Luke said that all the people went to be registered (καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι). Each one of them went to their own town or city (ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν). In other words, people returned to their ancestral home towns. It is not clear how long and why Joseph and Mary were in Nazareth. However, there had to be a reason for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. Matthew, chapter 2:1, did not say why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, since he never mentioned anything about registering for any kind of census, like Luke here.
αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου.
Luke noted that this first registration was taken (αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο) when Quirinius was governing Syria (ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου). Quirinius was the legate of Syria from 6 CE-12 CE. He was born 51 BCE and died at the age of 72 in 21 CE. He did take a census or registration for tax purposes in 6 CE when he took over. This led to the revolt of Judas the Galilean and the formation of the Jewish Zealots, who opposed Roman rule. They opposed this census for the purposes of taxation by Quirinius, the Governor of Syria. The one problem is that this census took place 10 years after Herod had died. However, the birth of Jesus and John was placed during the reign of Herod. Thus, there is a problem with this dating by Luke, who may have been confused about these historical details.
Luke tried to put these events within a historical perspective. He said that in those days (Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις), a decree or dogma went out (ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα) from the Emperor, Caesar Augustus (παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου), that all the world should be registered (ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην). Could all the world be registered in a census? Luke referred to the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who ruled the Roman empire with his famous Pax Romana, or peace everywhere, from 27 BCE to 14 CE, precisely the time of these events. Augustus was born in 63 BCE so that he would have been 77 years old when he died. He was sometimes called god, son of god, savior, or father. As the adopted son of Julius Caesar, he defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra to gain sole control of the empire. He set up an intricate set of taxes for the empire, so that there was a consent source of income. Thus, the local tax collectors or publicans became rich, but disliked, official people in the empire. The month of August was named after him, just as July was named after Julius Caesar. However, there is no evidence of any call to register the whole world. However, this would not have been inconsistent with his taxing plans, since the main reason for any registration or census would be for tax purposes. Thus, this is possible, but unlikely.
We have a specific time and place for the birth of Jesus. He was born (δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος) in Bethlehem in Judea (ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας), during the reign of King Herod (ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως). Bethlehem was always in the territory of Judah, about 6 miles south of Jerusalem, with a current population of about 25,000 in the present day Palestinian territory. David was from Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Matthew did not say why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, like Luke, chapter 2, did because of a census. King Herod the Great (74 BCE-1 CE) was the Roman client king of Judea. In fact, the Roman Senate named him King of the Jews in 40 BCE. He built many things during his reign, including expanding the Second Temple in Jerusalem. At his death, his kingdom was divided among his children.
“Then King Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were residing in the land of Israel, after the census that his father King David had taken. There were found to be one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred. Seventy thousand of them he assigned as laborers, eighty thousand as stonecutters in the hill country, and three thousand six hundred as overseers to make the people work.”
Then King Solomon took a census of the aliens living in Israel. This author claims that this was like his father. However, the census that King David took was for all the tribes of Israel. That census was considered to be evil and induced by the devil. So they are completely different. However, the numbers are like those earlier in this chapter that had 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stone cutters, with 3,600 supervisors. As in 1 Kings, chapter 5, King Solomon used forced labor. As this was over 150,000 workers he needed 3,600 supervisors, an extra 300 here instead of 3,300 supervisors as in 1 Kings. Here they are not Israelites, but the aliens who are forced into labor. In fact, in 1 Kings, the northern Israelites complained about this forced labor.
“Yahweh spoke to Moses. ‘When you take a census of the Israelites, to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to Yahweh so that no plague may come upon them for being registered. This is what each one who is registered shall give, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary. The shekel is twenty gerahs. Half a shekel is the offering to Yahweh. Each one who is registered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give Yahweh’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to Yahweh to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the Israelites and shall designate it for the service of the tent of meeting. Before Yahweh it will be a reminder to the Israelites of the ransom given for your lives.’”
Yahweh wants to register every person, like a census, everyone who is twenty years old or older. Then they will give a ransom or tax to Yahweh for their lives so that no plague may come upon them. Everyone gives half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary, no matter rich or poor. The shekel is about twenty gerahs. A gerah was about 2 cents, so that the equivalent would be about 20 cents. The shekel was used in Babylonia as well as a weight measurement. The atonement money was designated for the service of the tent of meeting. This ransom tax was a reminder that Yahweh had ransomed or saved their lives.