since you were the one insulting me in your comment, accusing me, for instance, of making things up, as anyone can read, I will from here on out ignore your attempt to play the victim.

    I have made no assumptions at all but am doing what I always do in religious discussions which is attempt to elicit the ways that people justify various sections of the bible that appear to me to be problematic.

    As I already noted, this is logically false; indeed, it is necessarily false, since it's logically impossible to have questions that do not make assumptions. And you are caught out of your own mouth here: as I noted before, your question identifies nothing 'problematic' at all except under precisely the assumptions I gave. You can't get around this; logic doesn't magically cease to exist when convenient for Wm Sears, and what you actually said logically requires the assumptions that I identified.

    In addition, there is plenty of other ground for regarding it as false: you did not simply "express skepticism" as you falsely claimed in your prior comment, but actually gave reasons (which can be assessed in their own right, and as I noted seem to be purely speculative and based on the assumptions I noted), and you proposed an alternative, without giving any evidence for it, namely, the 'made-up MacGuffin' theory. The only reason you gave for the latter was that it was "simpler"; however, simplicity is relative to evidence, and as was extraordinarily clear, TOF gave specific evidence for his suggestions, and you gave no evidence at all for your 'made-up MacGuffin' hypothesis. Thus I was again quite right that, as far as you have stated it, your argument is a complete tissue of speculation.

    Of course, it is true that this assumes that you said what you actually meant. You can get around both of these points by claiming that you did not say quite what you meant; in which case my perplexity about what you thought your argument was, was entirely justified, and your response to it entirely unreasonable. So you can pick which one you'd like.

    I suppose that I should point out that in Luke Joseph lived in Galilee and not Judea.

    Yes, that is quite obvious. If Joseph lived in Judea, then you would be quite extraordinarily stupid to think there was anything problematic about him registering there, now wouldn't you? And everyone would have already pointed that out, which we didn't, because anyone who's not an idiot knows that it is precisely the question. But even here again you are making assumptions. What was his status as a resident in Galilee? Was he just there at that point for work? Had he lived there long? etc., etc.

    Also with enough "mights" I suppose just about any bizarre event becomes explainable and our debate would seem to be at an end.

    I'm glad you concede my entire argument. As I explicitly said in my original comment, there are so many variables open about which we know nothing definite that the best that can be done in any direction -- and that includes thinking of Luke's account as problematic on the point of the census -- is to draw inferences of varying probability from specific inferences. Which you haven't done at all.

    Of course he does. Matthew says that is where Joseph and Mary lived and moved away later because of King Herod.

    He says nothing of the sort. The very first mention of Bethlehem in Matthew is Matthew 2, which simply begins, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod," and says nothing else about why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem at all. Again, you are making assumptions not in the text. They are assumptions that are not inconsistent with the text; but it is irrational to pretend that they are not assumptions.

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    1. Brandon,
      "accusing me, for instance, of making things up, as anyone can read": this was a simple statement of fact since you claimed that I said something that I did not, as anyone can read.

      "If Joseph lived in Judea, ...": I pointed this out because you kept talking about the supposed special rules of Judea versus the rest of the empire. It was an attempt to get the discussion back on track.

      "and says nothing else about why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem at all": you are correct on this one. I have always noticed that it is possible, with a great deal of imagination, to square Luke with Matthew - except for the genealogies - but the very lack of overlap is, in itself, a curiosity.

      We are now at an end as I do not see that you are interested in fruitful discussion and I don't want to test TOF's patience any further.

      TOF: the new system makes it a lot easier to comment which might explain the above.

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    2. the supposed special rules of Judea versus the rest of the empire

      The Empire had no equivalent of the USC or the CFR. Everything was carried out by special rules particular to the locality. The Empire has been characterized as something more like a federation of quasi-independent city states and tribal areas each pledging personal fealty to the person of the Emperor. It was not until Late Antiquity that a new sense of Romanitas emerged, in which loyalty was perceived as to Romania Aeterna. (Note: Romania, the empire, not Roma, the city.) A useful book regarding this transition is Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity.

      What new system?

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    3. The anti-robot system that you use has been updated, I assume. It is now much easier to use and rarely locks up now.

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    4. The Empire had no equivalent of the USC or the CFR. Everything was carried out by special rules particular to the locality.

      The Empire also had no Codex Iuris Civilis or such up to Christian Emperors.

      If you recall Portugal being pro-(negro)-slavery and Spain being anti-(amerindian)-slavery due to sovereigns receiving different Papal bulls in different centuries and contexts, that is not half as chaotic as Roman penal law and the fact that punishing slaves and similar non-Romans wasn't even technically penal law, back in the days when an official wanting to punish a bishop or pope or ex-antipope named Hippolytus waxed poetic and recalled the end of a tragedy of that name.

      So, anyone arguing that martyrdoms were fake because against Roman penal procedure, tell them there was not consistently any such thing, until Christian Emperors invented it.

      Nulla poena sine lege = > belongs to CIC.
      CIC = > belongs to Constantine, Theodosius, Justin and above all Justinian
      These Emperors = > belong to reigns AFTER the martyrdoms.

      But of course, the Christmastide martyrs are in two cases out of three (excepting my patron who survived his martyrdom in boiling oil) non-Roman. Herod was a somewhat dishonest ally to Rome and the stoners of St Stephen were hiding from Roman officials (Saul probably was not just looking out for their cloaks, but also was to cry out if Romans came).

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  3. 1. Given that the vast majority of people in that time and place lived in their clan territory, it was no great hassle for them to heigh off to the "headquarters" of their kinship group in order to be counted and identified by the clan elders as a legitimate member. That's where any records and genealogies would have been, and where the elders as testators would find things easier. It is too easy to import a modern American mindset in which atomic individuals move where they whist. Two of TOF's brothers live 2000 miles away and would find it difficult to come home to register their loyalty to the Leader as corporate members of Clan Flynn. (But I note that the majority of TOFian cousins still live within 20 miles of where their great-great-grandfather first set down in the New World.

    2. There were some who did move about, though this was far more common in the Autarchy than during the Principate. In particular, archeological evidence indicates that Nazareth was a new town -- in fact, some have argued on this basis that Joseph could not have been from Nazareth in the first place! The archeologists tell us that pottery styles indicate an influx into the Nazareth area from the vicinity of Bethlehem. This was likely associated with the re-construction of Sepphoris, 3.7 miles nnw of Nazareth, which was being rebuilt into an important administrative center by the Romans (http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Sepphoris.html). Just the sort of big government project that would attract craftsmen of all sorts, including carpenters.

    3. But this would remove a fair number of Bethlehemians from their kinship group center and, since this was where the elders and the records of the group were, they would have to go back there to be "certified." That doesn't mean that everyone in the Principate was on the move to somewhere else. Everyone in a tribal culture had to go to the tribal or clan headquarters, but that was not even a day trip for most. A few, like those who had gone north to work on the Sepphoris Project, had a slightly longer trip. Enough to fill up "the" inn, perhaps.

    In any case, it is a reasonable reconstruction, given what we do know about a) tribal/clan societies, b) group loyalty oaths*, c) actual practices in Egypt and elsewhere, and d) archeological evidence from Nazareth.

    (*) The census is called a "registration" (apographē) and was not planned for taxation -- that was the more infamous Census of Quirinius in AD 6, which resulted in some tumult and started the Zealot movement. The most likely reason, given what else we know of Roman practices, was to secure "loyalty oaths" or pledges of allegiance to this new-fangled Octavian calling himself Augustus.

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    1. Thanks TOF, a civil response at last. Actually something like this had occurred to me, but I thought that I would wait to see if anyone would come up with it. This doesn't mean that I believe it but it is a beautiful theory. My level of symbolic interpretation is set at a different level than yours. I don't feel obliged to believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem anymore than I feel obliged to believe in a world wide flood but I am curious about biblical events.

      I guess that I didn't wear out your patience after all. I wonder what the Pope would say?

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    2. I don't feel obliged to believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem anymore than I feel obliged to believe in a world wide flood

      But those are two different levels of unbelief. The former is akin to saying Rosecrans sent Wood a badly-worded order at Chickamauga; the latter is akin to saying that Hannibal crossed the Alps with 1000 war elephants.

      In fact, until the medievals came up with the notion of uplift, a world-wide flood was the best scientific explanation for the presence of marine fossils in the mountains.

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    3. You are back to being cryptic.

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    4. In fact, until the medievals came up with the notion of uplift, a world-wide flood was the best scientific explanation for the presence of marine fossils in the mountains.

      Uplift is also a thing which is very well explained by what may have happened after a World Wide Flood.

      The Geological column or rather lack of it we find in the terrain (or which evolutionists find in the terrain and I read about) is also better explained by the Flood of Noah than by a succession of eras millions of years apart.

      See my Special Blog on the theme Creation vs Evolution : Three Meanings of Chronological Labels (with adjoining pieces, see links on top part of message).

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  4. this was a simple statement of fact since you claimed that I said something that I did not, as anyone can read.

    I gave an explicit argument that what you said logically committed you to the assumptions I noted; which you have not addressed at all, despite this being your third opportunity to do so. So your 'simple statement of fact' is provably a falsehood. You do realize that everyone can see that I gave the argument (noted it explicitly twice) and that this is the third time you've ignored it.

    It was an attempt to get the discussion back on track.

    It was on track. We were examining the assumptions that you were making in your comments on the subject. Interesting that you want to avoid discussing that at any cost, particularly given your snide remark about burden of proof earlier.

    Since you haven't actually addressed any of my arguments, and have not only failed but refused to clarify your argument, even going so far as first to attack me on the point and then to insist that you are making no assumptions (a claim that is not only logically impossible given what you've said but explicitly proven wrong by me, with no response at all from you), I take your bowing out as a simple concession that you have no rational grounds whatsoever for anything you say, since you have failed to articulate them, despite being given plenty of opportunity. You're right that there's not any point in continuing discussion with a person like that.

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  5. Wm Sears: "this clearly refers to individuals who are temporarily absent from home, and yes I know what nome means here. There is no mention of ancestral origin so thus Joseph would remain in Nazareth and not journey to a town that he may never have seen."

    That it suggested travel at all is the important part. You're reading temporarily absent individuals into the text, and doesn't comport with our understanding of the Romans and ancient world; it's your burden to prove the text reads the way you are saying it does. But even Richard Carrier, who carries no water for the accuracy of the gospels, considers it a misplaced criticism of the text. "We do know that censuses could have such requirements for travel, not only from papyri but also from common sense: it is a well-known fact that even Roman citizens had to enroll in one of several tribes to be counted, and getting provincials to organize according to locally-established tribal associations would be practical." He does consider it silly that Joseph takes a very pregnant woman, but that doesn't invalidate the text. People still do things like that all the time. My cousin went into labor on the George Washington Bridge while running errands, which is probably the last thing she should have been doing at the moment. Furthermore, he suggests that the Luke writer would seek out plausibility in this part of the infant narrative (Carrier considers Luke's infant narrative too precious overall) and would have not constructed something that would have been so easily challenged or unlike the experiences of the Hellenistic audience, "in other words, such procedures were probably followed in at least one census within the author's memory, and we have no way to disprove the use of such a practice in previous provincial assessments."

    Wm Sears asks: "No doubt, but how does this support Luke? Are you claiming that William demanded that all the Normans return to their ancestral homes in Normandy, or possibly Denmark, to be counted? The more that one explores this concept the more absurd it becomes."

    My point was a simple one- the judgement of migratory census taking being impractical and complicated doesn't hold when compared to what we know about census taking pre-1900. The one constant seems to be to set up an official some place and have people go to him, even if that meant a few days journey. The point of these population enumerations were as an exercise of power, and that one could do it more important than how it was done. History is littered with failed censuses, but what is instructive about those is how little concepts like simplicity or practicality played in there failures. Censuses didn't fail or succeed on their practical applicability but the will of the rulers involved to persevere despite a wide array of variables. An attempt to apply any sensibility to the whole ordeal is rather anachronistic.

    I understand you are ridiculing the whole idea by asking if William required people to travel to Denmark and Normandy- but it misses the mark. When I say he sent royal officials to the shires for the towns to send representatives, what part of this is open to such a suggestion? Good ridicule, or sarcasm, or absurdity works within the context and conversation; not despite or against it. Like your nome remark earlier, where you make the assumption about what I think you know (that wasn't even on my mind until you mentioned it; ) I am getting an impression we may not be corresponding well. If I made you feel defensive about your position, I apologize.

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    1. ALot...,
      Quote "You're reading temporarily absent individuals into the text ..."

      The word summons implies that but you are correct that there is no way to be completely sure.

      Quote "Furthermore, he suggests that the Luke writer would seek out plausibility in this part of the infant narrative"

      This has always bothered me as well. Why would Luke create an implausible story. Two possibilities occur to me. One, implausibility was considered a feature that adds to the mystery much as it does in Greek legends such as the Odyssey. After all the gospel miracle events are implausible as well. Two, Luke extended local traditions into a general empire wide phenomenon.

      Quote "When I say he sent royal officials to the shires for the towns to send representatives, what part of this is open to such a suggestion?"

      I may have misunderstood you as it does not seem to relate to the issue at hand. If you mean that outlying farms would have to send representatives to the shire town to be enrolled, I suspect that you are correct. I also suspect that many simply did not do so. This reminds me of Rothbard's history of colonial America where quitrents were near impossible to collect.

      Quote "Like your nome remark earlier, where you make the assumption about what I think you know"

      No such assumption was made. I was just closing off a possible comeback. As I recall TOF himself saying at another website; it is very easy to read tone into the written word that is simply not there.

      Quote "If I made you feel defensive about your position, I apologize."

      This is another reading in tone that is not there. I don't think that I have a position or if I do I would be hard pressed to state what it is. Is skepticism a position?

      Brandon, I have no idea what you are taking about and you seem loth to make yourself clear. Believe whatever gives you comfort. We're done.

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  6. Dear Mr. Flynn, this is the only way I know to contact you. I enjoyed your comments hugely, especially as I am researching this subject myself. Can you tell me the exact source from the BBC about the Nazareth pottery finds? What program it was and when aired, etc. I would like to track down the original archaeologists' findings. Thanks.

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    1. I found it mentioned on a rather obsessive-compulsive site, here:
      http://www.christianthinktank.com/qr1.html
      but I don't know the program referred to.

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    2. I did a little research on the site and it turns out that BBC stands for

      The Bible Background Commentary-NT. Keener, Craig. S. , IVP, 1993.

      In case anyone else wants to know!

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    3. In that case, my wariness increases.

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