Quick historical note on the subject of the Roman census or registration – Josephus specifically mentions a census undertaken by the Roman government at or around the time of Jesus’ birth. This census, or perhaps another one of a similar nature, is also mentioned by Orosius. There are indeed issues with dating, but we cannot throw out events as fantastic simply because dating ancient events is so problematic. Were that the case we would have to discard most of history up to the Late Middle Ages or thereabouts. That this census, or registration, broke with a Roman custom is not hard to understand nor widely contested. As a matter of course the Roman government did not generally conduct a census in a client kingdom, however the Bible as well as other non-Christian sources mention a census, so it’s not that hard to accept a census of some form or fashion as historical. Also, we should remember that comparing the events of this time to other Roman history is potentially problematic. The government under Augustus is no longer the Republic. Augustus was, in fact, the first Emperor of Rome (though he didn’t call himself that) and was likely to enact many policies that would seem strange when taken in the light of Republican practices. We can certainly imagine a change of business as usual if America were suddenly ruled by a king who had recently concluded a rather massive war for control of the kingdom. Furthermore, Judea at this time was anything but a placid region. Rumors of rebellions were rife and Romans of the day were probably familiar with the problems the Maccabees had caused for the Seleucids about a century prior. It is certainly conceivable that the new emperor would wish to know about his empire (even the client states), especially those places were he could easily expect opposition to his rule. That a census of some kind was conducted in the manner of the Jewish custom, as opposed to the Roman, is understandable given that the Romans often deferred to locals in matters of administration and law. That the census was remarkable is certainly true, but must be taken in the context of some rather remarkable times altogether. A census in Judea according to the Jewish custom is perfectly plausible, at least as plausible as many other events that we take as historical.
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