Saturday, January 28, 2017

Misconceptions about the Magi and the Census

Matthew 2:1 clearly says.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem
And yet today the notion is constantly being promoted that the Magi arrived 2 years later, or at least over a year.

The first argument for this presented is often the easiest to refute, saying that Jesus was called a "child" not a "baby".  However the same Greek word translated "child" in Matthew 2:8, Luke uses in the same form in 2:17 to refer to the newborn Jesus.  And the form of the word used in Matthew 2:9 is used in Luke 2:21 of Jesus at his Circumcision.  So that whole argument is based on ignorance of the Greek.

That Herod ordered everyone under two years old to be killed was probably him grossly rounding up.  But that he asked the Magi how long ago they saw the Star may have been a factor.  And at the time they had that discussion it may be both the Magi and Herod thought the birth happened when they saw the star.  But they were Human. 

God's inspired Word in Matthew 2:1 clearly and unambiguously synchronizes the Birth of Jesus to when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, not when the Star was first seen.  God used the Star to bring them to where he wanted them when he wanted them.  And I think even if the Magi told Herod the King was probably born now not then, Herod would not have wanted to take a chance on it.

Matthew 2:8 says Herod told them to "search diligently" so he may have given then plenty of time before realizing he'd been snubbed. So I don't think the 2 year time frame in question cleanly begins or ends with the Birth of Jesus.  Matthew 2:16 does clarify Herod was killing two years and under from when they saw the Star.

I also personally have come to feel it makes most sense if Jesus presentation in The Temple was after Herod was already dead.  Many who support the September 11th 3 BC birth-date (that I used to support) and a January 1 BC death for Herod, have Herod dying less then 40 days from when they have the Magi arrive in Jerusalem anyway.  Since some variations of that have the Magi arrive in Jerusalem on the 25th of December 2 BC, based on their analysis of the movements of Jupiter.

But the main reason I feel that way is, why would these foreigners proclaiming the Birth of a King of the Jews upset and surprise him so much, if Simeon and Anna had already given their very public declarations of The Messiah's birth?  Why wouldn't he have a similar reaction to that?

[Update 2018: I've changed my mind on these prior two paragraphs in light by reasons for now placing Jesus Birth in 12 BC.]

But there is one last argument against The Magi arriving in Jerusalem when Jesus was born, and I saved that for last cause I want to use it to transition into something else.

That argument is that in Matthew 2 Jesus and his parents are living in a House not an Inn.  Before I'd argued simply that a few days could be enough time for them to find better living quarters, as not everyone in Bethlehem when they first arrived was gonna stay them, some the Census may have been making travel even further.  But my views on that have possibly changed, which I want to explain below.

The problem is much of how we picture the Birth of Jess is indeed not Biblical.  There is no Biblical account of them seeking room in an Inn and finding none.  Nor does it anywhere say he was born in a stable or a cave.  That tradition comes from Christianized Rome wanting to make a cave for worshiping Adonis into a Church, thus we get the current Church of the Nativity.

The one occurrence of the word "inn" in the KJV of Luke 2:7 is mistranslated.  The Greek word is Katalumati.  The other two times it is used it is translated in the KJV "guestchamber".  It means a guest room of sorts usually located on the upper floor of a house.  It is used of the Upper Room of the Last Supper, in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11.  One of those is the same author as this verse.

And this statement that there was no room in the Katalumati comes after Jesus is born, not before, it's where to place him after being born.  This Katalumati is not where he was born.

Luke 2 also doesn't even say Jesus was born as soon as they arrived in Bethlehem.  Verses 1-5 tell us the Census brought them to Jerusalem.  And then verse 6 says while they were there the time for her to give Birth came.   They could have been in Bethlehem for weeks or even months.  Which addresses the criticism of making Mary travel this far at a full 9 months.  I now think they she may well have been only 4 or 5 months pregnant when they traveled to Bethlehem.

So there is in fact nothing in Luke's account to definitively contradict a theory that Jesus was born in a house Joseph (or his family) owned.  Yet I myself was still clouded by these misconceptions when I made all my previous Christmas relevant posts.  It's possible there was no room on the main floor because others of the House of David were also staying there at this time.

Which is why I want to move on to the Census now.

When refuting the common assertion that a Roman census would never require such traveling, on message boards I would copy/paste the following which I no longer remember where I got it from.
First of all, lets look at a few early census accounts taken from history and see how they matchup with the Bible:

The following is a record of a census taken in the year 104 A.D. which contains similar wording to that found in the Gospel:

"From the Prefect of Egypt, Gaius Vibius Maximus. Being that the time has come for the house to house census, it is mandatory that
all men who are living outside of their districts return to their own homelands, that the census may be carried out."

Another census was uncovered from 48 A.D.which also records a return of the people to their native land for the census. It reads as follows:

"I Thermoutharion along with Apollonius, my guardian, pledge an oath to Tiberius Claudius Caesar that the preceding document gives an accurate account of those returning, who live in my household, and that there is no one else living with me, neither a foreigner, nor an Alexandrian, nor a freedman, nor a Roman citizen, nor an Egyptian. If I am telling the truth, may it be well with me, but if falsely, the reverse. In the ninth year of the reign of Tiberius Claudius Augustus Germanicus Emperor."

It is interesting to note that these two census accounts required a person to return to their homeland to be registered. The same is true of the Gospel account.
The response I got (that at the time I wasn't ready to respond to) was that the point of these was to bring land owners to where they owned their land.  Not the hometown of a distant ancestor from a thousand years ago.  (Another objection is that these were Egyptian customs, but it's logical similar ones were done in neighboring provinces).

That notion seems inconsistent with the Nativity narrative only because of the extra-Biblical assumptions I just addressed.

The reason these Census instructions were needed is because clearly many people were living somewhere other then where they actually owned their property.

Remember, the word translated "Carpenter" in reference to Joseph could also very likely imply he was actually an Architect.  He may have been in Galilee because of a construction project, perhaps one of Herod's many.  And of course those insisting Nazareth is to young a city to be the Biblical one suggest it was at most brand new when Jesus was born.  Maybe Joseph was helping build Nazareth?

This Census, (whichever one it was, I'll try to tackle that in the future), then required him to return home sooner then originally planned.

And if my argument that Bethlehem is "Zion, which is the City of David" is true. Then that adds a lot to the above observations.  As we now see that David's family never stopped being linked to Bethlehem after they became Royalty.

Now I've seen someone argue that Nazareth not Bethlehem must be their hometown in Luke because of Luke 2:39.  Since Luke 2:3 says they are to return to their "own city", if Luke 2:39 is calling Nazareth their "own City" in contrast to Bethlehem, then you're not even dealing with an inconsistency with other records, but accusing Luke 2 of being inconsistent with itself.  Since no one accuses Luke of being garbled together from different authors like they do some other books, that option isn't really viable.  Luke 2:39 is simply about Nazareth becoming their new hometown after deciding to move there permanently, with Matthew 2 providing the reasons why this change in residence happened.  It may be that the English simply words this misleadingly.

Now this doesn't change that events of Matthew 1 takes place while Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth even though Matthew doesn't mention Nazareth.  But Matthew doesn't mention Bethlehem in that chapter either, Bethlehem is first mentioned in Matthew 2 when Jesus was born, and 6 to nine months separated the events of chapters 1 and 2.

And it's still possibly that Mary was indigenous to Nazareth.  Maybe Joseph met and courted here while in Nazareth on business.  Or maybe this arranged marriage is what first brought him there.  But that fact that Luke gives us the impression that the events of Matthew 1 didn't happen till three months into Mary pregnancy, makes most sense if we presume Joseph was living in Bethlehem when the Annunciation and Visitation happened, and came to Nazareth for the wedding around the end of Sivan or beginning of Tammuz.

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