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21488Re: [XTalk] The census of Quirinius: Carlson's rendering of Lk. 2.2

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  • John C. Poirier
    Sep 1, 2006
      I meant to send this yesterday.

      I don't have a comment on the exchange between Ken Olson and Stephen Carlson, except to note that I just read Fabian Udoh's book *To Caesar What is Caesar's: Tribute, Taxes, and Imperial Administration in Early Roman Paelstine 63 B.C.E.-70 C.E.* (BJS 343; Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 2005), and I noted he has a good discussion of the census of Quirinius and other censuses (pp. 155-57, 211-19). (For a number of other matters as well, this is an important book for historical Jesus studies.)

      John C. Poirier

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Ken Olson
      To: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Thursday, August 31, 2006 9:01 AM
      Subject: [XTalk] The census of Quirinius: Carlson's rendering of Lk. 2.2

      [I sent this yesterday at 1:39 PM, but it seems to have gotten lost in the wilds of cyberspace. Apologies if it shows up twice).

      Nearly two years ago Stephen Carlson suggested the translation, "This [decree to get registered] became the/a most important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria" for Lk. 2.2 on his weblog Hypotyposeis here:


      The discussion has recently restarted on the Internet Infidels list at;


      As the discussion there seems to have become bogged down in pointless bickering, I'd like to start one here on Crosstalk with a few criticisms of Carlson's hypothesis.

      1) Carlson makes a good point in differentiating between Augustus' decree that there would be an enrollment or census in Lk. 2.1 and the enrollment being carried out in Lk 2.2. However, reading the beginning of 2.2 as "This enrollment" (i.e., the one the previous verse tells us that Augustus decreed should take place) seems to me to be perfectly compatible with the translation "first came to pass during Quirinius' governing of Syria" for what follows. This would mean either that no one had carried out the decree before or, perhaps more likely, that it had not been carried out in Judea before, though the latter qualifier is not made explicit in the text.

      2) I see no need to take 2.2 as being parenthetical or as distinguishing Quirinius' enrollment from the enrollment that counted Joseph in Lk. 2.4-2.5, unless we first adopt Carlson's interpretation of it and/or want to save Luke from self-contradiction. I don't see 2.2 as digressive but as progressive. (1) Augustus decrees there should be a enrollment; (2) Augustus' decree is carried out while Quirnius is governing Syria; (3) Everyone (presumably in the Judean bailiwick of Quirinius) goes to his home city to be counted; (4-5) Joseph, like everyone else in Judea, goes to his ancestral home town to be counted.

      3) Carlson's translation "most important" does not really catch the meaning of PRWTOJ in the examples he gives. The enrollment of Quirinius was, no doubt, an important historical event in first century Jewish history because it established Roman rule in the region and precipitated a rebellion. But PROTWJ does not mean "very important" in the sense of "historically significant" or even "well known" in the examples given. It seems always to mean "exceeding other things in its class in the quality or qualities of that class." A first sinner sins more than other sinners, one is commanded to follow a first commandment even before other commandments (one is, in a sense, more commanded), a first cause is more of a cause than other causes. To give another example from BDAG, a first or best robe (Lk. 15.22) takes precedence over other robes by whatever qualities robes are judged. It does not mean "a prominent rob." Similarly, I don't think that a first enrollment can mean simply "historically significant" or "notable." A PRWTH enrollment would have to be a "leading enrollment", "foremost enrollment" or "superlative enrollment" in that it surpassed other enrollments as an enrollment. That is not an impossible reading, and no doubt some scenario could be imagined to make it fit. Quirinius' enrollment could, for instance, have counted more people more accurately than other enrollments. But on the face of it, it doesn't seem to make much sense in the context of Lk. 2.2. In particular, I don't think it makes as much sense as the reading that takes "first" in the temporal sense.



      Kenneth A. Olson
      MA, History, University of Maryland
      PhD Student, Religion, Duke University

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