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Posted on CCPC's website 2023
The Beginning of the Story:
There is no date in the text. The period is identified by the verses that name the rulers at the time. The most notable being who was in charge in Rome.
We'll go with the biggest name first.
Luke 2 : 1 “And it came to passe in those dayes, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made whe Cyrenius was gouernor of Syria)”
(All Gospel quotes from the 1611 KJV, see first link below)
Side Note from the East:
It was that stalemate with the great Eastern power that allowed a certain party of travelers to journey west in the period 8 - 6 BC (or so), and cross the DMZ into the Roman territories and then make their way to Jerusalem.
If it were not for the work of Tiberius, Augustus's stepson and heir (yes, he was That 'Tiberius'), who was an excellent diplomat, Rome would have still been in open warfare with the Parthians, as they had been under Julius Caesar, and the Astrologers from the East would never have been able to play their part in the drama. And we'll come back and watch their camels walk across the desert in a few minutes.
The area of Judea had passed back and forth between the Parthians and their Seleucid predecessors, and Egypt, and then Rome so often you wonder how the locals kept straight who was in charge at any one time. Just before the period we're discussing a Parthian invasion had taken most of Judea and Herod had to hole up in his fortress at Masada until a Roman counteroffensive under Triumvir Mark Anthony, pushed them, and indeed the entire western border of that realm, back to east.
Under Augustus, the famous Roman Road building projects really began throughout the empire. In Rome itself he worked to improve the lives of the people, even down to instituting a dedicated fire department, and building the aqueducts to supply it.
And so it was in the period under discussion for the Life of Christ, as his stepson Tiberius would come to the throne in 14 AD and rule until 37.
Now for the other name in Luke 2.
“Cyrenius” or Publius Sulpicius Quirinius lived from about 51 BC to 21 AD and is well documented in outside sources as having been some sort of official in Roman Syria. Most English translations make his job out to be ''governor”, however, the Greek word in Luke is “hegemoneuo” which simply means 'authority', and as Quirinius was in Syria to 'settle accounts' for Augustus according to Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, see link below, he most likely was a Legate, which is a position of authority perhaps best understood as a military governor.
It is known that Quirinius had sufficient authority to appoint a new Prefect of Judea after Herod II died in 34 AD.
It is his census, as the new military governor in or about about 7 to 6 BC, that starts Joseph on his trip. Although, as with everything else with this period of history, actual dates are up in the air. A problem compounded by the speed of travel of both people and information. Something that some scholars seem to forget. See Liberty University article, linked below, as an example.
On to Matthew's account.
Matthew 2 : 1There were several 'Herod's.
“Now when Iesus was borne in Bethlehem of Iudea, in the dayes of Herod the king, behold, there came Wise men from the East to Hierusalem,”
Luke 1: 5
“There was in the dayes of Herode the king of Iudea”
A Tangent that Sorts the Herods
Herod the Great had at least 10 wives that we know of. That is, official wives. And an untold number of others. And so he had a number of children, only a dozen of which we have names and associations for.
Of Those, at least three of them had the name “Herod” attached to them in some way.
His oldest son, called Antipater II, from Herod's first marriage to his first wife Doris, who he divorced, then 'recalled' (it gets complicated! See link below to Josephus Antiquities 18. 5. 4), was executed by order of Augustus under charges of planning to assassinate Herod the Great so he could take the throne.
Herod's next wife, a Maccabeean 'princess' named Mariamne I bore him four children, including two sons who were executed as part of Antipater II's plot against his father. Mariamne had already been dispatched not long before on the same charge. Their two sisters, Salampiso and Cypros evidently got out of town with their skin intact.
Herod II was the son of Herod's next wife Mariamne II, the daughter of the High Priest Simon who was NOT the Maccabee Simon, but instead was from Egypt. Number Two was removed from the direct line of succession for the full kingdom by his father. This may or may not be the Herod Philip from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
- Hang on, there's more. -
Herod the Great's next wife, Malthace, was the mother of Herod Archelaus, and Herod Antipas, both of whom saw the thrones of parts of “the Great”s kingdom during their lives. Their sister Olympias survived and was married off to a distant relative.
Cleopatra of Jerusalem was his fifth wife. Even Josephus has no information about her other than she was a local and not related to the more famous Cleo from Egypt. Her first son was called Herod, with no number or other distinguishing title, and may not have lived to adulthood. Her second son was named Herod Philip II who was later the Tetrarch of the area north of Galilee.
Then there was a handful of other wives, and a few more children, but most of those managed to stay out of the history books. It should be noted here that Herod's daughter by his seventh wife was named Salome, but this is NOT the Salome of John the Baptist infamy.
Which means the birth of Christ had to have happened in the window between when Quirinius arrived in office and Herod the Great assumed room temperature. Which narrows the historic window to a period of about 9 BC down to about 6 BC to allow time for the 'Wise Men' to get to town, Joseph to run off to Egypt with his family, and then Herod to croak and the angel to let Joseph know it was safe to come back.
Now about those “Wise Men” and the Shepherds.
Also, all other Christmas Carols, and TS Elliot poems (see link below), aside, there is no indication in the text that it was the “dead of winter” when the birth occurred. In fact, from the textual evidence involving the shepherds, indicates it was either spring or fall.
And while we're at it ...
“Israel’s central hilly region, including Jerusalem, gets snowfall once every few years, though forecasts of snow often don’t pan out.”... so you don't need to put fake snow around your “manger scene”.
- https://www.timesofisrael.com/ (link below)
Where was He born?
Ignore the fact that there were at least two other towns called 'Bethlehem', one of which was in Nazareth, and the other elsewhere, the only one that counts is the one prophesied in Micah 5 about the one that was the “least of Judah”. And that was known as where King David was from.
According to the text. He was born in Bethlehem, however, when our wandering band of Astrologers arrived on the scene, He was found in a house. Which most likely means Joseph had gone back to their hometown with his family as both Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth, which is some seventy miles almost due north. And as they were traveling with a newborn, they didn't make record time.
That the Holy Family were in Nazareth, north of Jerusalem, and on the usual trade route back to the East, that would have made it easier for the Magi to avoid Herod because they were already at least a couple of days out from the capital, and would have been a week gone before he realized he'd been had.
To get to Egypt, Joseph's group could have easily blended in with the north - south traffic running along any of the main roads. Knowing that Herod had an APB out for anybody with a young child, he may have swung out and followed the coast down. Either way, they got out before Herod mustered his private army and committed the atrocity he is most remembered for.
“Thus says the Lord, 'A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping.Ramah is the ancient name for the region southeast of Jerusalem, where Bethlehem is located.
Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.'”
Jeremiah 31 : 15 (NASB)
"The Silent Years"
Very little is known of the early life of Christ, except for the famous trip to Jerusalem when He was about twelve, and He astonished the teachers there with His understanding. See Luke 2, beginning at verse 41.
The next time we see anything about Him, is the marriage feast with Mary who says the only thing in Scripture related directly to her Son as related in John 2 : 5 (ESV).
How much of this is archaeologically proven?
Not much, but enough to raise some interesting questions when you face those that say that it is all made up and that the entire story is little more than an early version of the stories about Prester John. The Great Ruler from the East that was going to march into Europe in about 1100 AD and straighten out the hopeless mess he found there. See link below to more about him and his legend.
First off, there is no objective archaeological evidence of the existence of the man named Jesus of Nazareth. Which isn't that extraordinary when you consider that He was not a member of the nobility or the political class, which we confirm in a quote from History.com in the links section below, nor did He own any property, and that His entire public life only lasted three years, and most of that was spent in the rural areas of the country.
Let's look at somebody of note that was a member of the nobility and apparently owned property. Pontius Pilate.
Pilate was the Prefect / Governor of Judea appointed by Tiberius in about 14 AD. He ruled for just over twenty years. And yet there is no more evidence for his existence than would fit in the trunk of a small car. One engraved stone lists him by name and title in Latin, his Greek name and monogram have been found on one signet ring and some small bronze coins, and he's mentioned in a handful of Roman records. See link below for a video and article. All of the known statues and other images of him were done centuries after his death.
And that's the Roman ruler who played a central role in the drama of Holy Week.
How would a carpenter who left the shop to wander around the countryside and preach to the poor and the socially unacceptable make a mark that could be found two thousand years later? Even some of the towns and settlements mentioned in the Gospels have been lost over time.
Others have fared no better. Grave items have been found that may or may not be the high priest of the time. Others include family names that could be related to the characters in the story, but those family names also cover centuries of history.
The fact that we have what we have is remarkable considering how many millions of people from the time lived, and worked, and then died without any indication they were here. Not to mention the endless stream of building, occupation, destruction, rebuilding, through the innumerable wars that have been fought all through the Holy Land.
"Tradition states this is the site...."
In 2019 excavations at the site of a destroyed Byzantine church near Hippos uncovered a mosaic floor that depicts the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The site was instantly hailed as the location where the miracle had occurred.
There's only one problem, there are several other locations along the shores of Galilee that are proclaimed to groups of tourists that they are the site of the event, such as another church at Tabgha where you'll find the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (see link below). The same holds true for the Sermon on the Mount, or where Christ walked on the water, or any of the other events from the Gospel. That, and that when the floor was laid in the church, the event was already over a thousand years in the past.
Even in Jerusalem, the pavement "Where Jesus Walked" is usually several meters below where those same tourists from Galilee are standing taking pictures of each other. There's a link below to the excavations of the pilgrimage road to the temple from that time that is five meters (about 16 feet) under the modern city streets and neighborhoods.
Even the famed Via Dolorosa (literally 'way of suffering') in Jerusalem has more to do with what Christian Pilgrims expect to encounter in Jerusalem as they re-enact the events leading up to the Crucifixion than it does where Christ was actually taken. For example, when the guides stop under the Ecce Homo arch and quote the phrase from John 19 - “Behold the Man”, they may forget to mention that the arch was built some two hundred years after Pilate made his statement and after most of the Jerusalem that Christ was familiar with was all but leveled by the Romans.
“.... so, then, what is real?”
The Promise from GOD was and is very real.
The history and people of the Holy Land are real in spite of the tourist attractions.
And even if the Shroud of Turin someday is proven to be a very old, and very elaborate hoax (see link below for a discussion of a few other scientific hoaxes on that scale), the Man known as Jesus Christ is still real.
Yes, HE, is.
We'll end it right there and go stand in the temple next to Zacharias, light some incense, and wait for somebody unusual to show up and make a speech. See Luke 1...
The 1611 KJV online https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611_Luke-Chapter-1/
References and Links.
All links were working as of date of posting.
An Archeological Biography https://biblearchaeologyreport.com/2019/12/19/quirinius-an-archaeological-biography/
Quirinius's reason to be in Syria: Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.1 http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html
Also See Book 18 Chapter 5, 4 for more about the Life and Times of Herod the Great's kids.
That Liberty University article mentioned above: The Census and Quirinius https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=sor_fac_pubs
Augustus's quote about Herod.from: https://www.loebclassics.com/
The early life of Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) https://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/marcus-antonius.php
A somewhat hostile review of the Babylonian Talmud https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/babylonian-talmund
TS Elliot's poem ”The Journey of the Magi https://allpoetry.com/the-journey-of-the-magi
SNOW! Rare covering of white delights residents as schools, kindergartens stay shut. https://www.timesofisrael.com/snow-blankets-jerusalem-transforming-city-into-winter-wonderland/
“Pilate's Ring found in Herodium” https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/inscriptions/pontius-pilate-ring-herodium/
The archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate https://aleteia.org/2018/06/15/archaeological-evidence-of-pontius-pilate-corroborates-gospel/
Video: Pontius Pilate inscription; the original stone, now located in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65vI3UM8CnI&t=3s
The History.com quote as mentioned above:
"There’s nothing conclusive, nor would I expect there to be. Peasants don’t normally leave an archaeological trail."
More at: https://www.history.com/news/was-jesus-real-historical-evidence
The real 'feeding site' found.... https://www.thedailybeast.com/have-archaeologists-found-where-jesus-fed-the-5000
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes http://www.dormitio.net/english/en.places/en.tabgha/t-church/index.html
With Video: Jerusalem's 2,000-year-old Pilgrimage Road preparing for modern revival https://www.jpost.com/archaeology/article-726942
”an ancient road to the temple...” https://www.timesofisrael.com/on-an-ancient-road-to-the-temple-archaeological-innovation-mystery-and-dispute/
Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa http://allaboutjerusalem.com/jerusalem_articles/223
Ecce Homo Arch http://allaboutjerusalem.com/article/ecce-homo-arch-dolorosa
Media Desk Articles related to the above topic:
ASTROLOGY, and all that goes with it. http://themediadesk.com/newfiles6/astrology.htm
As Mentioned: The Fourteen Apostles http://centralparkchurchofchrist.org/files/14apostles.htm
Prester John http://themediadesk.com/newfiles7/presterjohn.htm
Scientific Hoaxes http://www.themediadesk.com/newfiles6/piltdown.htm
NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.
With the assistance and cooperation of The Media Desk.