February 4, 2011

Quirinius is Fascinating

Forget that census controversy.  I mean the man's whole life!

Born in the years around Caesar's assassination; the first of his bloodline to become Senator (a 'novus homo'); commanded Legions in Africa, Galatia, Armenia and Judea; granted at least one (minor) Triumphal parade (an 'ovatio'); Governed Crete, Cyrene, Galatia and Syria twice (once solo, once by proxy); befriended Tiberius during his exile; guided Augustus' first grandson to an early death; married the bereaved fiance of Augustus' second grandson; handpicked again and again for the most difficult assignments; his Proconsular career alone lasted for two decades; retired wealthy; lived to old age; and was honored in death with a state funeral, receiving high praise in a personal eulogy from the Emperor Tiberius.

The biography of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius would be riveting history.  He's famous for something he didn't do, and yet somehow escaped infamy for what may have been willful neglect in the young Caesar's fatal accident.  If Quirinius doesn't fail to protect Gaius in Armenia, the next thirty to fifty years of Imperial rule could have been drastically different.  The delicious rivalry of two grandstanding incompetents (Gaius vs. Germanicus) might have led to a stunning political struggle between their mother and wife, respectively (Julia vs. Agrippina the Elder).  There might have been no Sejanus, and perhaps no Caligula.  Of course, this is just speculation, but Gaius' death absolutely has that level of significance.  And Quirinius was (or should have been held) responsible for it.  Why wasn't he!?!

What Quirinius did accomplish was pleasing two Emperors and seizing a grand life of power for himself.  He pacified difficult regions on two continents and nipped off the bud of Judean Zealotry (for a few decades, at least).  Perhaps most impressively, Quirinius managed to retain the favor of both Augustus and Tiberius during the very time of their most aggravated feud.

There have been full length academic treatments done on historical figures with much less to work from.  It must be the darn controversy that cheats us from having such a treasure.  Of course, any scholar who attempts the work could spend easily half of her time on the history of opinions on Luke 2:2.  As soon as someone's that bold, they should read what Stephen Carlson has written, here.  And my Timeline, along with the other 34 posts on this site that mention Quirinius (or at least this onethis one, and perhaps this one).  In the end, however, the focus of such a project should be the man.  Not the minutae.

A critical biography or some such work on Quirinius is extremely overdue.

Won't you take on this challenge as your life's work, dear current or prospective grad student?

Yes, that's right.  I mean YOU.


David D. Flowers said...

You talkin' to me? ;-)

Bill Heroman said...

Maaaaybe. ;-)

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