Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Graecized Κυρήνιος, Luke 2:2; see Deyling, Obss. 2:431 sq.), for the Latin Quirinus (prob. not Quirinius; see Meyer, Comment. in loc.). His full name was PUBLIUS SULPICIUS QUIRINUS (see Sueton. Tiber. 49; Tacit. Ann. 2:30). He is the second of that name mentioned in Roman history (see Smith, Dict. of Class. Biog. s.v.), and was consul with M. Valerius Messala, B.C. 12. From the language of Tacitus (Ann. 3, 48), it would appear that he was of obscure origin, a supposition apparently favored by his surname, Quirinus, if rendered (as it might perhaps be) the Cyrenian, but opposed by it if referred to the old Sabine epithet of Romulus. He is more likely to have been the son of the consul of the same name, B.C. 42. Tacitus, however, states (ut sup.) that he was a native of Lanuvium, near Rome, and was not a member of the ancient Sulpician family; and that it was owing to his military abilities and active services that he gained the consulship under Augustus. He was subsequently sent into Cilicia, where he was so successful in his campaign as to receive the honor of a triumph. In B.C. 1, or a year or two afterwards, Augustus appointed him to direct the counsels of his grandson C. Caesar, then in Armenia; and on his way thither he paid a visit to Tiberius, who was at that time living at Rhodes. Some years afterwards, but not before A.D. 5, he was appointed governor of Syria, and while in this office he took a census of the Jewish people. He was a favorite with Tiberius, and on his death, A.D. 21, he was buried with public honors by the senate at the request of the emperor. (Dion Cass. 54:28; Tacitus, Ann. 3, 22; Strab. xii, p. 569; Josephus, Ant. 14:1, 1.) — Smith, Dict. of Class. Biog. s.v.
The mention of the name of Quirinus in connection with the census which was in progress at the time of our Lord's birth presents very serious difficulties, of which, from the want of adequate data, historical and critical: inquiry has not yet attained an entirely satisfactory solution. The passage is as follows: αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τ א ς Συρίας Κυρηνίου, translated in the Authorized Version thus: "Now this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." Instead of "taxing" it is now agreed that the rendering should be "enrolment" or "registration" (of which use of the word ἀπογράφεσθαι many examples are adduced by Wetstein), as it is clear from Josephus that no taxing did take place till many years after this period. The whole passage, as it now stands, may be properly read, "This first enrolment took place while Cyrenius was governor of Syria." This appears very plain, and would suggest no difficulty were it not for the knowledge which we obtain from other quarters, which is to the effect, 1. That there is no historical notice of any enrolment at or near the time of our Lord's birth; and, 2d, That the enrolment which actually did take place under Cyrenius was not until ten years after that event. The difficulty begins somewhat before the text now cited; for it is said that "in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be taxed" (enrolled). But since no historian mentions any such general enrolment of the whole empire, and since, if it had taken place, it is not likely to have been mentioned in connection with the governor of Syria, it is now usually admitted that Judaea only is meant by the phrase rendered "the whole earth" (but more properly "the whole land"), as in Luke 21:26; Acts 11:28; and perhaps in 21:20. The real difficulties are thus reduced to the two now stated. With regard to the enrolment, it may be said that it was probably not deemed of sufficient importance by the Roman historians to deserve mention, being confined to a remote and comparatively unimportant province. Nor was it perhaps of such a nature as would lead even Josephus to take notice of it, if it should appear, as usually supposed, that no trace of it can be found in his writings.
Quirinus held a census in Judaea after the banishment of Archelaus (Joseph. Ant. 18:1, 1), which took place B.C. 6. This is what is meant by the taxing (ἀπογραφή ) in Acts 5:37. Hence it is evident that he cannot have held a census in Judaea in the year of Christ's birth, as is said in Luke 2:2, in the capacity of head of the province of Syria (the census, however, being a general one throughout the empire, according to the emperor's command, v. 1). At that time Q. Sentius Saturninus (Tert. adv. Marc. 4:19), or, if Jesus was born after B.C. 6, P. Quintilius Varus, must have been governor of Syria (Ideler, Chronol. 2:394 sq.). The interpreters have attempted various methods of reconciling the words of Luke, "This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria," Luke 2:2, with the chronology of Josephus. (See Wolf, Cur. 1:576 sq.; Zorn, Histor. Fixi Jud. p. 91 sq.; Thiess, Krit. Comment. 2:385 sq.; Kuinol, Comment. 2:101 sq., whose references, however, are not precise; K. Nahmmacher, De Augusto ter censum agente, Helmst. 1758, 2:4; Huschke, Ueb. d. zur Zeit der Gebusrt J. Chr. gehalt. Cens. Bresl. 1840; Wieseler, Chron. Synopse, p. 111 sq.). Apart from these, who cut the knot by pronouncing the passage an interpolation (as Beza in his first three eds., Pfaff, Venema, Kuinol, Olshausen, and others), we notice the following:
1. Some suppose that πρώτη, first, stands for προτέρα, former (comp. John 1:15, πρῶτός μου, before me), and that the genitive ἡγεμονεύοντος Κυρηνίου is governed by the comparative; rendering, this census took place before Quirinus was governor of Syria. (So J. G. Herwart, Admir. Ethnic. Theol. Myster. propal. Monach. 1626, p. 188; Petavius, Bynaus, Clericus, J. Perizonius, De Augusto Orbis Terrar. Descrip., in his Disquis. de Praetor. p. 908 sq.; Zeltner, Heumann, De Censu Antequir. 1732, and in his Dissert. Sylloge, 1:763 sq.; Norisius, Cenotaph. Pisan. 2:16; Storr, Opusc. Acad. 3, 126 sq.; Suiskind, Term. Aufstze, p. 63; Michaeler, Ueber d. Geburts und Sterbejahr Christi, 1:59 sq.; Tholuck, Glaubwiuld. p. 182 sq., and others). But this would be strange Greek, even if προτέρα stood in the passage (comp. Fritzsche on Romans 2:421 sq., where also the passage of the Sept. Jeremiah 29:2, compared by Tholuck, is settled); and the possibility of writing πρώτη for it is not established by the reference to John, and certainly such a use would be especially avoided where, as here, every reader must naturally understand the passage as the Auth. Vers. renders it. More recently, Huschke, ut. sup. p. 89; Wieseler, ut sup. 117 sq., and an anonymous writer in Rheinwald's Repertot. 36:105, have discovered that Luke purposely places the superlative before the genitive to express this meaning: this census as the first (i.e. of all Roman censuses) before Quirinus became governor; and that there is here an abbreviated expression, as is usual with the comparative degree, which they would fill out thus: πρὸ τῆς ἀπρογαφῆς γενομένης ἡγεμονεύοντος κ .τ .λ . Surely no one acquainted with Luke's style could suppose him to have written such jargon, and expressed this complicated idea with words which on their face mean something very different. This is the result of considering a language only in the light of one's study, not in that of living intercourse.
2. Several have tried conjectural emendation (comp. Bowyer, Critical Conject. on the N.T. 1:117 sq.). Hermann gives as another's suggestion Κρονίου, corresponding to the Latin Saturninus. Whiston, Prim. N.T. (Lond. 1745), reads αὕτη ἡ ἀπογρ . πρ . Σατυρνίνου, δευτέρα δὲ ἐγένετο ἠγεμ . τἠς Συρ . Κυρ ., i.e. This first census took place when Saturninus was governor of Syria, and a second under Quirinus. But the last clause has no pertinence here. L. Cappellus and Huetius, Demonstr. Evang. p. 781, put Κυιντιλίου, Quintilius, or K. Οὐάρου, Q. Varus, instead of Quirinus. Q. Varus succeeded Saturninus B.C. 6 (see Josephus, Ant. 17:5, 2; Tacit. Hist. v. 9). Michaelis, Einleit. ins N.T. 1:71, would read πρὸ τῆς after πρώτη (i.e. before that under Quirinus, etc.), which might easily have dropped out (comp. R. Roullier, Dissert. Sacr. Amst. 1750, No. 4). H. Venema, Selectee e Scholis Valck. 1:70, thought αὕτη ἡ ἀπογρ . πρώτη . ἡ β (i.e. δευτέρα ) ἐγένετο ἡγεμ ., etc., i.e. This was the first census; but the second took place when Quirinus, etc. But again the second clause is out of place. Valesius (ad Euseb. H. E. 1:5) would at once write Saturninus for Quirinus. All such changes of the text, especially in the face of the unanimity of manuscripts and versions (see Griesbach in loc.), is uncritical and forced.
3. Rejecting all these methods of reconciliation, some here suppose a mistake or misrecollection on Luke's part (Ammon, Bibl. Theolog. 2:271; Comm. de Censu Quir. Erlangen, 1810; Leben Jesu, 1:201 sq.; Thiess, Krit. Comm. 2:385; Strauss, Leben Jesu, p. 262 sq.; Weisse, Evangel. Geschichte, 1:204 sq.), it being, at the time of writing, many years since the occurrence. So Winer, who still holds the census as a fact, and thinks Quirinus may have conducted it (Neander, Leben Jesu, p. 25; Meyer on Luke 2:2), the only error being in naming him governor of Syria (comp. Altes und Neues, 1727, p. 120). Certainly it is not to be supposed that Luke here refers to the above-mentioned census of Quirinus (Acts 5:37), and misdates it thus, for the mention of it in Acts shows that he was well acquainted with it; and even in Acts 2:2, the word first seems to imply the other.
4. Another mode of getting over the difficulty is sanctioned by the names of Calvin, Valesius, Wetstein, Hales, and others. First, changing αὕτη into αὐτή, they obtain the sense: "In those days there went forth a decree from Augustus that the whole land should be enrolled; but the enrolment itself was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." The supposition here is, that the census was commenced under Saturninus, but was not completed till two years after, under Quirinus. Dr. Robinson (Addit. to Calmet, in "Cyrenius") objects to this view the entire absence of any historical basis for it. But he must at the time have been unmindful of Hales, who, in his Chronology (in, 48-53), has worked out this explanation with more than his usual care and success. Hales reminds us that a little before the birth of Christ, Herod had marched an army into Arabia to redress certain wrongs which he had received; and this proceeding had been so misrepresented to Augustus that he wrote a very harsh letter to Herod, the substance of which was, that "having hitherto treated him as a friend, he would now treat him as a subject." And when Herod sent an embassy to clear himself, the emperor repeatedly refused to hear them, and so Herod was forced to submit to all the injuries (παρανομίας ) offered to him (Joseph. Ant. 16:9). Now it may be collected that the chief of these injuries was the performance of his threat of treating him as a subject by the degradation of his kingdom to a Roman province. For soon after Josephus incidentally mentions that "the whole nation of the Jews took an oath of fidelity to Caesar and the king jointly, except 6000 of the Pharisees, who, through their hostility to the regal government, refused to take it."
The date of this transaction is determined by its having been shortly before the death of Pheroras, and coincides with the time of this decree of enrolment and of the birth of Christ. The oath which Josephus mentions would be administered at the same time, according to the usage of the Roman census, in which a return of persons, ages, and properties was required to be made upon oath, under penalty of confiscation of goods, as we learn from Ulplan. That Cyrenius, a Roman senator and procurator, was employed to make this enrolment, we learn not only from Luke, but by the joint testimony of Justin Martyr, Julian the Apostate, and Eusebius; and it was made while Saturninus was president of Syria (to whom it was attributed by Tertullian), in the thirty-third year of Herod's reign, corresponding to the date of Christ's birth. Cyrenius, who is described by Tacitus as "an active soldier and rigid commissioner," was well qualified for an employment so odious to Herod and his subjects, and probably came to execute the decree with an armed force. The enrolment of the inhabitants, "each in his own city," was in conformity with the wary policy of the Roman jurisprudence, to prevent insurrections and to expedite the business; and if this precaution was judged prudent even in Italy, much more must it have appeared necessary in turbulent provinces like Judaea and Galilee. At the present juncture, however, it appears that the census proceeded no farther than the first act, namely, the enrolment of persons in the Roman register.
For Herod sent his trusty minister, Nicolas of Damascus, to Rome, who, by his address and presents, found means to mollify and undeceive the emperor, so that he proceeded no farther in the design which he had entertained. The census was consequently at this time suspended; but it was afterwards carried into effect upon the deposal and banishment of Archelaus, and the settlement of Judaea as a Roman province. On this occasion the trusty Cyrenius was sent again, as president of Syria, with an armed force, to confiscate the property of Archelaus, and to complete the census for the purposes of taxation. This taxation was a poll-tax of two drachmae a head upon males from fourteen, and females from twelve to sixty-five years of age-equal to about fifteen pence of our money. This was the "tribute money" mentioned in Matthew 17:24-27. The payment of it became very obnoxious to the Jews, and the imposition of it occasioned the insurrection under Judas of Galilee, which Luke himself describes as having occurred "in the days of the taxing" (Acts 5:37). By this statement, connected with the slight emendation of the text already indicated, Hales considers that "the Evangelist is critically reconciled with the varying accounts of Josephus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian; and a historical difficulty satisfactorily solved, which has hitherto set criticism at defiance." This is perhaps saying too much, but the explanation is undoubtedly one of the best that has yet been given (Lardner's Credibility, 1:248-329; Wetstein, Kuinol, and Campbell, on Luke 2:2, etc.).
5. The preceding explanations all render πρώτη ), "first," as an adverb, but it is clearly not susceptible of such a construction, being an adjective regularly qualifying ἀπογραφή, evidently for the purpose of distinguishing the present "taxing" from a subsequent one under the same authority, namely, that mentioned in the Acts. The writer of an elaborate article in the Journal of Sacred Literature (October, 1851) indeed urges that Luke ought to have said Å ἀπογραφή ἡ πρώτη, and adduces many citations to show the adverbial force of προῶτος; but these are inappropriate, for they would rather require the rendering "this was the first taxing that took place," etc., a sense equally difficult; and Luke's design does not appear to be to contrast so strongly the two taxings, since they were in a measure one, this the beginning, the other the completion. We are disposed, therefore, to adopt a modification of this last preceding explanation, and find the distinction between these two dates in the verb ἐγένετο, rendering it "effected" or completed, the enrollment having only been begun in the present case. This will combine all the historical notices above cited, and obviate all the objections that have been raised to the explanations of this difficult text hitherto proposed. (See Strong's Harmony and Exposition of the Gospels, Append. i, p. 20.) There is the greater propriety in this solution, inasmuch as Luke himself not only elsewhere alludes to the later enforcement of the tax-roll in question, but in this very passage under discussion he clearly implies it by the use of πρώτη, first; the rendering of which as an adverb ("first occurred") makes the word itself either altogether nugatory or positively inapposite, since no later census of the kind is recorded than that referred to in the Acts. There can be no good philological reason assigned for adding this distinctive term, except to throw greater stress upon ἐγένετο, which otherwise would not naturally bear so strong a sense as the execution, under the direction of Quirinus, of what had already been inaugurated (πρώτη ) under different auspices (see Alford, Gr. Test. in loc.). The parenthetical character of the clause is probably the cause of this somewhat blended antithesis in its phraseology. It is Luke who gives both incidents.
6. Many take ἡγεμών in the wider signification of high executive officer in general, including, for instance, the procurators. (So Casaubon, Exercit. Antibaron. p. 126 sq.; Grotius, B. Ch. Richard, in Iken, Nov. Thesaur. 2:428 sq.; Magnani, Probl. de Nativ. Christi, p. 260 sq.; G.Wernsdorf, De censu quem Cces. Oct. August. fecit, Viteb. 1693, 1720; Deyling, Observat. 1:233 sq.; Weihnachtsprogr v. Helmstadt. 1737; K. Nahmmacher, ut. sup.; Velborth, De censu Quirini, Getting. 1785; Birch, De censu Quirini, Havn. 1790; Sanclemente, De Vulg. AEra Emend. p. 413 sq.; Munter, Stern d. Weisen, p. 88 sq.; Neander, Leben Jesu, p. 25, and others.) These suppose that Quirinus held this census as an extraordinary magistrate, at the especial command of Augustus. (Comp. Usher, Annal. p. 530 sq.; Wedel, De censu August. Jena, 1703.) Munter, p. 99 sq., has shown, after others, that extraordinary legates, besides the chiefs of the provinces, were sometimes sent for such special duties, though perhaps not all the instances adduced by him are valid. If we are fully to believe Justin Martyr, Apol. 1:44, Quirinus must have held the census when he first became ἐπίτροπος, or procurator in Judaea. See Credner, Beitrage z. Einleit. in N.T. 1:230 sq. But there were no procurators in Judaea in Herod's time. We must then suppose, with Credner, that Quirinus was then sent to Palestine as procurator of Syria simply to take the census of the people, whose number Augustus wished to know. But this is simply multiplying hypotheses. Comp. also Huschke, p. 73 sq. This view appears the more probable, since Quirinus, who was a favorite with the emperor, was then in the East on his commission (Tacit. Ann. 3, 48; 2:42). There is also an inscription (Muratori, Thesaur. Inscript. i, p. 670) which states that Q. AEmil. Palicanus Secundus, by order of Quirinus, held a census in Apamea (in Syria), and, likewise by his order, conquered the Ituraeans in Lebanon. But, though the word ἡγεμών is not limited to a permanent governor of a province, yet Luke could hardly use such a phrase as this (ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας ) of an extraordinary officer. In common language this could only mean "being governor of Syria" (see besides, Huschke, p. 65 sq.). Just as little does Bengel hit the mark (Ordo Temp. p. 203) when he makes Quirinus to have filled, as governor, an interim between Saturninus and Varus.
7. Assuming, on the authority of Luke, that an enrollment actually did take place at the time of our Lord's birth, a modification of the last foregoing hypothesis proceeds to make out a probability that Cyrenius was then joint governor of Syria along with Saturninus. It is known that a few years previous to this date Volumnius had been joined with Saturninus as the procurator of that province, and the two, Saturninus and Volumnius, are repeatedly spoken of together by Josephus, who styles them equally governors of Syria (Ant. 16:9, 1; 9, 8). Josephus does not mention the recall of Volumnius; but there is certainly a possibility that this had taken place before the birth of Christ, and that Cyrenius, who had already distinguished himself, had been sent in his place. He would then have been under Saturninus, a ἡγεμών "governor," of Syria, just as Volumnius had been before, and as Pilate was afterwards, of Judaea. That he should here be mentioned as such by Luke rather than Saturninus is very naturally accounted for by the fact that he returned, ten years afterwards, as procurator or chief governor, and then held a second and more important census for the purpose of registration and taxation, when Archelaus was deposed, and Judaea annexed to the Roman province of Syria. The only real objection to this solution is the silence of all other history. But, although profane history does not affirm the fact of Cyrenius having formerly been procurator of Syria, yet it does not in any way deny it; and we may therefore safely rest upon the authority of the sacred writer for the truth of this fact, just as we do for the fact of the existence of the first enrolment itself. — Kitto, s.v. (See SYRIA).
A. W. Zumpt, of Berlin, in his Commentatio de Syria Romanorun provincia a Caesare Augusto ad T. Vespasianum, has recently shown it to be probable that Quirinus was twice governor of Syria. This he supports by the following considerations: In B.C. 9 Sentius Saturninus succeeded M. Titius in the province of Syria, and governed it three years. He was succeeded by T. Quintilius Varus (Joseph. Ant. 17:5, 2), who, as it appears, remained governor up to the end of B. C. 4. Thenceforward we lose sight of him till he is appointed to the command in Germany, in which he, lost his life in A.D. 7. We also lose sight of the governors of Syria till the appointment of P. Sulpicius Quirinus in A.D. 6. Now, from the maxim acted on by Augustus (Dion. Cass. 52:23), that none should hold an imperial province for less than three or more than five years, Varus cannot have been governor of Syria during the twelve years from B.C. 6 to A.D. 6. Who, then, were the missing governors? One of them has been found — L. Volusius Saturninus, whose name occurs as "legatus Syrise" on a coin of Antioch, A.D. 4 or 5. But his proconsulate will not fill the whole time, and one or two governors must be supplied between Varus, ending B.C. 4, and Volusius, A.D. 4 or 5. Just in that interval falls the census of Luke 2:2. Could Quirinus have been governor at any such time? From January to August, B.C. 12, he was consul. Soon after that he triumphed over the Homonadenses (Tacit. Ann. 3, 48). Now Zumpt applies the exhaustive process to the provinces which could by any possibility have been under Quirinus at this time, and eliminates from the inquiry Asia — Pontus and Bithynia — and Galatia. Cilicia only remains. But at this time, as he shows, that province had been reduced by successive diminutions, had been separated (Dion. Cass. 54:4) from Cyprus, and — as is shown by the history of the misconduct of Piso soon afterwards, who was charged with having, as ex-governor of Syria, attempted a forcible repossession of the province (Tacit. Ann. 3, 12), because he had attacked Celenderis, a fort in Cilicia (ib. 2:78-80), attached to the province of Syria. This Zumpt also confirms by the accounts in Tacitus (Ann. 6:41; 12:55) of the Clitae, a seditious tribe of Cilicia Aspera, who on two occasions were repressed by troops sent by the governors of Syria. Quirinus then appears to have been governor of Syria at some time during this interval. But at what time? We find him in the East (Tacit. Ann. 3, 48) in connection with Caesar's campaign against the Armenians; and this cannot have been during his well- known governorship of Syria, which began in A.D. 6; for Caius Caesar died in A.D. 4. Zumpt, by arguments too long to be reproduced here, but very striking and satisfactory, fixes the time of his first governorship at from B.C. 4 to B.C. 1, when he was succeeded by M. Lollius. — Smith, s.v. This, however, still leaves a discrepancy of one or two years between his first appointment and Christ's birth, which cannot be brought down so late as B.C. 4. (See Lutheroth, Recensement de Quirinius en Judee, Par. 1865.) (See CENSUS).
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Cyrenius'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/c/cyrenius.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.