On an objection about Luke, Quirinius, and Herods:


[Updated Sept 1, 1999; notes at bottom added Mar2008; data on client-kings added June2013]
Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, p. 28-29. (cited in Lowder's pages on The Jury is In)writes ...

"The difficulty begins on one small point but spreads from it, like dry rot, to bring larger constructions to the ground.

Why do I all of a sudden smell polemic? ;>) ...would you consider 'dry rot' a 'value laden' term? hmm...

Quirinius, the governor of Syria whom Luke's Gospel mentions, is known from a careful history of affairs in Judea which was compiled by Josephus, an educated Jew, writing in Greek at Rome between c. 75 and c. 80. Josephus had his own prejudices and areas of interest, but he worked with a framework of hard facts which were freely available for checking and which he had collected responsibly. According to Josephus, Quirinius was governor of Syria with authority over Judea in AD 6, when the province was brought under direct Roman control. The year was a critical moment in Jewish history, as important to its province as the 1972 to Northern Ireland, the start of direct rule. On such a fact, at such a moment, Josephus and his sources cannot be brushed aside. There is however, an awkward problem. Luke's Gospel links Jesus's birth with Quirinius

I may have a problem with the word 'with' but keep going....

and with King Herod, but in AD 6 Herod had long disappeared. He had died soon after an eclipse of the moon which is dated by astronomers to 12-13 March 4 BC, although a minority of scholars have argued for 5 BC instead.

So far, so good....

The Gospel, therefore, assumes that Quirinius and King Herod were contemporaries, when they were separated by ten years or more.

I assume you mean contemporaries in office--they were certainly contemporaries in life...Quirinius, at the time of King Herod's death was doing military expeditions in the eastern provinces of the Roman empire (Tacitus , Annals 3:48; Florus, Roman History 2:31), with some evidence indicating that he either was a co-ruler with the governor of Syria (the somewhat inept Quintilius Varus) or at least placed in charge of the 14-year census in Palestine. Varus was famous for the later fiasco at the Teutoburger forest in Germany (9 ad) and at his appointment as Gov.. of Syria in 7 BC was largely 'untested'. The census was due in 8-7 BC, and Augustus could easily have ordered his trusted Quirinius (fresh from subduing the Pisidian highlanders) to assist in this volatile project. Herod I had recently lost favor of the emperor and was probably dragging his feet on taking the census--a process with always enraged the difficult Jews! This would have pushed the timeframe into the 5 BC mark, which fits the general data.

There is no doubt about the Herod in question. When the great King Herod died, his kingdom was split between his sons, two of whom did add Herod to their names. Herod Antipas locally in Galilee as a tetrarch until 39, but Luke 1:5 connects the Annunciation with Herod `king of Judea':

This is correct...the Annunciation occurred around the census point, under King Herod--the reference in 1.5 is correct...so why did you use the word 'but'? Did you think the annunciation was under Antipas? King Herod (I) was 'king of Judea' but was also 'king of galilee'..the terms would not have been understood as restrictive (king of 'only') BEFORE the kingdom divided...

When he refers to Herod Antipas at 3:1, he correctly calls him tetrarch, not king. Herod Archelaus ruled Judea until AD 6, but only as an ethnarch: like Matthew 2:22, Luke might have misdescribed him as king, but, like Matthew, he would have called him Archelaus or Herod Archelaus.

You have confused something here. Both Luke 1.5 and 2.2 BOTH refer to King Herod the Great...3.1 refers to Antipas...no problem so far

At 1:5 the Herod must be the great King Herod, just as Matthew's Gospel describes. In Matthew the Nativity coincides with the great Herod, Massacrer of the Innocents, whose death is a reason for the return from the Flight into Egypt.

Correct.

Luke's Gospel, therefore, assumes that King Herod and the governor Quirinius were contemporaries, but they were separated by over ten years or more. The incoherent dating is only the start of the problem.

I think I already explained this above.

Also, it is worth noting that we have an inscription that describes a soldier who was 'legate' TWICE during this timeframe, with one of them being of Syria [the Titulus Tiburtinus]. It does not say that he was legate of Syria twice (specifically), but that is not ruled out by the text either.

There are several interpretations of this text as to of whom it is speaking, and opinions are sharply divided among scholars. The main candidates included our Quirinius (Mommsen, Dessau, Klio, Ramsay, Roos), M. Plautius Silvanus (Groag), M. Titius (Taylor), L. Calpurnius Piso (Syme), and C. Sentius Saturninus (Kokkinos).

Two identifications which would apply to our discussion here are for Q. Varus and Quirinius.

The first option is defended by Ernest Martin in CKC:90:

" A Latin inscription found in 1764 about one-half mile south of the ancient villa of Quintilius Varus (at Tivoli, 20 miles east of Rome) states that the subject of the inscription had twice been governor of Syria. This can only refer to Quintilius Varus, who was Syrian governor at two different times. Numismatic evidence shows he ruled Syria from 6 to 4 B.C., and other historical evidence indicates that Varus was again governor from 2 B.C. to A.D. I. Between his two governorships was Sentius Saturninus, whose tenure lasted from 4 to 2 B.C. Significantly, Tertullian (third century) said the imperial records showed that censuses were conducted in Judea during the time of Sentius Saturninus. (Against Marcion 4:7). Tertullian also placed the birth of Jesus in 3 or 2 B.C. This is precisely when Saturninus would have been governor according to my new interpretation. That the Gospel of Luke says Quirinius was governor of Syria when the census was taken is resolved by Justin Martyr's statement (second century) that Quirinius was only a procurator (not governor) of the province (Apology 1:34). In other words, he was simply an assistant to Saturninus, who was the actual governor as Tertullian stated."
 
The second option is favored by William Ramsey (NBD, s.v. "Quirinius"):
"The possibility that Quirinius may have been governor of Syria on an earlier occasion (*Chronology of the NT) has found confirmation in the eyes of a number of scholars (especially W. M. Ramsay) from the testimony of the Lapis Tiburtinus (CIL, 14. 3613). This inscription, recording the career of a distinguished Roman officer, is unfortunately mutilated, so that the officer’s name is missing, but from the details that survive he could very well be Quirinius. It contains a statement that when he became imperial legate of Syria he entered upon that office ‘for the second time’ (Lat. iterum). The question is: did he become imperial legate of Syria for the second time, or did he simply receive an imperial legateship for the second time, having governed another province in that capacity on the earlier occasion?...The wording is ambiguous. Ramsay held that he was appointed an additional legate of Syria between 10 and 7 bc, for the purpose of conducting the Homanadensian war, while the civil administration of the province was in the hands of other governors, including Sentius Saturninus (8-6 bc), under whom, according to Tertullian (Adv. Marc. 4. 19), the census of Lk. 2:1ff. was held.
Under either of these scenarios, SOMEONE served twice, and under either of these scenarios, Quirinius could EASILY have been responsible for the census.
 

And curiously enough, even if that were NOT the case somehow, the linguistic data of the last few decades indicates that Luke 2.1 could be translated 'BEFORE the census of Quirinius' instead of the customary 'FIRST census of Quirinius'--cf Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament, T&T Clark: 1966, pp. 23,24 and Syntax, p. 32.

"A Roman Catholic scholar, Lagrange, offered a solution which completely vindicates St. Luke’s accuracy. “First census” must be taken in its Hellenistic connotation as the first of two, and then we must expand the clause a little. “This census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.” Lagrange was not the first (or “former!”) to offer the suggestion. It was known to the grammarian, G. B. Winer, whose survey of the New Testament language appeared in its first edition in 1822, and who scorned the suggestion as “ungrammatical.” The phrase is compressed, but it is no more ungrammatical than the phrase in John 5:36, “I have a testimony greater than (seil., the testimony of) John,” or the highly compressed I Cor. 1:25, “the foolishness of God is wiser than (seil., the wisdom of) men.” The words in parenthesis are absent from the Greek and yet must be supplied. There is no grammatical reason for not as readily supplying the necessary words in the sentence of St. Luke. “This census was prior to (the census) of Quirinius.” St. Luke then does not say that Jesus was born during the regime of Quirinius. The evangelist is referring to a census, of which we know nothing, held before that of Quirinius in A.D. 6, and there is the additional difficulty of believing that an emperor who was a paragon of wisdom would have taken the census in a dependent king’s dominion. At least there would have been resistance, and of this too we hear nothing in contemporary records. However, we have St. Luke’s own testimony to the census and he should be accounted an authority. On the analogy of what happened later, the census was probably held fourteen years earlier than that of Quirinius. If so, St. Luke’s dating of the birth was 8 B.C., which is very reasonable. Herod died in 4 B.C. Jesus was just under two when they escaped to Egypt, or so Herod thought, and having stayed in Egypt for two years he would be a child of four when Herod died and the holy family moved to Nazareth." [Turner, N. (1966). Grammatical insights into the New Testament. (23–24). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.]
This would 'solve the problem' without even requiring two terms of office for Q.

And, while we are talking about Greek here...the term Luke uses for Quirinius' 'governorship' is the VERY general term hegemon, which in extra-biblical Greek was applied to prefects, provincial governors, and even Caesar himself. In the NT it is similarly used as a 'wide' term, applying to procurators--pilate, festus, felix--and to general 'rulers' (Mt 2.6). [The New Intl. Dict. of New Test. Theology (ed. Brown) gives as the range of meaning: "leader, commander, chief" (vol 1.270)...this term would have applied to Quirinius at MANY times in his political career, and as a general term, Syria would have had several individuals that could be properly so addressed at the same time. Remember, Justin Martyr called him 'procurator' in Apology 1:34, which is also covered by this term.] My point is...nothing is really out of order here...

Luke's Nativity story hinges on its `decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.' `Caesar Augustus' was the Roman Emperor, but if the Nativity took place in the reign of the King Herod the Great, the Jews were still Herod's subjects, members of a client kingdom, not a province under direct Roman rule.

You are somewhat mistaken here. It is true that Judea did not technically become a Roman province until 6 AD, but the facts prior to that indicate much tighter authority and control than your statement might lead one to believe. Rome did a military conquest before Herod the Great was even born. Pompey attacked Jerusalem and even invaded the Temple. was made a tributary (read: PAID TRIBUTE$) to Rome until Caesar defeated Pompey in Egypt around 48 BC. Herod the Great's dad had aided Caesar in that endeavor and so won the favor of Julius Caesar (and with it a procuratorship of, plus Roman citizenship and exemption from taxes.) Then in 47 BC, the daddy Herod appointed the son Herod to be governor of Galilee...still completely under Roman rule. He still had to be appointed tetrarch by Antony-- still a thrall, eh?!. He was also proclaimed 'king' by the Roman leaders (Octavius and Antony) in 40 bc--but he had to re-conquer the land from the Parthians, which he did in 37bc. As a 'client kingdom', they were still under the authority of Rome (all of the rulers, for example, were appointed--including ALL the Herods--and ratified by Rome.)

Actually, when I keep reading your paragraph, it sounds like you are calling Luke mistaken in referring to Rome as 'driving the issue' of the census. He is INDEED making that point, but HE is correct in that...The client-kings WERE still subject to Roman enrollment decrees, and these enrollment decrees were not necessarily for the purposes of immediate 'taxation'--they might be prepatory or even 'intelligence gathering'. [see below]

The status of client-kings in the Roman Empire left them responsibility for their subjects' taxation.

Not decision-making authority--they couldn't say 'no', but local execution of the enrollment process-"yes".

It is commonly asseted that client-kings did not pay Roman taxes (like the provinces did), but this is simply incorrect.

Smallwood--who does not accept the account in Luke as being 'probable'--still points out that Herod paid tribute and land-based 'tax' to Rome:

Tribute had been paid to Rome by the Jewish client kingdom ever since 63 B.C. in the form of a tax on the produce of the land, which had been regulated by Julius Caesar in 47. As a province Judaea con-tinued to pay a land-tax (tribtitum soli). But annexation [tn: in AD 6] made the Jews automatically liable also for the tribtitum capitis, the personal tax paid by provincials, as well as for the vectigalia, the indirect taxes paid by the whole empire, of which the most important were the harbour dues (portoria). The first Roman administrative act in the new province was therefore the holding of a census (a land-survey as well as a count of the population) in order to obtain the accurate information about its manpower and financial resources needed for assessing its tax capability. For this purpose Augustus instructed the newly appointed legate of Syria, P. Sulpicius Quirinius, who had just conducted a census in his own province, to go to Judaea to organize the country as a province and in particular to take a census, an operation which was evidently regarded as beyond the capabilities of the junior and inexperienced eques who was to be left as Judaea's first governor, one Coponius, who, like most of his successors, is otherwise completely unknown to history. Its outcome was the imposition of the tributum capitis in the form, apparently, of a flat-rate tax which by c. 30 was one Roman denarius per head, the "tribute-money" of the Gospels. The responsibility for the collection of the direct tax passed from the Herodian officials to the procurator and his staff....A census in Judaea, carried out on orders from Augustus while the country was still a client kingdom, though improbable, is not wholly impossible, since tribute had been paid since 63 B.C." [HI:JURR, The Jews under Roman Rule, From Pompey to Diocletian: A Study in Political Relations, 150f, 568]

Other records point out that other client-kings paid tribute, were subjet to registration/census, or were otherwise under financial 'oversight' of Rome. Hoehner mentions Apamea/Syria, Cappadocia, Nabatea, and pre-provincial Samaria:

“Roman census in Herod’s reign. Schürer did not think that Augustus would have a census taken in Palestine during Herod’s reign. Certainly Herod had enough autonomy as indicated by his being allowed to mint coins. However, the Romans did take a census in vassal kingdoms. In fact, in Venice a gravestone of a Roman officer was found which states that he was ordered by P. Sulpicius Quirinius to conduct a census of Apamea, a city of 117,000 inhabitants, located on the Orontes in Syria,[25] which was an autonomous city-state that minted its own copper coins.[26] In A.D. 36 under Tiberius a census was imposed on the client kingdom of Archelaus of Cappadocia.[27] Again, the powerful Nabatean kings in Petra, who had the right to mint coins were, it seems, obliged to have the Roman financial officers in their domain.[28] Another indication of Augustus’ role in the finances of client kingdoms occurs when Herod’s domain was divided among his three sons. Augustus ordered that the Samaritan’s taxes should be reduced by one-fourth (because they had not revolted against Varus)[29] and this was before Samaria became a part of a Roman province.[30] Hence, it is seen that the Roman emperor became involved in taking censuses in the vassal kingdoms. Normally, it seems that Herod collected his own taxes and paid tribute to Rome.[31] However, in 8/7 B.C. Herod came into disfavor with Augustus and was treated as a subject rather than a friend.[32] This would mean Herod’s autonomy would be taken away. It is interesting to note that the people of Herod’s domain took an oath of allegiance to Augustus and Herod[33] which points to a greater involvement of Augustus in Herod’s realm. Herod was getting old and ill and he had much trouble with his sons who were struggling to acquire the throne. Hence, it would have been a good time for Augustus to have an assessment of the domain before Herod’s death so as to prepare for the future rule of his realm. Therefore, since Augustus had taken censuses in other vassal kingdoms and since Herod had come into the emperor’s disfavor as well as having troubles in his realm, it is more than probable that Augustus had conducted a census assessing Herod’s kingdom while Herod was still alive.” [Hoehner, Harold W. (2010-06-29). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Kindle Locations 105-124). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. ]

Relations between the Emperor Augustus and King Herod had often been stormy and had even led to threats of Roman interference which Herod and his envoys had to avert. However, their conflicts never caused the removal of Herod's royal status, although this was the only way in which his kingdom could have been taxed on the Roman model in accordance with orders from the Roman Emperor. It is not just that Herod the Great never coincided with Quirinius the governor: he never coincided with a Roman taxing of."

The relationship between Augustus and King Herod had its ups and downs, indeed, but the argument that his Roman-granted title of king meant that his nation was exempt from taxes/tribute/census is just flat wrong. As I hinted at up above, it had become a tribute-paying tributary since its conquest by Pompey LONG BEFORE King Herod gets his title! (more below on this).

But we should note here--and perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier--the 'client-king' role or status actually had NO real definition or rules associated with it. There was no legislation about taxation or non-taxation, registration or non-registration, etc--the relationship was 'negotiable' in every sense of the word. It is therefore historically inaccurate to assert that client-kings were 'exempt by law' or some such from ANY demands of the Roman emperor.

“The Roman Empire in the Near East at the time of Augustus was a patchwork rather than a system. It constituted not so much an organized structure as a circuitry of relationships and dependencies. The influence of Rome manifested itself most conspicuously in provinces and governors. But that was only part of the grid. An intricate set of associations was also held with what we conventionally term ‘client kings’. The institution was malleable and fluid, a matter of mutual interest. No formal duties, no uniform constitutional principles underpinned the responsibility fo the parties to such arrangements. Only conventional practices, still in process of evolution in the Augustan Age, linked a number of rulers, especially in the east, to Roman hegemon. In this nebulous netwok, Herod has served as chief exemplar. Modern reconstructions regularly depict him as the quintessential instance of the client king, a loyal and trustworthy satellite of empire. The assessment can benefit from further scrutiny. “ [HI:HAAP,pages 14f; “Herod, Rome and the Diaspora”, Erich S. Gruen, 14-27; The footnotes fault Schurer, Baumann, Schalit. “The statements of Suetoniaus (Ag. 48,60) delivered from the distant perspective of the High Emprie under Hadrian, envision a tighter set of interconnections in the Augustan Age than the evidence would support.”, and faults Grant, Schurer, Smallwood, Baumann, Richardson, Geiger, Schalit for such a portrayal of Herod.]

It is worth noting here too--and I will have to document this later--that the Emperor Augustus was 'preparing' Judea to become a province during Herod's reign, and the fluidity of the client-king category (mentioned above) is even evident in Herod's case.

Herod is a client-king (to be sure), but Josephus --oddly enough--also calls him 'procurator' of Augustus. In War 1.399 Josephus asserts that Augustus made Herod prourator of the whole of Syria when he visited the province in 20 BCE. This role was very fluid at the time as well, but it further suggests that hard-and-fast delineations between provinces and kingdoms cannot be sustained. [See the discussion of the meaning of the term procurator in [HI:HAAP, 281-302]

Augustus never issued a decree to tax the whole world.

Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, p. 29.

"It is even doubtful if the Emperor Augustus ever issued a decree to Rome's provinces that `all the world should be taxed.' Certainly, Romans did take censuses in individual provinces which were ruled directly by their governors. They were not, however, co-ordinated by an order from Augustus to all the world, at least so far as our evidence goes.

Read: argument from silence! (see below the points from Historian's Fallacies)

But, historically speaking, we DO know that Augustus 'counted the whole world'--including the client-kingdoms and armies of non-provinces.

Tacitus refers explicitly to such a record (which included 'kingdoms') in Annals 1.11:

After this all prayers were addressed to Tiberius. He, on his part, urged various considerations, the greatness of the empire, his distrust of himself. "Only," he said, "the intellect of the Divine Augustus was equal to such a burden. Called as he had been by him to share his anxieties, he had learnt by experience how exposed to fortune's caprices was the task of universal rule. Consequently, in a state which had the support of so many great men, they should not put everything on one man, as many, by uniting their efforts would more easily discharge public functions." There was more grand sentiment than good faith in such words. Tiberius's language even in matters which he did not care to conceal, either from nature or habit, was always hesitating and obscure, and now that he was struggling to hide his feelings completely, it was all the more involved in uncertainty and doubt. The Senators, however, whose only fear was lest they might seem to understand him, burst into complaints, tears, and prayers. They raised their hands to the gods, to the statue of Augustus, and to the knees of Tiberius, when he ordered a document to be produced and read. This contained a description of the resources of the State, of the number of citizens and allies under arms, of the fleets, subject kingdoms, provinces, taxes, direct and indirect, necessary expenses and customary bounties. All these details Augustus had written with his own hand, and had added a counsel, that the empire should be confined to its present limits, either from fear or out of jealousy.

And the military counts of two client-kingdoms are mentioned in 4.5 of the same work:

"Tacitus (Ann. 4.5) conveniently listed the armed forces of the Roman Empire under the year 23 CE, a decade after the death of Augustus. He gives the legions province by province. But between them, as if on a par with the exercitus of legions, he inserts the forces of two client kings, Rhoemetalces (PIR2 R 67) of Thrace and Juba (PIR2 I 65) of Mauretania."[HI:HAAP, 304; "Client Kings' Armies under Augustus: The Case of Herod", Denis B. Saddington]

So, the evidence would tend to support the position that Augustus had 'counted the whole world' (as in 'registration', not explicitly 'taxation').

As that evidence extends through histories, local inscriptions and the papyrus returns of tax-payers in Egypt, it is immensely unlikely that a new edict of such consequence has escaped our knowledge.

Who are you trying to kid? You and I are looking at the same sources, no doubt, and there are HUGE, HUGE, HUGE gaps in the records! 'immensely unlikely'?!

In AD 6 we do know that Augustus was enacting a new tax on inheritance to help pay for his armies;

BTW, the taxation to support his army, is the main reason it is believed that Quirinius assisted in the taxing of 8-5 BC...his extended military maneuvers on the Pisidian highlands (dating from around 12 BC) would have required additional financing...

however, the tax affected only Roman citizens, not Jews of Nazareth, and there was no need for a worldwide census to register their names.

Remember, the census in AD 6 is NOT the one of Luke 2.2 (of 8-6 BC.)...but the census of AD 6 DID hit the Jews pretty heavily...at least 600 talents as a nation acc. to Josephus (Antiq. 17.320; Jewish War 2.97--cited in Jeremias' Jerusalem in the Times of Jesus: An investigation into the economic and social conditions during the New Testament period,Fortress: 1969). As a national tax, it DID effect the Jewish folk--loads like this are ALWAYS 'distributed to the people'(!) in addition to the already oppressive tax structure of the Herods...

And Luke does NOT place the 'worldwide census' at the time of the AD 6 tax...but rather puts it some time BEFORE the Syrian-based one in 7-5 BC...

But more accurately, Luke was probably not referring to a taxation census at all--simply a "registration". Registrations were normally associated with (1) taxation (above discussion); (2) military service (Jews were exempt) and (3) special government "ballots". We have conclusive evidence that an empire-wide (in decree, not necessarily execution, of course) registration occurred in the time frame described by Luke! Martin [CKC:89-90] summarizes the literary, archeological, and iconographic evidence for this:

" A sixth reason for placing the nativity of Jesus in 3 or 2 B.C. isthe coincidence of this date with the New Testament account that Jesus was born at the time when a Roman census was being conducted: "There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the IRoman] world should be registered" (Luke 2:1). Historians have not been able to find any empire-wide census or registration in the years 7-5 B.C., but there is a reference to such a registration of all the Roman people not long before 5 February 2 B.C. written by Caesar Augustus himself: "While I was administering my thirteenth consulship [2 B.C.] the senate and the equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title Father of my Country" (Res Gestae 35, italics added). This award was given to Augustus on 5 February 2 B.C., therefore the registration of citizen approval must have taken place in 3 B.C. Orosius, in the fifth century, also said that Roman records of his time revealed that a census was indeed held when Augustus was made "the first of men"--an apt description of his award "Father of the Country"--at a time when all the great nations gave an oath of obedience to Augustus (6:22, 7:2). Orosius dated the census to 3 B.C. And besides that, Josephus substantiates that an oath of obedience to Augustus was required in Judea not long before the death of Herod (Antiquities I7:4I-45). This agrees nicely in a chronological sense with what Luke records. But more than that, an inscription found in Paphlagonia (eastern Turkey), also dated to 3 B.C., mentions an "oath sworn by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts." And dovetailing precisely with this inscription, the early (fifth century) Armenian historian, Moses of Khoren, said the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was conducted by Roman agents in Armenia where they set up "the image of Augustus Caesar in every temple.''. The similarity of this language is strikingly akin to the wording on the Paphlagonian inscription describing the oath taken in 3 B.C. These indications can allow us to reasonably conclude that the oath (of Josephus, the Paphlagonian inscription, and Orosius) and the census (mentioned by Luke, Orosius, and Moses of Khoren) were one and the same. All of these things happened in 3 B.C."
What this means is that we have very, very clear evidence of an empire-wide registration in the time frame required! (How much more data do you need?!)

In Judea under Quirinius, we know from Josephus's histories of something more appropriate, not a worldwide decree but a local census in AD 6 to assess Judea when the province passed from rule by Herod's family to direct rule by Rome. Although this census was local, it caused a notorious outcry, not least because some of the Jews argued that the innovation was contrary to scripture and the will of God. According to the third Gospel, the census which took Joseph to Bethlehem was `the first while Quirinius was governor of Syria.'

I have already pointed out that 'first while' is probably a mistranslation of the text -- 'before' is more in line with koine idiom (see the reference of N. Turner, above)

Quirinius's census was indeed the first, but it belonged in AD 6 when King Herod, the story's other marker, was long since dead."

A couple of concluding points:

.........................

Two other notes:
Glenn M. Miller, 2/24/95 (updated 5/26/97)(notes added Mar 2008)
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)