June 18, 2008

Quirinius and my U-Haul

Today, U-Haul made me think of the censuses in Israel. Here's how:

We're moving Friday. Our truck is going to pull out of here in about 50 hours. And we haven't fully packed yet. Bankers boxes are everywhere, but they still need lids. Little stacks of books and clothes and plates still need packing. At a glance, it seems like we've got as much left to do as we've already done. But we're old pros at this.

My wife and I have been through six moves in ten years. We also helped others pack & load (or unload & unpack) a dozen or two dozen times, when we lived in community. It's amazing how much SPEED experience can bring. More than anything, it just helps so much when you know what you're doing!

We don't label boxes. If it's books, you can tell. If it's plates, you can tell. If it's anything else it's going to sit in the living room for a few hours anyway! It takes about two seconds to lift a box lid and declare which room the box goes to. Ten years ago we taped and wrote five times on every box. I'm looking at a box right now that says "paper reams" and it's full of kids DVD's. Through experience, we've found that it just doesn't matter.

We still haven't packed anything we might want, need or use in the next 24 hours. We know we can pack and load what's left in about 24 hours. We're both off tomorrow. So we'll hit it all day on thursday and finish Friday morning. That's comfortable pacing.

Everything in life is like that. You find out what matters and what doesn't.

And now I have a point to make about Bible/History!

In 6 AD, the Roman Proconsul Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was an experienced Governor. He'd already Governed the Province of Galatia and practically co-Governed Syria with Augustus' grandson Gaius. He'd also managed exactly one war in each province! Quirinius was impressive enough to win the lifelong respect and loyalty of Tiberius Caesar (a man with very few friends). Quirinius earned enough clout that he may have once received special matchmaking assistance from Augustus' wife Livia.

In short, Quirinius knew what he was doing. He knew, in life, how to get things done.

So in 6 AD, when Augustus decided to exile Herod's son Archelaus and annex Judea as a Province, he knew he needed to upgrade the old census rolls. Israel had never had a registration of property before. (In fact, the wealthiest Jews were going to get very upset about that new detail, this time.) The Emperor knew he needed a man who could do the job well, so he picked Quirinius. But this detail is important: Augustus knew the census was part of the job before he chose Quirinius for the job. It was already early summer. The whole property registration of Judea, Samaria and Idumea had to be finished before spring tax tax season.

Augustus chose Quirinius for just such a task. That alone says quite a bit.

Now, compare that man (and his task) to another, less famous, less impressive man who had a much greater task (Israel's first census) to perform.

Back in the Autumn of 9 BC, a less experienced Proconsul, Gaius Sentius Saturninus, was already governing Syria when Augustus - rashly - decided to punish Herod the Great for invading Nabatea. Augustus had ordered censuses in the provinces since 27 BC and this was the only justifiable cause for him to register a client-kingdom. So it must have been about the turn of 9/8 BC when Saturninus got a message to prepare a census of Herod's kingdom. (Since it took a whole year to plan and set-up, the census itself began in 7 BC.)

We'll never know WHY Saturninus decided to make Israel's men go back to their families' hometowns. (Aside from divine intervention, to get Joseph & Mary to Bethlehem... what a dumbheaded move!) However, we can at least be absolutely sure that decision created an enormous logistical nightmare! Thus, he needed extra time for extra planning and carefully coreographed preparation.

Granted, Saturninus was not the most impressive Proconsul who ever governed. He spent a quiet year or two managing Carthage, North Africa. Then 4-5 years later, Saturninus went to Syria, also very quiet at the time. He'd been consul ten years before that second appointment, to Syria. But Saturninus never took on any military duties until Tiberius went to Germany in 4 AD (22 years into his career). And it may not matter (or it may) to add that Saturninus had once been related to Augustus by marriage - although his relative Scribonia's marriage ended 20 years before Saturninus first became Consul, the union may have been what started him slowly up the path to advancement (cursus honorum). The timing would fit especially well if the advancement was slow.

Saturninus was a patrician by birth, eligible for consul at age 33, but apparently a bit soft from fine breeding. He was solid, but not very dynamic. In his mid to late 50's, he finally commanded Legions in West Germany, under Tiberius. To be fair, he ended his career by winning an Ornamental Triumph. But then again, that reward was for leading an attack (on Bohemia) that got called off when revolt broke out (in Illyricum). Saturninus' celebration may have been one way for Augustus to save face on the loss of Bohemia... if not even (perhaps) a way to nudge Saturninus into a respectable retirement (at precisely the time when the allies of Scribonia's bloodline were causing significant political trouble for the Emperor).

Let's say it again: Saturninus was not the most impressive Proconsul who ever governed.

By contrast, Quirinius was consul 17 years before governing Syria, his third joint military-administrative appointment. Quirinius was deliberately chosen to perform a relatively difficult task in a fairly short period of time. As a "new man" (novus homo) without noble family connections, Quirinius had to earn every single office he held. Eligible for consul not before age 38, Quirinius had previously fought one war already - evidently as a mere Propraetor, no less - in Cyrene (Northeast Africa) at about the same time Saturninus was governing from Carthage. Then as Proconsul, Quirinius was sent to make war in Galatia, sent to make war in Syria/Armenia, and sent to the census of Judea to keep war from breaking out - which Quirinius successfully did. (Josephus says in his Antiquities - of Judas the Galilean's "revolt" - only that the plot to revolt made great progress, not that the revolt made progress. In the Antiquities, Josephus never says the revolt actually got underway.)

Quirinius was sent to fight four wars! The guy could flat out get things done.

So P. S. Quirinius was a great man who knew how to do things. That's one big reason his census went faster than the first census of Israel. And by that same token, one of the reasons Israel's first census took much longer, under Saturninus, is because the noble, younger, less experienced, less capable governor had no idea what he was doing.

Quirinius was over 55 years old with 20 years of practical military and logistical experience at the 6 AD census. But Saturninus was as young as 43 when he got his orders for the first census. And Saturninus at that time had NO military or logistical training or experience to speak of.

Sometimes, capable efficient performance isn't even a matter of knowing how to do a particular task. Sometimes, it's just a matter of knowing how to do things, period.

To complete the picture, however, and to be fair, two final factors have to be pointed out. They are not at all insignificant. Firstly, the censuses of 7 BC and 6 AD had vastly different parameters in geographic scope. Secondly, there were also great differences in the nature and substance of each registration.

Quirinius' registration took place in Judea, roughly half the size of Herod's old kingdom. So Saturninus' task covered twice as much geography! And Quirinius was only taking a census of land (which didn't move around at all) and other more liquid assets of the wealthy (who were easy to find in their nice large town homes and ranches). But quite to the opposite extreme in both respects, Saturninus was taking a census of people, who had to be scheduled and 'herded', a time consuming task. Saturninus also had to verify their identities, prevent/detect attempts at fraud, and account that each man had been counted once but only once. (Wphew!)

So from 9/8 to 7 BC, a lesser man, by far, took on a greater task, by far. Saturninus needed almost two years to complete his census. But in 6 AD, a far greater man accomplished a far simpler task (not accounting for the military concerns, which came to nothing). So Quirinius was done in six months.

But it wasn't only the fact that Quirinius took on an easier job, that made it go faster.

In every basic, logistically practical way, Quirinius knew what he was doing.

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So much for that. Time to go call the power and cable companies! :)

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