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Can anyone with theology knowledge (or knows someone with) explain this?
As we near Christmas and the nativity story is once again trotted out. I am perplexed by the census part. Okay if you accept god made the universe and all the laws pertaining to it. Then you can accept miracles, Talking snakes, burning bushes, etc. the whole 9 yards.
But the Romans making everyone go back to their birthplace to be counted, come on? Imagine the logistical problems, loss of output, upheaval, for what? Britain had a large empire at one time. Can you imagine us asking everyone in India to do this? The Romans were not dumb, you cannot have an empire that big for that long if you were. God may be able to suspend the laws of physics but not bureaucracy.

273kelvin 8 Nov 11

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The Roman Census that the Goat-herders Guide to Galaxy CLAIMS to have happened did NOT happen.
A 'count' of the population of their subjects was kept ONLY when taxes were collected and the Tax Collectors traveled from city to city,town to town rather than forcing the people to collect in one set place or return to their birth-place.
Under Roman Law, taxes were collected on the calends of the month of Janus ( January) the first month of each year and again on the calends of the 7th. month of each year, September.
All taxes collected were then handed over to Governor of the Province to be counted and tallied up with the population count before being divided between the Governor to pay the Legions under his command, the Emperor and the Treasury of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
Roman taxes were usually based on being 1 denarius per person in each household plus 1/10th of the value of crops produced or 'income' realized from any business activities conducted, i.e. a household of 2 Adults + 2 children would be expected to pay 4 denari +plus a 'tithe' of 1/10th. of the income earned for every month between tax collections.
the Romans were very pendantic, strict and excellent record keepers even including down to precisely how much grain was needed for EVERY man in EVERY Legion for EVERY meal he ate.

Goat-herders Guide to the Galaxy!! 😂😂😂. YES!! LMMFAO

@mentalinnuendo Feel most welcome and free to use the phrase when and wherever you wish.

@mentalinnuendo And as a footnote here, given that the Romans were such strict and very pedantic record keepers, even to the point that records HAVE been found recently of the very PRECISE numbers of captured slaves crucified AFTER the Spartacus Rebellion ( numbering 1,137 males and 61 females) along the Appian Way into Rome, there SHOULD have been a very EXACT and precise record as well IF some Hebrew from Nazareth was crucified for Sedition, Treason, etc, etc, as 'claimed by the Goat-herders guide to the Galaxy since ALL Roman Governors WERE required by Imperial Edicts to keep precise records of ALL executions by ALL methods and Means in their Provinces for the purposes of Taxation Levies.
Even disgraced Roman Governors were required to return to Rome and present ALL their records to the Emperors YET, after asking a well respected Historian friend, who is involved completely in Roman History to the point of almost obsession, THERE ARE NO records of either a Governor named Pontius Pilate being in Judea NOR the Crucifixion of ANYONE named Yeyoshua/Jesus of Nazareth during the reign of Emperor Tiberius OR his predecessor, Emperor Augustus BUT there is record of the Crucifixion of a Jew named Barrabas of Tyre for Murder, Pillage and Arson as demanded by the Sanhedrin and the High Priest of the Temple, Caiaphas.


From the UK government []

Amazing. Thank you.

@girlwithsmiles It is amazing to me that so many people who claim to understand the scientific method don't bother to do basic research. The ancients were much more advanced than most people are willing to admit. and you are very welcome.

That is interesting. Thanks.

@273Kelvin - Given that the majority of people, until very recent advances in transport, never travelled during their whole lifetime more than five miles from their birthplace, the edict of census in "place of birth" would result in little disruption to daily life for most people. As always there will be stupid people who will misinterpret what is written and travel back to their ancestor's birthplace. Who can deny that Joseph was stupid - he accepted that he was cuckolded by a god! A pity that DNA testing wasn't available back then.

@glennlab I clicked on the link and even though it is from the UK govt they did not sight any sources. Nor can I find any other sources for insisting that citizens should travel back to their birthplace, other than the bible.
Given that YouGov UK has just finished a 13 million pound ad campaign telling us to get ready for Brexit on 31st October which never happened. I will take the link with some salt.

@273kelvin Go to Any roman history book, it will site the contiuing censuses of the time. Since most people never ventured very far from their birthplace, and the best people to recognize you are the ones you've know most of your life, it was a standard practice. The distance was less than 2 full days of travel by donkey. (157 km)

@glennlab I doubt not that the Romans conducted continuing censuses. It is returning to your birthplace this does not ring true. Auxiliaries fought throughout the empire. Many would have settled in different regions. Traders also would also have traveled.
An accurate census would be very valuable for tax collecting but you would need to count people where they live not where they were born

@glennlab As for people not traveling far, bere in mind that the continent of America was colonized by people on horses and carts without the benefit of Roman roads


I posted this in reply to another person, but it bears repeating. I deleted the comments directed toward her.

Many (if not most) Xtians believe that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to counted in a census. There is no proof of that claim; the census did not take place.

A Christian explanation:

“The census that was ordered by Caesar Augustus was the first of its kind. It was done because the Roman government wanted to make sure that everyone in the Empire was paying their taxes correctly. The census was carried out all over Empire (most of Europe): but in Palestine, it was carried out in a Jewish way rather than a Roman way. This meant that families had to register in the [sic] their historical tribal town rather than where they lived. This also meant that Joseph and the very pregnant Mary would have had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as this was town that Joseph's family (the royal family of David) originally came from - a journey of about 70 miles (112 kilometres).”


There is no record of this census taking place. Even the timeline is wrong:

“There are major difficulties in accepting Luke's account: the gospel links the birth of Jesus to the reign of Herod the Great, but the census took place in 6 CE, nine years after Herod's death in 4 BCE; there was no single census of the entire empire under Augustus; no Roman census required people to travel from their own homes to those of ancestors; and the census of Judea would not have affected Joseph and his family living in Galilee; there is no time in the known career of Quirinius when he could have served as governor of Syria before 6 CE; the Romans did not directly tax client kingdoms; and the hostile reaction of the Jews in 6 CE suggests direct taxation by Rome was new at the time.[9][10][6] Conservative scholars have argued that Quirinius may have had an earlier and historically unattested term as governor of Syria, or that he previously held other senior positions which may have led him to be involved in the affairs of Judea during Herod's reign, or that the passage should be interpreted in some other fashion,[11][12][13]. These arguments have been rejected as "exegetical acrobatics", in the words of Geza Vermes,[14] springing from the assumption that the Bible is inerrant,[15] and most scholars have concluded that Luke's account is an error.[6]”


This is from Wikipedia, but it is the best I could do on short notice.

However, a contemporary Jewish explanation:

“It is not plausible that the Romans conducted a census in the manner described by Luke. There would have been no reason for them to demand that the people being enumerated return to the towns of their ancestors rather than register in the towns in which they actually resided. There would have been no need to make a difficult situation worse. It was obviously unnecessary for people to have to travel to a place often hundreds of miles away which they probably had never seen before. [. . .] It is unusual that an event of this magnitude should go unnoticed. Yet no contemporary writer mentions this disruptive census or the turmoil it would have engendered. Indeed, if this census took place in Judea it is strange that Josephus never mentioned it in any of his writings. It is obvious that Luke introduced the tale to explain still another legendary tale, that is, how it came about that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem at this time.”


The topic at hand is whether or not the Biblical census took place or took place in the manner of the Christian myth. It did not.

“It provided a register of citizens and their property from which their duties and privileges could be listed. It is said to have been instituted by the Roman king Servius Tullius in the 6th century bc [. . .]”


Again, from Wikipedia, but there is a bibliography.

Long ago, I read a book by Robin Lane Fox about the plausibility of a census. This post made me think of the book and I ordered it today. If anyone wants to know more after I receive the book, I will be happy to share.

Awesome compilation of FACTS!
Thank You!

@Channeler1 You are welcome! I believe in backing claims with sources. Wikipedia is not the greatest and I do not let my students use it, but it is good for quick reference. (And the person to whom I first directed this told me that I was ignorant because I said the census did not take place. I also like a challenge.)

Thank you for the most detailed explanation of all the comments.

@273kelvin I will admit it was instigated by being called "ignorant" by someone who was clueless. 🙂


They were going home for Thanksgiving, but the story was changed in the retelling.


The simple truth here is that the Romans did not make everybody go back to their birthplace to be counted. It never happened. This is something added to the gospels to explain how Jesus fits in with the prophesies. It is all manipulated. Imagine Mary and Joseph in Egypt but they had to come back because of this. Balderdash! Tommyrot!

Tommyrot, hell yea. What's the origin?

@Casey07 The Gospel of Luke chapter 2 correlates the date of the nativity of Jesus to the census of Quirinius: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

It is also a manipulated "fact" to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem. In other words, another "proof" that he is the Christ.

@DenoPenno Thank you for a great and highly informative reply. So I am a little embarrassed to say that it is the origin of the term "tommyrot" I was asking about. You sir are both a gentleman and a scholar!

@Casey07 []


Because taking the Bible literally requires an absolute willingness to suspend all logic.

The ridiculous, never-happened, census was added to the story in order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem and fit the Jewish prophesy about the messiah.

So you’re saying that there really wasn’t a talking donkey in those days. Please say it ain’t so

@abyers1970 Alas, no talking donkeys...or serpents...or gods 🙂.

@Joanne -- It's all true, my dear. Every single syllable was painstakingly written down exactly as it happened. The bible is infallible because it is HIS word, dontcha know.


The idea that everyone had to return to their place of birth was an invention just to try and make the so called prophesies of the bible (ie the birth of the messiah) fit. There is no corroborating evidence at all to back this up. Like the rest of the bible, it's a load of bollocks!


There is no evidence that that census ever took place. It is only mentioned in some ancient book by illiterate superstitious tribesman...the bible.

Nuke Level 5 Nov 11, 2019

People in those days, unless in the army or navy, seldom wandered more than few miles, if at all, from their birthplace. No transportation except feet & donkeys.


Yeah, well considering these things were written between 60 and 80 years after the events supposedly took place, mostly from oral tradition, you get all kinds of crazy shit making its way into the "gospel truth". Ever play the game telephone, where you whisper something, and that person whispers it to the next, and so on, and in the end what started out is nothing like what ended up? Those are the gospels, primarily stuff that people made up, misunderstood, or added in because they thought it sounded neat.


Can We Have Confidence In the Gospels When They Contain Ridiculous Stories?
One of the most ridiculous Christmas stories is found at Luke Chapter 2.
1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from
Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

In order to understand the scope of this ridiculous decree, we need to
know that the word translated "world" , as in "all the WORLD should be
taxed." is the exact same word translated "world" in the following verse;
"""And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the WORLD
for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."""

So you can see that according to Luke, everyone in the world, or at least
everyone in the Roman Empire, was to obey the decree of Caesar Augustus,
and return to the city of his birth in order to be taxed.

Think about how crazy this would be. Millions of people would be traveling
many miles, perhaps some traveling hundreds or even a thousand miles,
to get "home" during the month of December, the month with the fewest
hours of daylight and cold weather. Then after registering for the tax, they
would have to go back to where they now resided during the month of
January the coldest month of the year.

The people would have had to walk, or ride horses or donkeys or ride
in wagons. Taking a ship to go home would have been dangerous
as it says at Acts 27:9 , because December is after the "fast" or Day
of Atonement, which is usually in October."""9Now when much time
was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast
was now already past, Paul admonished them,""" Acts 27:9

We live in a modern world with planes, trains, and automobiles,
hotels and motels, fast food restaurants and electricity. We could
do it. But imagine the primitive conditions 2000 years ago and
you can see how ridiculous this idea is.

Does this all seem like a ridiculous way to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for Jesus' birth?

Can We Have Confidence In the Gospels When They Contain Ridiculous Stories?

No, no we can't.

Nobody traveled "thousands" of miles in those days of foot & cart conveyances, I doubt anyone even thought of such a thing.......

@AnneWimsey You would have had auxiliaries from the provinces serving all around the empire. So someone from Thrace might well be on Hadrian's wall. I suppose that traders and specialists such as medical practitioners might also travel the length and breadth of the empire.

@273kelvin armies and traders are not the bulk of the population.

@AnneWimsey But they are not nobody

@273kelvin true, but they (the armed forces) would have been exempt from any census.


I remember reading something about the whole birth of jesus thing where some historians tried to work it out. This link is to a religious site but they have done a bit of the work to determine when it is most likely he was born. [] Given as others have said that only the people of Palestine who were going back to their place of birth and some noted the distance which would only have taken a week at most even on foot to cover given the average person could walk about 20 miles a day easily, I know I did a ten mile walk as a child. People must have moved around even then for joe to have meet mary. However we are basing all of this on a poorly written text that had multiple authors over many years and has been translated from the original by people who wanted it to suit their own views at the time.


There was no census. It was a contrivance to make the fable work.

BDair Level 8 Nov 15, 2019

Exactly so.


Lets recap, Joseph found out Mary was preggie. She told him she was a virgin. If he bought that story( he did) its entirely plausible that he travels to Bethlehem years earlier than needed to be counted. Its also likely he didn't use Expedia and had no reservations. Makes perfect sense he would let Mary have gods son in a manger. Its a simple matter of lack of planning and not asking for directions. Sound familiar to anyone?

IMO Mary was not a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus.

Matthew, did not meet Jesus until Jesus was about 30 years old. [Matthew 9:9]
Luke does not claim to be an eye witness but only a compiler who never had even met Jesus [Luke 1:1-3]
So both gospel writers who report the virgin birth were at least 30 years away from Jesus’ birth.
How could they know about Jesus’ birth?

My mother always tells me that I was born of a virgin.
Just like Jesus, there is no way to tell if a mother was a virgin when her child was born, nor is their any way to tell if a child was born of a virgin.

About the time that Mary became pregnant she went on a trip to visit her relative, Elizabeth, in the hill country. [Luke 1:39] So she was not being watched by her family or the people of her town. Any five minute interlude could have done the deed.

The relatives and people of Mary’s town could not be witnesses of Mary’s virginity. When it was noticed Mary was pregnant Joseph didn’t want to disgrace or embarrass Mary . [Matthew 1:18-19] So Joseph probably took “credit” for Mary’s pregnancy. To tell everyone that Mary was pregnant and still a virgin would have been ridiculous. Nobody would have believed him. LOL.

So the only possible witness could have been Mary, herself. Why should we believe her? Mary’s two or three witnesses are no where in sight.

@nicknotes turkey baster


There is no historical backing for any part of this story. The Romans never did such a thing and only counted people where they lived. This story is made up of whole cloth and echoes older mythologies with similar events.


Theology and knowledge? . . . . those two words are oxymorons . . .
Oxymoron - etymology from a Greek word whose literal translation is "pointedly foolish".

Do you want to explain patronizing whilst you are at it?

Feel free to interpret my actions as you choose . . . . . just remember that it is your thoughts, not mine.


Lol!!! Yep, the plot thickens!! Who helped deliver the baby?? I suppose she just pooped it out in the "manger no room for a bed"
My question is how can the "seed" of David, be conceived with no seed. If indeed the Holy Spirit busted inside her, what did he say upon ejaculation?
Ohhhh God!!!!???🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

There are alternative stories about the birth! In one, Mary gives birth in a cave with angels attending her. And remember, she WAS giving birth to a god, so the process could have been painless.

@Gwendolyn2018 Are we sitting comfortably children? Good then let us begin - "Once upon a time. . ."

@FrayedBear I love myths and fairy tales! Let me get the popcorn.

@Gwendolyn2018 LMAO. Did you read the #MagicPudding that I shared a long time ago?

@FrayedBear Nope.

@Gwendolyn2018 Have you read it now?

@FrayedBear Nope. I read four essays, graded almost 20 discussion posts, and sent emails to instructors who did not use the rubrics. I am not going to read anything else for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, I need to read at least six essays. Such is the life of the English teacher/team lead.


The whole bible ...old and new testaments, is a work of fiction. In the case of the census though, I think this story is more likely to have been credible than any of the miracles and other incredible tales.


It was only to fit the narrative, because it had been prophesied that Jesus was to be born in Jerusalem, this prophecy being in John 7:41-42. In practice, even Christian scholars cannot explain why they had to go to Jerusalem for the census, it doesn't make sense and the First census was by the Roman governor Publius Silpicius Quirinius, not in the reign of Herod the Great, who died nine years prior to this.
There would actually have been no reason for either of them to have to go to Jerusalem for the census, it would have been run pretty much like censuses of today, identifying where you were at a given time.

I think you have the birth prophecy and the crucifixion prophecy confused. The messiah was to be born in Bethlehem according to the bible.


The timeframe of the census is a bit skewed. The event is the Census of Quirinius undertaken in 6CE which does not coincidence with the Luke narrative.

This is a paper discussing the matter


There was no requirement for the populace of the empire to return to an ancestral district for a census so Luke carries a few liberties with his poetic licence.

The problem, with certainly the the three synoptic gospels, is that in some quarters they are taken as history. This in no more so than historical novels of today where storyline’s may be set within a period and general background is correct, but local and political quirks are ignored in order not to interrupt the narrative I.e. Luke needs to get the guys to Bethlehem and they wouldn’t be doing it on a whim so he constructs the legislative narrative to get them their. Basic plot writing really!

The gospels are literature and probably the best available at the time the canon was being constructed. To take them literally is to impede an understanding of their flair and the literary talent of the authors.


There is no evidence such a thing ever took place, not the census nor the massacre of innocents.

The Census of Quirinius was a census of Judea taken by Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Roman governor of Syria, upon the imposition of direct Roman rule in 6 CE.[1] The Gospel of Luke uses it as the narrative means to establish the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1–5), but places it within the reign of Herod the Great, who died 9 years earlier.[2][3][4] No satisfactory explanation of the contradiction seems possible,[5] and most scholars think that the author of the gospel made an error

Believers are convinced of a story, and once convinced see the world through a lens of that story. Stories carry forward more by emotional content than direct events in drama, it is not so important that the killer killed as to why they did, were they forced or did they relish it?
In this way believers in a story will overlook or discount evidence which ruins the tale to preserve the worldview they hold using it.

That was interesting,thanks.I always knew the bible was full of inconsistencies but never new this part.I wish we had the internet when I was (an atheist) kid in catechism class.I had an understanding with the priest,teachers,principal and my parents,I doodle and shut up and not ask difficult questions in catechism class and I get to stay in a French-Canadian catholic school.(there were no French public schools back then).

@actofdog so do I, I spent 20 odd years of my life perusing libraries and denominations, including a couple of monasteries trying to grasp how so many believed, but not the same things. However my child indoctrination for a God notion held for a long time, not the religions because I read their texts, but that loose smoky notion.

I just never thought to even consider that, and the moment I did, it was gone.


The devil is in the details, as they say. The more you look into the specifics, the more you poke holes in the entire belief system.


It was a very poor contrived way to have Jesus born in Bethlehem as prophesy dictated.


Because the people who wrote the bible did it long after the supposed events they described and were not knowledgeable of how the empire worked. Remember they were creating a myth not a history and yes I grant you the fact that during that time there wasn't a hell of a lot of difference between mythologist and historian. The actual censuses taken by the Byzantine empire were done by the same methodology as the Roman empire used. The tax farmers took down the information of who lived where, what they owned, and how much they produced... Tax farmers were people who bid a region to the Emperor saying "I will pay you 'X' amount for the right to collect the taxes for this region" They bought scribes for the recording to keep track of the details and hired soldiers to force people to pay what they demanded. Many of them later bought a place in the Senate with the money they made....


Welcome to the ship 'Rationality'.

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