“In those days,
A decree went out
From the Emperor
That all the world
Should be registered.”
Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην.
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.
“King Ptolemy gained control of the coastal cities as far as Seleucia by the sea. He kept devising evil designs against Alexander. He sent envoys to King Demetrius, saying.
Let us make a covenant with each other.
I will give you in marriage my daughter
Who was Alexander’s wife.
You shall reign over your father’s kingdom.
I now regret that I gave him my daughter,
He has tried to kill me.’
He threw blame on King Alexander because he coveted his kingdom. He took his daughter away from him and gave her to Demetrius. He was estranged from Alexander. Their enmity became manifest.”
The Egyptian King Ptolemy VI had gained control of the coastal cities in Palestine. In fact, Seleucia was the main port for the city of Antioch. Then he sent messengers to King Demetrius II. He wanted to make a covenant with him. He was going to take his daughter, Cleopatra III, who was married to King Alexander, and give her to him. He regretted giving his daughter to King Alexander I because he had tried to kill him. There was a growing feud between King Ptolemy VI of Egypt and King Alexander I of Antioch, especially when he took his wife away. I wonder if Cleopatra had any say in these marriage arrangements.
“King Ptolemy set out from Egypt with his daughter Cleopatra. He came to Ptolemais in the one hundred sixty-second year. King Alexander met him. King Ptolemy gave him his daughter Cleopatra in marriage. They celebrated her wedding at Ptolemais with great pomp, as kings do.”
The wedding of Cleopatra, the daughter of King Ptolemy VI of Egypt, and King Alexander I of Syria took place in 150 BCE, the 167th year. So now we have Cleopatra III as part of biblical history. There were a number of women in the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty named Cleopatra. William Shakespeare’s play “Anthony and Cleopatra” was about Cleopatra VII, about a century later. King Ptolemy must have been pleased to go to a place named after his family, Ptolemais. He and his family were strong proponents of Greek so that the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, was translated in Alexandria, Egypt, a strong Hellenized town as can be seen by its very name. King Ptolemy VI and King Alexander I met. Then he gave his daughter to him in a great big wedding ceremony, as kings normally do.
“In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said that he was a priest and a Levite, and his son Ptolemy brought to Egypt the preceding Letter about Purim, which they said was authentic. It had been translated by Lysimachus son of Ptolemy, one of the residents of Jerusalem.”
In a curious note, this book or a letter about Purim was brought to Egypt. The time frame is very clear, during the reign of Ptolemy. However, the question is which Ptolemy? The original Ptolemy was a Macedonian guard of Alexander the Great who was the governor of Egypt in 323 BCE. He later declared himself king and thus established a Ptolemaic dynasty that lasted until 47 BCE. There were a number of kings and queens named Ptolemy and Cleopatra. The first mention of them would be Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I from (202-181 BCE). This would put this translation around the year 198 BCE, right in the middle of the Greek Septuagint work from around 250-132 BCE. We do not know anything about Dositheus but he may have been a Jewish Levite priest. There are 3 or 4 famous people with the name of Lysimachus in Egypt. If it was the son of one of the Ptolemy kings, he might have died around 181 BCE, as the brother of Ptolemy V, it would be a good fit for this translation.