Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cyrenius does not mean Quirinius

First in the actual Greek text of Luke 2:2 the word translated Cyrenius is the last word and Syria the second to last word.  And the word for "governor" is not a noun and should be more literally translated "governing".  In fact the most accurate rendering of the verse should be something like.
"This counting was first made during the governing of Surias Kureniou"
The last two words I chose not to transliterate and represent them as they are spelled in the Greek.

The only reason why Bible Skeptics insist this MUST be the 6 AD Census in-spite of all the ways it's nothing like that Census (Empire wide not local, and while Herod was still King) is the name of Kureniou.

But it's not even grammatically written as the name of a person.  Now if you look at the Strongs entry for Cyrenius it will claim that the name ends with the specific form of the latter Sigma that in Koine Greek any personal name of a male individual should, and that also ends many descriptive titles.  But in the actual Textus Receptus Greek text it does not.  (And the Sinaiticus is the same.)  And Quirinus does end with an "s" in the original form in it's original language.   So there is no excuse for there not to be a Sigma at the end.

You may ask "But we know from the Greek texts of Josephus that that is how Quirinus name was translated into Greek"?

But in fact the rendering in Josephus isn't identical, for one thing in Josephus it does end with Sigma. In Josephus it's spelled Kurinios, which, like I would expect, uses more then one Iota.  Also there is no "e".  It is a much more plausible Greek rendering of Quirinus.

I'm not sure how early on this confusion started.  Maybe simply because Luke refereed to the 6 AD Census in Acts 5:37 people made the wrong assumption it must be the same Census.  Or maybe the translation of Luke into Latin played a key role in the confusion, when Translations of The Bible into modern languages finally began to happen after the reformation, they were greatly influenced by the Vulgate directly or indirectly.  Even the KJV a little bit.

But Tertullian in his against Heresies book IV chapter XIX simply states Saturninus was governor of Syria at the time without any acknowledgment that supposedly Luke identifies someone else as Syria's Governor.  That tells me that neither he or his readers had heard of the idea that Luke tells us who the governor was.  (Note, identifying Saturninus would fit it being the 8 BC Census).

To be exact, Tertullian said that Roman records proved the fact that censuses (he used the plural) were conducted in Judea when Saturninus was governor.  Also in his Apology to the Jews Tertullian clearly dates the Nativity to 3-2 BC saying it was 27 years from the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra.  Though that is hard to reconcile with the Saturninus reference.

Since I'm contending that Kureniou doesn't mean Quirinus, what does it mean?

Below is how Cyrene and Cyrenian (of Cyrene) is rendered in various Greek NT verses.  Because these will be using 2 different Greek letters for o, lower case o is Omicron and capitalized O is Omega.

Matthew 27:32, Kurenaion
Mark 15:21, Kurenaion
Luke 23:26,  Kurenaion
Acts 2:10, Kurenen
Acts 6:9,  KurenaiOn
Acts 11:20, Kurenaioi
Acts 13:1, Kurenaios

It's rendered differently almost each time, in total 5 different ways, and Luke used all 5.  So that Kureniou is identical to none of them means little.  Interestingly the last one is almost identical to how the Strongs incorrectly claimed Cyrenius was rendered (Kurenios) with the only difference being the added Alpha.

The differences are all a matter of vowels and what the closing suffix should be.  All of them begin with Kuren just like Kureniou does.

Ending with iou is the same as how Luke renders Jesus of Nazareth in Luke 24:19 (Iesous tou Nazoraiou).

So perhaps Luke 2:2 wasn't referencing the Governor of a province at all but two provinces.  Or I could point out that the word for Syria here does end with that specific form of the letter Sigma that signifies a personal name or possibly title of a male individual.  No where else does Luke in his Gospel or Acts render Syria as ending with a Sigma if it's referring to the region rather then a person.  But he does use that form of Sigma when referring to Naaman of Syria in Luke 4.

I could also note that when Luke identifies Pilate as Governor of Judea in Luke 3:1 he lists the name of the Governor before the name of the province.

If it's hypothetically possible for one Roman name to be transliterated into Greek in a way that resembles Cyrene, then one could just as easily be rendered in a way that resembles Syria.  Servius could become Surias as easily as Quirinus could become Kureniou, since Greek has no letter v.

Sulla could become similar to Surias in transliteration also considering how l and r are sometimes confused.  A Sulla we don't know much about was Consul in 5 BC, many former Consuls were made governors soon after their Consulship.  However the r and l confusion is not likely to happen from Latin into Greek.

Or it could be a Roman who was named after Syria because he or his ancestor had a military Victory there, like we see with names like Africanus, Britanicus and Germanicus.  But those names usually end with us or cus.

Or maybe the verse should just be translated as saying "when a Syrian was Governing Cyrene"?  Or perhaps that a Cyrenian was governing Syria.  Plausible translations are "during the Governing of Syria and Cyrene" or "during the Governing of Syria by a Cyrene" or "during the Governing of Cyrene by Syria".  But I feel from everything I've observed above the best translation is "during the Governing of the Syrian of Cyrene".

We don't have a complete list of all the Governors of Cyrene, in fact we know very few.  Though Ironically Quirinius was briefly Governor of Cyrene and Crete before he became Consul in 12 BC.    My point is however we sadly don't know who Governed Cyrene from 8-2 BC.  It's possible Quirinius time as Governor of Cyrene could have extended back to the 20s BC, he was born in 51 BC but we don't know much about his career before 12 BC other then that he's been a Governor of Cyrene.

Why refer to the Governor of Cyrene rather then the closer Syria?  Maybe the Governor of Cyrene was in charge of carrying it out for the entire Eastern Empire?  Or Judea specifically being so close to Egypt.  Because Egypt wasn't a military province, military activity within or from Egypt was carried out by the Cyrenean Legions.

An Atheist who's unlike me willing to consider the text hasn't been perfectly preserved should consider that a name is missing, that it's saying someone of Cyrene was Governing Syria.  Heck what Tertulian said you could use as evidence Saturninus was named in the texts he had.

Upon my further research I've noticed the Roman Legion called the Legio III Cyrenacia was based for some reason in Bosra Syria;  Again I note the terminology of Luke properly translated is not necessarily identifying a person as Governor at all.

The last known exploit of this Legion before the time frame of The Nativity (from the timeline of the Legion Wikipedia has anyway), was being involved in a conflict between Rome and Nubia in Egypt in 23 BC.  The next time they show up is 7-11 BC when the Nikopolis fortress is established.

I'm thinking it's possible this Legion carried out the Census in Judea.

Varus governed the province of Africa before being Governor of Syria at the time of Herod's death.  Not quite the same province but close.  Since it borders Cyrene and we don't know Cyrene's governors perhaps he was entrusted with both.  Saturninus had also governed Africa before governing Syria.  Saturninus career immediately after his time as governor of Syria ended isn't documented, we know he was in Germania at some point but how soon is disagreed on.  What if Saturninus was governing Cyrene while Varus governed Syria?

I've had a hunch enter my head that maybe Luke's intent was to identify a year that Augustus was Consul and verse 2 is meant to identify the other Consul, though I can't think of a solid reason to make that argument.

The only years in the vicinity where Augustus was Consul were 5 BC, where the other Consul was Sulla who I mentioned above for an admittedly flawed reason.  And 2 BC where the other Consul was Silvanus.

The point isn't this post isn't the prove what the verse does say.  Just point out that there is reasonable to doubt it ever meant to mentioned Quirinius so smugly assuming it must be mentioning him when so much else about this Census obviously doesn't match that time frame just so you can keep saying "Luke placed Jesus birth in 6 AD" isn't really valid.

Or maybe the "Hegmony" being refered to in Luke 2:2 is that of the ruler named in verse 1.

Update April 2019: Latin Vulgate.

Given how often modern Translations claiming to directly translating the Greek are still influenced by the Latin translation, I was prepared to consider the Latin Vulgate perhaps the origin of this mistake.. But to my surprise the Latin doesn't mention Quirinius here, Jerome or whoever actually wrote the Vulgate did not recognize this a Greek transliteration of a Latin name, it spells the name Cyrino.
haec descriptio prima facta est praeside Syriae Cyrino
According to Google Translate, everything preceding the two names at the end is, "This was the first President of the".  But given what I know about the grammar of the Greek I think "President" should be "governing".  That is distinct from how the Vulgate does references to Cyrene, but the main distinction there is using an E where that spelling has an I, something that isn't a difference in the Greek.  So the Vulgate translation is mistaken, but i find it fascinating that the Educated Latins speakers who made it didn't see it as a clear from of a specific Latin name.


  1. Three simple observations:

    (a). The "-ou" at the end of "Kyreniou" marks the genitive case. (It certainly can't end in "-os", because that particular ending marks the nominative case). Even in English, you say "census of Kurenios" or "Kurenios' census" [note the apsotrophe], not "census Kurenios". (Please consult this article on Greek grammar for more basic information on this topic).

    (b). In Luke 24:19, it's "Iesou tou Nazoraiou", not "Iesous". Again, notice that all three words end in "-ou", since the Greek preposition "peri" demands the genitive. After all, even in English you say "because of Jesus" or "due to Jesus", not "because Jesus" or "due Jesus".

    (c). Just because Greek did not have an exact letter for "V" does not mean that approximants such as "B" or "Y/U" were not commonly used.

    Hope this helps shed some more light into the matter.

    1. I've seen people respond with that information before. But the fact still remains that the spelling in Luke 2 looks more similar to how Luke elsewhere refers to Cyrene then to how Josephus refers to Quirinus.