Christian dating milestones
D.[1.1.4] was at the time hailed as God's revenge for executing John, and since people would be calling up the most recent crime of Herod as the cause of his military defeat, John's execution must not have been long before this, certainly some years after 28 A. So when Luke says Jesus was "about" thirty, he could mean any age between 27.5 and 32.5, although, from ignorance of the actual year the ministry started, Luke could be in error by an even wider margin. On the other hand, if Jesus began his ministry shortly after John's death, and John was killed within a year of the military defeat that was thought to have avenged his execution (which is a more reasonable conjecture than any greater span of time between the war and John's death), then Jesus would have begun his ministry in 34 or 35 A. There are two problems with such an argument: first, an author who knew Jesus was born during a particular census could still err in describing that census, so such errors would not discredit the entire account.[1.1.5] Second, Luke's errors are not that grievous to begin with. Sherwin-White has suggested that the fact that there was never in that period a single census of the whole Roman Empire actually confirms rather than refutes the reliability of Luke, since it would betray Luke's or his source's (imperfect) acquaintance with imperial decrees: for it was the standard of the day to preface specific decrees with the general idea behind them, and thus Luke (or his source) could have mistaken a preface for the decree itself, a mistake that one imagines could only be made by someone who had at least glanced at an actual census decree.[1.2] But such an error could simply reflect a common belief among many Jews, due to the usual course of erroneous transmission of popular news, or could have been made, for all we know, by someone a hundred times removed from Luke's immediate source, based on entirely different censuses.The first "mistake" lies in claiming that the census was of "all that was inhabited," when we know in fact that it was only of Syria and Judaea (and there was no such thing as a universal census at all until many decades after Jesus died, see below). Another possible source of such an error could be the assumption that the first universal census, conducted by Vespasian and Titus in 74 A. (which would be fresh in everyone's memory for the remainder of that century), was "typical" when in fact it was not.Though Jesus' family appears to have resided outside Judaea in Nazareth, there could easily be any number of reasons why an ancestral connection with Bethlehem would require them to journey there for a census of Judaea (so much as a tiny plot of ancestral land would be enough, and Judaic law made it unusually difficult to get rid of such properties), though it does seem oddly unnecessary to take a woman on the verge of labor on such a dangerous trip (as all journeys were in such regions).We do know that censuses could have such requirements for travel, not only from papyri [1.3] but also from common sense: it is a well known fact that even Roman citizens had to enroll in one of several tribes to be counted, and getting provincials to organize according to locally-established tribal associations would be practical (see also Endnote 8 in my essay Luke and Josephus; and also [1.3.5]).Finally, even if Luke were making this up, he would sooner make something up that sounded plausible: in other words, such procedures were probably followed in at least one census within the author's memory, and we have no way to disprove the use of such a practice in previous provincial assessments.[1.4] Nevertheless, it's possible Luke deliberately added both of these features to the story for apologetic reasons (see [1.1.5]).The above two defenses of Luke do not mean that Luke is correct.The second "mistake" lies in supposing that people would be called back to ancestral towns to be counted, rather than be counted in the actual towns they were in.This charge has been formulated a dozen ways, but none of them really carry much force.
As a result, it is not necessary to read the whole essay if you are looking for quick answers, or only want to read about a particular argument. Then his family returns to Galilee (2.39-40), where Jesus grows up, and his family returns to Jerusalem every year thereafter (2.41) for twelve straight years ().Each will be addressed here in a separate box, which can be skipped if desired since they aren't essential to the issue of when Jesus was born. Such an interpretation does not solve the many problems created by Luke 2:2 anyway--for it essentially trades a contradiction between Luke and Matthew for a contradiction within Luke.Luke gives us another precise date when he sets the beginning of John's ministry to 28 A. (3.1), and this has caused some confusion, though for no good reason. It is more likely that Luke had in mind the passing of some years between the two inaugurations, than that he got major public facts wrong.Given Jewish law at the time (Mishnah, Abot 5.21), which held that a man becomes subject to religious duties on his thirteenth birthday (which would be John's "day of public appearance to Israel"; we see that day for Jesus in ff.) and other parallels between Jesus and John (cf. and ), it would be reasonable to assume that Luke has in mind that John was nearly twelve when Jesus was born (since "in those days" from vv. ).[1.1.2] This would easily rescue Luke from charges of chronological error, since he reports that John's birth was foretold in a vision "in the days of Herod king of Judaea" (1.5), and if John was born around then, it would be an error to have Jesus born around the same time if Herod the Great were meant, since he was long dead by the time the census occurs.
However, the mistake could also have arisen from Luke himself, for an entirely different reason: by reading Josephus and not realizing that he meant only Judaea.