Luke 2 speaks of a census by Caesar Augustus that everyone should go to their town of birth to be counted/enrolled.

I recall, from a number curses on "historical Jesus", that there is a claim that no census of this type was ever recorded before, or since, that it was never roman way of performing a census, and that we ought to have records of such a massive movement of people as it would entail.

Argument of course is, that Luke 2 a fabricated story in order to prove Jesus royal lineage.

Does anyone know how much truth there is to this argument?

  • That will depend on who you ask. Do you want an answer from those who hold the Bible to be inerrant? Or from those who consider it on par with other historical works? – Nathaniel is protesting Sep 28 '15 at 12:38
  • @Nathaniel I am just interested in purely historical plausibility of a census as described. What are the reasons for believing it is plausible and vice versa – Greg Balajewicz Sep 28 '15 at 17:32
  • 2
    ChristianThinkTank has a very thorough examination of the issue. In short, Luke's account is indeed plausible. – ThaddeusB Sep 29 '15 at 14:29

This question is addressed here: http://www.comereason.org/roman-census.asp

The article cites references that corroborate that Rome periodically conducted censuses, and that Caesar Augustus made frequent use of the practice. Some were widespread, while other were restricted to a single region. A brief quote:

Indeed, it seems that Caesar Augustus was the type of leader who ordered many censuses in his day. Records exist to show that Roman-controlled Egypt had begun a census as early as 10 B.C. and it was repeated every 14 years. And Augustus himself notes in his Res Gestae (The Deeds of Augustus) that he ordered three wide-spread censuses of Roman citizens, one in 28B.C., one in 8 B.C. and one in 14 A.D.2 In between there are several other censuses that happened locally across Rome. Luke's account corroborates the idea of multiple censuses for Judea when he writes "This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria." Certainly, the word "first" implies that more than one census happened.

The article also suggests that Quirinius may have served in Judea on two occasions, once as procurator in charge of the census, and later as governor, in light of the different terms used to describe the two roles.

  • Thanks Paul, but what about the part that the census required one to go back to the town of their ancestor? – Greg Balajewicz Sep 28 '15 at 17:34
  • That part is more difficult. Galilee was in an independent state at the time (not part of Judea) hence not subject to the Judean census. Some have speculated that Joseph was a migrant worker, helping in his capacity as a stoneworker with the rebuilding of the city of SEPPHORIS, therefore not a citizen of Galilee. The census forced his to return to Bethlehem in Judea where he was a citizen. – Paul Chernoch Sep 28 '15 at 18:42
  • It is frequently pointed out that no Roman census would have been undertaken in Judea during the time Herod was king. So the census of 6 CE must have been the first. – Dick Harfield Sep 28 '15 at 22:06

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