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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
QUIRINIUS (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] Cyrenius ). In Luke 2:1-3 we are first met by a grammatical difficulty. Luke 2:2 may be translated either: ‘this was the first enrolment that took place (and it took place) while Quirinius was governing Syria’: or: ‘this was the first of two (or more) enrolments that took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.’ The first statement is probably true, but it is likely that the second is what the author meant, because it is certain that a census took place during the governorship of Syria by Quirinius (a.d. 6 9), when JudÃ¦a was incorporated in the province Syria. This latter census was a basis of taxation, and was made according to the Roman method: it thus aroused the rebellion of Judas ( Acts 5:37 ). The fact that enrolments took place every fourteen years in Egypt has been absolutely proved by the discovery of numerous papyri there, containing returns made by householders to the government. One of the dates thus recovered is a.d. 20. There is also evidence in the ancient historians of enrolments held in certain other provinces. The truth of Luke’s statement in Luke 2:2 need not therefore be doubted. The real difficulty lies in the statement that Quirinius was governing Syria at the time the first census of all was made. It is quite certain that he could not be governing Syria, in the strict sense of the term governing, both at the time of the birth of Christ and in a.d. 6 9. This is contrary to all ancient procedure, and the rules as to such appointments were rigid. Further, we have ancient authority that the governor of Syria from b.c. 9 to 7 was Sentius Saturninus, and from b.c. 6 to 4 was Quinctllius Varus. After b.c. 4 we know nothing till the succession of P. Sulpicius Quirinius in a.d. 6, but it is possible that an inscribed stone may yet turn up to enable us to fill the gap. Yet an inscription exists, which all authorities agree refers to P. Sulpicius Quirinius, stating that he governed Syria twice. Mommsen considered that the most probable period for his earlier governorship was b.c. 3 1, but admitted serious doubts. Ramsay has discussed the whole problem afresh, following out the clues offered by the ancient historians, and has adopted as most probable the conclusion that Quirinius was given command of the foreign relations of Syria during the critical period of the war with the Cilician hill tribe the Homonadenses. Roman history provides analogies for such a dual control of a province at a time of crisis. The date at which this position was held by Quirinius was about b.c. 6. The Greek word used (governing) is a general term applied to the Emperor, a proconsul, a procurator, etc., and is quite consistent with this view. The mention of Quirinius by Luke is merely intended to give a date. The enrolment itself, as it took place in Herod’s kingdom, would be superintended by him, at the orders of Augustus, who had suzerainty over the kingdom of Herod, which constituted part of the Imperium Romanum in the full sense of the term. The census, however, was not carried out by the Roman method, but by tribes, a method less alien to Jewish feeling than the Roman method by households. Cf. also p. 559 b .
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Quirinius'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/q/quirinius.html. 1909.