Maybe someone can shed some light on this for me. I have been studying the birth of Jesus and have been looking into Luke’s account, particularly how Luke set the birth of Jesus into the historical circumstances of the day. Particularly,
- Herod was King of Judea (Luke 1:5)
- Caesar Augustas was Emperor (Luke 2:1)
- Quirinius was governor of Syria and was commissioned to take a census
The problem one runs into here is that Herod died around March of 4 BC and Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 or 7 AD. So you can’t have Herod alive and Quirinius governor of Syria.
Now, there may be a translation issue here as some have pointed out that one might translate it as “before Quirinius was governor of Syria” instead of “while Quirinius was governor of Syria” but that doesn’t get to my question. My question is why does Josephus get the benefit of the doubt instead of Luke? We don’t know when Luke was born but we know Josephus wasn’t born until 37 AD. It seems to me that Luke was closer in proximity to these events than Josephus and yet we base the dates of these events off of Josephus rather than Luke (unless there is more evidence out there that confirms Josephus over Luke that I am just missing). What is more, Josephus didn’t write until 75 and stopped writing near his death in 100. That puts him writing history after the Gospels have been circulating for some time.
To me, all of that gives more credibility to Luke than to Josephus. I don’t want to disparage Josephus or accuse him of anything improper but wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you are the second guy in line to write the history of something that you might be inclined to offer up something distinct and what you believe more accurate than your predecessors. On one hand you may have more resources at your disposal than the first historian (Luke) but on the other hand you are further from the events and (we have no knowledge of this being the case) you might have in your hand what the other guy wrote and have an opportunity to render the other account inaccurate based on what information you have at your disposal. Again, we have no evidence that there was any foul play here…I just think the preponderance of the evidence here goes to Luke over Josephus.
I have searched high and low…if anyone out there knows of historical sources that confirm Josephus over Luke on Quirinius (or in Josephus Cyrenius) I would love to know about it.
Last, this brings up the issue of how one decides who they believe gets the benefit of the doubt. Some have hypothesized that Luke knew Josephus or even wrote after Josephus and borrowed some of his material from Josephus (Judas the Galilean in Acts 5:37; Jewish Wars 2, Jewish Ant. 18, Theudas in Acts 5:36; Jewish Ant. 20, and “The Egyptian” in Acts 21:38; Jewish Wars 2, Jewish Antiquities 20). That is extremely far fetched but it does illustrate the desire to find a path to the historian you already favor. I obviously have more to gain siding with Luke over Josephus. At the end of the day we only have what we have and have to deal with it as it is. That is why even after all the information comes in it still boils down to faith.