Luke and the Census
Over on Hypotyposeis, http://www.hypotyposeis.org/weblog, Stephen C. Carlson did a detailed study of Luke 2:2 and the census. Focusing on the census may be misplaced.[i] Luke may be directing our attention to Quirinius rather than the census because Quirinius appointed Annas as High Priest. Luke uses the step-progression method. Thus prior to mentioning Annas in Lk. 3:2, he mentions Quirinius, the person who appointed him, in Lk. 2:2. Luke likewise does this in Acts 4:6, mentioning Jonathan (Western text) who is the High Priest before whom Stephen appears in Acts 7:1. This is particularly important to Luke who wants the first reader to know he knows the players without explicitly associating them with the events that make them notorious. See my post on the High Priest of Luke-Acts posted 1-8-2005.
I do agree that Luke is making a distinction between the census presided over by Quirinius and the census that caused Joseph and Mary to register. I disagree as the date of the first census. I accept the argument that this census (or registration) in 3/2 BCE was actually an oath of allegiance demanded by Augustus Caesar. Since both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David, and could both be considered legitimate claimants of the throne of Israel, both could be required to make the trip to Bethlehem. On February 5, 2 BCE, Augustus was given the title Pater Patriae[ii] by decree of the Senate and the people of Rome. The festivities coincided with his 25th jubilee year of being emperor of Rome and the 750th year of the founding of Rome. Josephus substantiates that an oath of obedience was required in Judea in this time period.[iii] Ernest Martin concludes 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 event.[iv]
[i] Carlson seems to accept McLaren’s argument set forth in “Would the Real Judas the Galilean Please Stand Up?” dating Judas the Gaililean “to the years of Domitian’s reign.” To Carlson, the census is relevant because “Josephus emphasized that census as an ultimate cause of the war” and this implicitly was known by Luke’s audience.
[ii] Res Gestae, 35.
[iii] Antiquities 17:41-45 states “Accordingly, when all the people of the Jews gave assurance of their good will to Caesar, and to the king’s government.”
[iv] Martin, 89-90.