Taxing is the rendering, in the A. V., of a Greek word, which occurs in two passages, ἡ ἀπογραφή (Vulg. descriptio, Lu 2:2; professio, Ac 5:37). The cognate verb ἀπογράφεσθαι in like manner is rendered by "to be taxed" in the A.V., while the Vulg. employs "ut describeretur universus orbis" in Lu 2:1, and "ut profiterentur singuli" in ver. 3. In Heb 13:23 (πρωτοτόκων ἀπογεγραμμένων ἐν οὐρανοῖς), where the idea is that of the registration of the first-born as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the A. V. has simply "written," the Vulg. "qui conscripti sunt." Both the Latin words used in the two passages first cited; above are found in classical writers with the meaning of a registration or formal return of population or property (Cicero, Ver. 2, 3, 47; De Qf 1, 7; Sueton. Tiber. 30). The English word conveys to us more distinctly the notion of a tax or tribute actually levied, but it appears to have been used in the 16th century for the simple assessment of a subsidy upon the property of a given county (Bacon, Henry VII, p. 67), or the registration of the people for the purpose of a poll-tax (Camden, Hist. of Elizabeth). This may account for the choice of the word by Tyndale in lieu of "description" and profession," which Wycliffe, following the Vulg., had given. Since then "taxing" has kept its ground in most English versions with the exception of "tribute" in the Geneva, and "enrolment" in the Rhemish of Ac 5:37. The word ἀπογραφή by itself leaves the question undetermined whether the returns made were of population or property. Josephus, using the words ἡ ἀποτίμησις τῶν οὐσιῶν (Ant. 18:1, 1) as an equivalent, shows that "the taxing" of which Gamaliel speaks included both. That connected with the Nativity, the first step towards the complete statistical returns, was probably limited to the former (Greswell, Harmony, 1, 542). In either case "census" would have seemed the most natural Latin equivalent; but in the Greek of the New Test., and therefore probably in the familiar Latin of the period, as afterwards in the Vulg., that word slides off into the sense of the tribute actually paid (Mt 22:17; Mt 17:24). SEE CENSUS.
Two distinct registrations, or taxings, are mentioned in the New Test., both of them by Luke. The first is said to have been the result of an edict of the emperor Augustus that "all the world (i.e. the Roman empire) should be taxed" (ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην) (Lu 2:1), and is connected by the evangelist with the name of Cyrenius, or Quirinus. The second, and 'more important (ἡ ἀπογραφή, Ac 5:37), is referred to in the report of Gamaliel's speech, and is there distinctly associated, in point of time, with the revolt of Judas of Galilee. The account of Josephus (Ant, 18, 50, 1; War, 2, 8, 1) brings together the two names which Luke keeps distinct, with an interval of several years between them. Cyrenius comes as governor of Syria after the deposition of Archelaus, accompanied by Coponius as procurator of Judaea. He is sent to make an assessment of the value of property in Syria (no intimation being given of its extension to the οἰκουμένη), and it is this which rouses Judas and his followers to their rebellion. The chronological questions presented by these apparent discrepancies have been discussed, so far as they are connected with the name of the governor of Syria, under CYRENIUS SEE CYRENIUS. An account of the tumults caused by the taxing will be found under SEE JUDAS OF GALILEE .
There are, however, some other questions connected with the statement of Lu 2:1-3, which call for some notice. The truth of the statement has been questioned by Strauss (Leben Jesu, 1, 28) and De Wette (Comment. ad loc.), and others, who conclude, from various objections, that this statement belongs to legend, not to history; that it was a contrivance, more or less ingenious, to account for the birth at Bethlehem (that being assumed in popular tradition as a preconceived necessity for the Messiah) of one whose kindred lived, and who himself had grown up at Nazareth; that the whole narrative of the infancy of our Lord, in Luke's Gospel, is to be looked upon as mythical. We summarize these objections, and under each we present, within brief limits, what appears to us a sufficient answer.
1. The foremost ground of objection is that neither Josephus nor any other contemporary writer mentions a census extending over the whole empire at this period (A.U.C. 750). An edict like this, causing a general movement from the cities where men resided to those in which, for some reason or other, they 'were to be registered, must, it is said, have been a conspicuous fact, such as no historian would pass over.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that our history of this portion of the reign of Augustus is defective. Tacitus begins his Annals with the emperor's death. Suetonius is gossiping, inaccurate, and ill-arranged. Dion Cassius leaves a gap from A.U.C. 748 to 756, with hardly any incidents. Josephus does not profess to give a history of the empire. It might easily be that a general census, cir. A.U.C. 749-750, should remain unrecorded by them. If the measure was one of frequent occurrence, it would be all the more likely to be passed over. The testimony of a writer like Luke, obviously educated and well informed, giving many casual indications of a study of chronological data (Lu 1:5; Lu 3; Ac 24:27), and of acquaintance with the Herodian family (Lu 8:3; Lu 23:8; Ac 12:20; Ac 13:1) and other official people (ch. 23-26) recognizing distinctly the later and more conspicuous ἀπογραφή, must be admitted as fair presumptive evidence, hardly to be set aside in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. How hazardous such an inference from the silence of historians would be, we may judge from the fact that there was undoubtedly a geometrical survey of the empire at some period in the reign of Augustus, of which none of the above writers take any notice (comp. the extracts from the Rei Agrarime Scriptores in Greswell, Harmony, 1, 537). It has been argued further that the whole policy of Augustus rested on a perpetual communication to the central government of the statistics of all parts of the empire. The inscription on the monument of Ancyra (Gruter. Corpus Inscript. 1, 230) names three general censuses in A.U.C. 726, 746,-767 (comp. Sueton. Octav. c. 28; Greswell, Harm. 1, 535), Dion Cass. (4, 13) mentions another in Italy in A.U.C. 757. Others in Gaul are assigned to A.U.C. 727, 741,767. Strabo (6, 4, 2), writing early in the reign of Tiberius, speaks of μία τῶν καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς τιμήσεων, as if they were common things. In A.U.C. 726, when Augustus offered to resign his power, he laid before the senate a "rationarium imperii" (Sueton. Octav. c. 28). After his death, in like manner, a "breviarium totius imperil" was produced, containing full returns of the population, wealth, resources of all parts of the empire, a careful digest apparently of facts collected during the labors of many years (ibid. c. 101; Dion Cass. 55; Tacitus, Ann. 1, 11). It will hardly seem strange that one of the routine official steps in this process should only be mentioned by a writer who, like Luke, had a special reason for noticing it. A census, involving property-returns, and the direct taxation consequent on them, might excite attention. A mere ἀπογραφή would have little in it to disturb men's minds. or force itself upon a writer of history. There is, however, some evidence, more or less circumstantial, in confirmation of Luke's statement.
(1.) The inference drawn from the silence of historians may be legitimately met by an inference drawn from the silence of objectors. It never occurred to Celsus or Lucian or Porphyry, each questioning all that he could in the Gospel history, to question this.
(2.) A remarkable passage in Suidas (s.v. Απογραφή) mentions a census, obviously differing from the three of the Ancyran monument, and agreeing, in some respects, with that of Luke. It was made by Augustus, not as censor, but by his own imperial authority (δόξαν αὐτῷ; comp. ἐξῆλθε δόγμα, Lu 2:1). The returns were collected by twenty commissioners of high rank. They included property as well as population, and extended over the whole empire.
(3.) Tertullian, incidentally, writing controversially, not against a heathen, but against Marcion, appeals to the returns of the census for Syria under Sentius Saturninus as accessible to all who cared to search them, and proving the birth of Jesus in the city of David (Tertull. Adv. Marc. 4:19). Whatever difficulty the difference of names may present, SEE CYRENIUS, here is, at any rate, a strong indication of the fact of a census of population, cir. A.U.C. 749, and therefore in harmony with Luke's narrative.
(4.) Greswell (Harm. 1, 476; 4 6) has pointed to some circumstances mentioned by Josephus in the last year of Herod's life, and therefore coinciding with the time of the Nativity, which imply some special action of the Roman government in Syria, the nature of which the historian carelessly or deliberately suppresses. When Herod attends the council at Berytus there are mentioned as present, besides Saturninus and the procurator, οἱ περὶ Πεδάνιον πρέσβεις, as if the officer thus named had come, accompanied by other commissioners, for some purpose which gave him for the time almost co-ordinate influence with the governor of Syria himself ( War, 1, 27, 2). Just after this again, Herod, for some unexplained reason, found it necessary to administer to the whole people an oath, not of allegiance to himself, but of good-will to the emperor; and this oath six thousand of the Pharisees refused to take (Josephus, Ant. 17:2, 4; War, 1, 29, 2). This statement implies, it is urged, some disturbing cause affecting the public tranquility, a formal appearance of all citizens before the king's officers, and lastly, some measure specially distasteful to the Pharisees. The narrative of Luke offers an undesigned explanation of these phenomena.
2. As a further objection, it is urged that Palestine was, at this time, an independent kingdom under Herod, and therefore would not have come under the operation of an imperial edict.
This objection admits of as satisfactory an answer as the foregoing. The statistical document already referred to included subject kingdoms and allies, no less than the provinces (Sueton. loc. cit.). If Augustus had any desire to know the resources of Judea, the position of Herod made him neither willing nor able to resist. From first to last we meet with repeated instances of subservience. He does not dare to try or punish his sons, but refers their cause to the emperor's cognizance (Josephus, Ant. 16:4, 1; 17:5, 8). He holds his kingdom on condition of paying a fixed tribute. Permission is ostentatiously given him to dispose of the succession to his throne as he likes best (ibid. 16:4, 5). He binds his people, as we have seen, by an oath of allegiance to the emperor (ibid. 17:2, 4). The threat of Augustus that he would treat Herod no longer as an ally, but as a subject (ibid. 16:9, 3), would be followed naturally enough by some such step as this, and the desire of Herod to regain his favor would lead him to acquiesce in it.
3. Another objection alleged is that if such a measure, involving the recognition of Roman sovereignty, had been attempted under Herod, it would have roused the same resistance as the undisputed census under Quirinus did at a later period. In reply to this, we may say that we need not wonder that the measure should have been carried into effect without any popular outbreak. It was a return of the population only, not a valuation of property; there was no immediate taxation as the consequence. It might offend a party like the Pharisees; it was not likely to excite the multitude. Even if it seemed to some the prognostication of a coming change; and of direct government by the Roman emperor, we know that there was a large and influential party ready to welcome that change as the best thing that could happen for its country (Josephus, Ant. 17:11, 2).
4. The statement of Luke that "all went to be taxed, every one into his own city," is said to be inconsistent with the rules of the Roman census, which took cognizance of the place of residence only, not of the place of birth.
On the other hand, this apparent inconsistency of what Luke narrates is precisely what might be expected under the known circumstances of the case. The census, though Roman in origin, was effected by Jewish instrumentality, and was in harmony, therefore, with Jewish customs. The alleged practice is, however, doubtful; and it has been maintained (Huschke, Ueber den Census, etc., in Winer, s.v. "Schatzung") that the inhabitants of the provinces were, as far as possible, registered in their forum originis— not in the place in which they were only residents. It may be noticed incidentally that the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem belongs to a time when Galilee and Judaea were under the same ruler, and would therefore have been out of the question (as the subject of one prince would certainly not be registered as belonging to another) after the death of Herod the Great. The circumstances of the Nativity indicate, if they do not prove, that Joseph went there only for personal enrolment, not because he was the possessor of house or land.
5. It is asserted that neither in the Jewish nor the Roman census would it have been necessary for the wife to travel with her husband in order to appear personally before the registrar (censitor). This objection is, perhaps, the most frivolous and vexatious of all. If Mary were herself of the house and lineage of David, there may have been special reasons for her appearance at Bethlehem. In any case, the Scripture narrative is consistent with itself. Nothing could be more natural, looking to the unsettled state of Palestine at this period, than that Joseph should keep his wife under his own protection instead of leaving her by herself, in an obscure village, exposed to danger and reproach. In proportion to the hopes he had been taught to cherish of the birth of a Son of David; in proportion, also, to his acceptance of the popular belief that the Christ was to be born in the city of David (Mt 2:5; Joh 7:42), would be his desire to guard against the accident of birth in the despised Nazareth out of which "no good thing" could come (1, 46).
The literature connected with this subject is, as might be expected, very extensive. Every commentary contains something on it. Meyer, Wordsworth, and Alford may be consulted as giving the latest summaries. A very full and exhaustive discussion of all points connected with the subject is given by Spanheim, Dubiavtrng. 2, 3-9; and Richardus, Diss. de Censu Augusti, in Menthe, Thesaurus, 2, 428; comp. also Ellicott, Hulsean Lectures, p. 57.