May/June 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (45/3) is now on newsstands

May/June 2019 Vol. 45. No. 3 BAR Cover

The Biblical Archaeology Society is pleased to announce the publication of the following articles in the May/June 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) Volume 45, Number 3:

“Inside the Huqoq Synagogue”
By Jodi Magness, Shua Kisilevitz, Matthew Grey, Dennis Mizzi, Karen Britt, and Ra‘anan Boustan
Season after season, archaeologists have uncovered stunning mosaics at Huqoq’s synagogue in Galilee. From Biblical scenes to the first historical episode ever found in a synagogue, the mosaics’ themes never cease to amaze and surprise. Join us on a tour of the Huqoq synagogue—with its vivid mosaics and much more!

“Artistic Influences in Synagogue Mosaics: Putting the Huqoq Synagogue in Context”
By Karen Britt and Ra‘anan Boustan
How do the mosaics from Huqoq’s synagogue compare to mosaics from other Late Roman synagogues in Galilee and throughout the Mediterranean world? Their similarities and differences reveal cultural and artistic trends from this period.

“From Pets to Physicians: Dogs in the Biblical World”
By Justin David Strong
What roles did dogs play in the Biblical world? A survey of dogs’ portrayals in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures shows that far from being perceived as “unclean,” dogs served as companions, guard dogs, sheep dogs, hunters, and—surprisingly—physicians. These diverse roles inform our understanding of the famous parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31).

“Who Were the Assyrians?”
By Christopher B. Hays
The Assyrians referenced in the Hebrew Bible were a mighty force that exerted power over much of the Near East, including Israel and Judah, in the ninth through seventh centuries B.C.E. Learn about their beginnings over a millennium before they appeared in the Bible and how they expanded their empire from Urartu to Egypt.

FIRST PERSON
“Who Owns History?”
By Robert R. Cargill

CLASSICAL CORNER
“Checking Out Roman Libraries”
By Christina Triantafillou

BIBLICAL VIEWS
“Paul, the Python Girl, and Human Trafficking”
By John Byron

ARCHAEOLOGICAL VIEWS
“Herod the Great Gardener”
By Kathryn L. Gleason

REVIEWS
“The Careful Dialogue between Archaeology and the Bible ”
The Bible and Archaeology by Matthieu Richelle
Reviewed by Eric H. Cline

Please visit www.biblicalarchaeology.org/magazine to view the complete contents of the May/June 2019 issue of BAR.

Take a look at Bible History Daily (biblicalarchaeology.org/biblehistorydaily) for additional features, including a roundup of articles on the stunning mosaics from the Huqoq synagogue (biblicalarchaeology.org/huqoqmosaics).

Discover some of the ways in which ancient Near Eastern civilizations have impressed themselves on Western culture in a free eBook (biblicalarchaeology.org/babylon).

Further, explore a Special Collection of articles about the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq (biblicalarchaeology.org/nimrud).

The Problems with the Census in Luke’s Gospel

Jesus his life Poster-Art-768x1152In the episode of Joseph in the series Jesus: His Life, which airs Monday, March 25, 2019 on History, I make a reference to the problematic census in the Gospel of Luke that biblical scholars have wrestled with for at least a century.

Luke 2:1-3 reads:

(1) In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. (2) This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. (3) All went to their own towns to be registered.

There are a couple of problems with the census.

First, Quirinius and Herod the Great did not rule at the same time. Herod the Great died in 4 BCE. (If that fact alone causes you some hesitation—the fact that Jesus would have been born 4 to 7 years before Christ (BC)— please read my 2009 article, Why Christians Should Adopt the BCE/CE Dating System, which explains why this is the case.) Anyway, Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, and yet Publius Sulpicius Quirinius wasn’t appointed as the governor of Syria until 6 CE, that is, after Herod the Great’s son, Archelaus, was banished as ruler of Judea.

What does this mean? It means that Quirinius didn’t rule until until 10 years after Herod the Great had died! This means there is no way that Quirinius could have called a census while Herod the Great was king–Herod had been dead for a decade! And this means that Jesus couldn’t have been born during the reign of Herod the Great and in Bethlehem because of the census of Quirinius! The chronology is off by a decade.

There is a second problem with the census in Luke 2. Simply put, Romans did not require subjects to return to their ancestral homes to be counted, rather their made them return to their present homes. To explain this, I’ll refer you to what I wrote on pg. 230 of my 2016 book, The Cities That Built the Bible:

First, censuses were taken for the purpose of taxation. Although there are certainly literary records of censuses taking place throughout the Roman Empire at this time, [12] there is no evidence that those who were being counted were required to travel to their ancestral hometowns in order to be counted. Indeed, an Egyptian census edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus, the Roman prefect of Egypt from 103 to 107, did require that “all persons who for any reason whatsoever are absent from their home districts be alerted to return to their own hearths, so that they may complete the customary formalities of registration and apply themselves to the farming for which they are responsible.”[13]

Although this edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus does mention a return home for the purposes of taxation, residents were not required to return to their ancestral homes, but to their present homes, so that both people and assets could be assessed for purposes of taxation. Essentially you couldn’t be “out of town” when the government came to take the census and collect taxes. Indeed, traveling to one’s ancestral home would not allow pilgrims to “apply themselves to the farming for which they are responsible.” Rather, residents under Roman rule were to go to their present homes so that they and their possessions could be counted and taxed. Luke further strains credulity by arguing that the nine-months-pregnant Mary would have made the arduous three-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Thus, any registration would have required Joseph and his family to return to their present homes to be counted, and Jesus’s present home was in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.

[12] Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.5 (17:354); 18.1.1 (18:1–2).

[13] Lewis, Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule, 156. The census edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus of 104 CE from Alexandria is written on papyrus and cataloged as P.London 904 in the British Museum. See also Hunt and Edgar, Select Papyri.

Essentially, we don’t have evidence that subjects of ancient Rome were required to return to their ancestral homes for counting and taxation purposes. Returning to an ancestral home actually defeated the purpose—all a subject’s property would still be back in their present home. The Romans wanted to see who was in each present household and what they owned so they could tax it.

Rather, Luke used this chronologically-challenged census as a literary device to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem temporarily so that Jesus could be born there, as Luke depicts Joseph and Mary as living in Nazareth both before and after his birth.

Remember, this is different from the birth narrative in the Gospel of Matthew, which depicts Joseph and Mary as already living in Bethlehem, and Jesus simply being born at home. Note, there is no mention of Nazareth (or a census for that matter) prior to Jesus’ birth in Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew’s Gospel, the star appears, and the magi begin their trek from the east to Bethlehem. They stop to speak to Herod the Great on the way. This all takes some time, and is not congruent with a short, temporary stay in a guesthouse.

These are two problems with the census in Luke 2. Quirinius and Herod the Great didn’t rule at the same time so Jesus couldn’t have been born during both of their rules, and Romans didn’t require their subjects to return to their ancestral homes to be counted.

herod really was great (well, at least a better king than the bible paints him)

A prutah of Herod the Great from year 3 of Herod's reign (

A prutah of Herod the Great from year 3 of Herod’s reign (“LG” = Year 3 = 37 BCE) with a helmet on the obverse and an inscription around a tripod reading HRWDOU BASILEWS (= of King Herod) on the reverse. The coin commemorates Herod’s capture of Judea in 37 BCE. (Photo by Robert Cargill. Coin from collection of John F. Wilson.)

All of the students in my Religion 102: History and Religion of Early Christianity course are familiar with one of my standard final exam questions:

“Herod the Great is painted in the New Testament as a terrifying, paranoid king. However, evidence shows that he may not have been as bad for the Jews as we are told in the Bible. While he was indeed paranoid and self-aggrandizing, he also did much good for the Jews he governed.

Was Herod the Great a good or bad king? Support your answer with specific evidence. Explain, regardless of your answer, why the Jews hated him and why the New Testament depicts him in such negative light.”

Well, if you always wanted to know the correct answer to the essay question, Dr. Geza Vermes has now provided the bulk of it for you in an article in Standpoint.

This article is definitely worth the read, especially if you take my class (hint, hint).

HT: Jim Davila and James McGrath.

response to comments about my recent bce/ce vs. bc/ad essay

Calendar_ad_ce

many blogger/scholars have responded with some quite pertinent comments about my recent essay entitled, ‘why christians should adopt the bce/ce dating system‘ i have listed comments and objections from others below. in the comments that follow, i wish to respond briefly to some of these comments.

i appreciate the many thoughtful, sometimes humorous responses to my essay. you bring up many good points to which i should like to briefly respond.

first, it is important to remember that my audience was quite specific: ‘christians.’ the point of my essay was to convince christians (namely, evangelicals and conservatives) that utilizing the bce/ce system in scholarship, the classroom, or in daily usage does not make them any less of a christian. the point of my essay was not to convince muslims or jews that they should adopt the bce/ce labeling system; they will accept or reject this system as they already do (some use bc/ad, some use bce/ce, some use the jewish date, the islamic date, and many post both side by side). my essay was a call to christians to accept the scientific and scholarly norm (bce/ce) and stop rejecting science as something that is contrary to religion (a polarity dawkins attempts to force upon the world).

second, i wrote the essay as an opinion piece, and not as an exhaustive article. you are correct that there are many additional internal discrepancies within the gospels, specifically within the gospel of luke. the fact that many scholars favor matthew’s chronology because of luke’s internal chronological problems (luke tends to favor a geographic arrangement of items throughout his gospel as opposed to the less problematic chronology of mark and matthew) is not new. there is also the ‘not even 50 years old’ reference in john 8:57 that some have used in an attempt to date jesus’ birth.

third, as i said in comments to chris heard, dawkins persists in using bc/ad because it fuels his argument that the world is saturated with (read: corrupted by) religious motifs and thoughts. he utilizes the bc/ad system so that he can point and say, ‘see, even our calendar labels are infected with religion.’ it’s a rhetorical device.

fourth, i understand that the concept of ‘zero’ was not developed until much later (~9th c. ce) during the islamic period (another relative dating label). but the absence of a well-developed concept of zero does not fix the math. while we may not blame the ‘skipping’ of the year zero on those who knew not of it as a numerical concept, the fact remains that the year zero is absent in dionysius’ calculations. as i tell my freshmen, just because you didn’t know an important fact doesn’t make your subsequent misinformed result true.

fifth, my conclusion is one of simplicity. the fact remains we still do not possess a calendar that accurately reflects the movements of the sun, earth, and moon in accurate relation to one another. we must still make corrections, have months with odd numbers of days, have leap years, etc.

we still use an antiquated calendar for the same reason we still all are still not on the metric system or do not drive fuel efficient, non-fossil fuel vehicles. truth be told, it would indeed cause a great deal of cornfusion and difficulty to recalculate all of the dates throughout history. it is simpler to eliminate the reference to one specific religion’s principle figure (jesus), and retain our existing dating system, and acknowledge that it was an inaccurate attempt to make the dating of history relative to the birth of jesus, and an obvious result of western/european colonialism. but will those who oppose the use of bce/ce because of its de facto reliance on the albeit miscalculated birth of christ argue that we should continue the use of the bc/ad system simply because it is unapologetically religious? since when is honest sectarianism and insistence on a particular religion’s understanding of time better than an attempt to bring the world together, especially on issues that should not be tied to religion (like a calendar)?

i’d love to see efforts to remedy many of the ills of european colonialism. however, until such a time that we decide to undo all european colonialist efforts, such as adopting the gall-peters projection map (whose adoption and european reaction is captured in this classic west wing clip), using a timekeeping system based upon some system other than greenwich mean time, based in london, england, adopting the metric system, and acknowledging that europe really isn’t a continent (as defined by: ‘large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water’) but is only a separate continent because europeans named the continents and wanted to distinguish itself from asia, and when south america stops speaking spanish and portuguese (languages of european expansion), when africa stops speaking english and french (other languages of european expansion), and when they stop serving 4:00pm tea at the albright institute in east jerusalem, then we can and should address the practice of calendar reform and re-dating of history to a truly global ‘common’ event, such as the impending meltdown of the earth. then, and only then can we, like amos, date items relative to ‘two years before the polar meltdown’ (or earthquake, whichever comes first ;-)

until such a time as this, i suggest we leave the post-colonial excuses for failing to act aside, focus upon the internal chronological problems within the bible, and as scholars and scientists, encourage all who will listen to adopt the bce/ce system, gently reminding them that using the bce/ce calender labels makes them no less of christians than does using a calendar that praises the moon (‘monday’/’moon day,’ cf. spanish ‘lunes’ from ‘luna’), praises the roman emperor augustus (‘august’) and perhaps the roman goddess juno (‘june’), and the nordic god thor (‘thursday’/‘thor’s day’).

switching to bce/ce is the simplest way to carry on, honor our neighbors, and cause the least amount of chaos.

why christians should abandon bc/ad and adopt the bce/ce dating system

Calendar_ad_cebible and interpretation has published my new essay entitled, ‘why christians should adopt the bce/ce dating system.’ it’s a peeve of mine and a battle i have been fighting on wikipedia for some time now. scientific and archaeological articles shoud employ the bce/ce system to label dates, and should not continue to utilize the archaic and problematic bc/ad system. then again, we should all be using the metric system and driving fuel efficient cars as well, so we’ll see how well the article is received.

in the essay, i argue:

Thus, it is time for Christians to let go of the inaccurate, and to many, offensive BC and AD calendar labels and adopt the BCE/CE system. If using BC and AD to designate calendrical dates is the central identifier of a person as a Christian, then that person has bigger problems than an insistence upon a calendar. Likewise, adopting the BCE/CE system allays the discrepancies of the chronologies of Jesus’ life, while the archaic BC/AD system only highlights them. The BCE/CE system is the de facto dating system for the scientific community, joining the metric system as a standard that peoples of all nations and faiths can accept. This dating system is also the most widely used system outside of the scientific community. The BCE/CE system requires no conversions and no re-dating of historical events; only the renaming of BC to BCE and AD to CE is needed. And, as has been demonstrated above, because the AD/BC system is not actually based upon the birth of Jesus, but is rather off by approximately 7 years, there is no concern from non-Christian peoples to be suspicious of being surreptitiously forced into adopting a dating system based upon the life of Christ.

give it a read.

it is time for Christians to let go of the inaccurate, and to many, offensive BC and AD calendar labels and adopt the BCE/CE system. If using BC and AD to designate calendrical dates is the central identifier of a person as a Christian, then that person has bigger problems than an insistence upon a calendar. Likewise, adopting the BCE/CE system allays the discrepancies of the chronologies of Jesus’ life, while the archaic BC/AD system only highlights them. The BCE/BE system is the de facto dating system for the scientific community, joining the metric system as a standard that peoples of all nations and faiths can accept. This dating system is also the most widely used system outside of the scientific community. The BCE/CE system requires no conversions and no re-dating of historical events; only the renaming of BC to BCE and AD to CE is needed. And, as has been demonstrated above, because the AD/BC system is not actually based upon the birth of Jesus, but is rather off by approximately 7 years, there is no concern from non-Christian peoples to be suspicious of being surreptitiously forced into adopting a dating system based upon the life of Christ.
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