April 24, 2009

Luke 2:1-5 as Historical Evidence (4)

In this series, I have claimed that faith-based historical reconstruction should prioritize the aspects of Luke's claim. We may believe his confusing synopsis is true, but it is too discordant at face value to trust in detail without first arriving at some proper perspective. In other words, historical study of this passage should pause at his central claim - there was a census - and seek out a classical context for that much, alone. Details might, hopefully, become clear by the end of that process. We trust.

This sums up the series so far. (See preface & parts 1, 2 & 3.) Now let's make it practical.

It just so happens that I raised a separate question recently, about Herod and Augustus. I asked, since Josephus and Dio together reveal that the King was officially in disfavor with the Emperor for as much as one whole year, did Augustus actually punish Herod? If not, I said, Caesar's promise to treat Herod "like a subject" boils down to an empty threat, which would be very un-Caesar-like. But if so, what evidence do we have for any means by which Augustus might have punished his temporary-former friend?

One possibility, all historians should consider, is the census. Since I am trying to show that Luke's central claim is worth considering apart from its trappings, I suggest that even secular history should consider isolating this element of Luke's testimony for its own ends. So, back to the problem of this phantom punishment.

Chronology of German campaigning and one Damascene's travel plans have cast aspersions on Augustus' character. That is, according to me. Classical scholarship needs to respond. At least, so now say I. At any rate, the only historical evidence I am aware of to suggest Caesar may have punished Herod is the census Luke mentions.

Let me put it another way. If Luke 2:1-5 is accurate about anything, it is that the census happened. There is no better candidate for the cause of such a census than the punishment of Herod by Augustus. If the rest of N.T. chronology can be reconciled (and it can) and if Luke's central claim is reliable (which I certainly also believe) then this suggestion must be considered the most worthy option for beginning any reconstruction of the historical census.

Again, this is merely the beginning of reconstruction. I am suggesting Luke's evidence belongs as a part of a larger search for the history between Augustus and Herod. I will pick up again with the Josephus study linked to above... sometime soon.

Finally, please note that at this point we still cannot yet bring in the less clear details of Luke 2:1-5. Thankfully, we do not need to. We may pick up perspective on them as we go through more of the classical sources, but those points will actually remain an almost entirely separate issue.

Defending Luke's veracity is one thing. Reconstructing the historical event sequence is another.

Fini. (For now)

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