December 20, 2013

Tertullian in the Archives

Category: Bible - NT - Luke :: Permalink

While wrestling with the mysterious reference to the census under Quirinius in Luke 2, Jakob van Bruggen points out something that Tertullian says that suggests that he may have done some research in the Imperial Archives in Rome:

In 202, he visited Rome himself, and from his writings it appears that as a jurist he was familiar with the districts of the city where the Aerarium and the Tabelarium are found, in which the archives were kept….  In the fourth volume of his book against Marcion, written after this visit to Rome, he says in passing that “the Roman archives preserve the census of Augustus as a very reliable testimony to the birth of the Lord” (Adv. Marcionem IV.7.7).  It is very striking that later on in his book he returns to this point and provides more details: “But it is also certain that under Augustus censuses were held in Judea by Sentius Saturninus: in these censuses one could verify his humanity” (IV.19.10).  Even if one … is of the opinion that the plural censuses here makes us think of a number of censuses in which one could verify not so much the year of His birth as the true humanity of the (registered) Jesus, it is still remarkable with how much confidence Tertillian speaks about the presence of reports about censuses (Lukas, 72-73; my translation).

Note, too, that Tertullian talks about censuses “held in Judea by Sentius Saturninus” (who may have been the legate in charge of the censuses, so that Tertillian’s use of his name doesn’t conflict with Luke’s reference to Quirinius).  Where did he come up with that name?  Is it possible that he found it, digging in the Roman census archives, where he found not just Augustus’s census but also others — and maybe even some with Jesus bar Joseph from Nazareth registered?  No, we can’t be sure.  But it makes one wonder….


Posted by John Barach @ 1:52 pm | Discuss (3)

3 Responses to “Tertullian in the Archives”

  1. Links 20 – 21/12/13 | Alastair's Adversaria Says:

    […] 10. Tertullian in the Archives […]

  2. David K. Says:

    In his book “In the Fullness of Time” Paul L. Maier cites the discovery of a Roan census edict from 104 A.D. in neighboring Egypt, in which taxpayers who were living elsewhere were ordered to return to their original homes for registration. He also states that the Romans required such censuses every 14 years, and even provides a photograph of a papyrus fragment dated 119 A.D. originating from the village of Bacchias in Egypt.

  3. #Luke2Acts – Some Notes on Luke 1 and 2 | Alastair's Adversaria Says:

    […] The census involves people being sent back to their hometowns by imperial decree. The decree of Cyrus led to Israel being sent back to their city to rebuild the temple. It is Christ who will rebuild his Father’s house. It is also worth thinking about David’s taking of the census in 2 Samuel 24. This census led to judgment upon the house of Israel, but also established the site of the new Temple. John Barach has an interesting historical tidbit on the census here. […]

Leave a Reply