Naturally, I was very happy to be given another mention on the 26 December 2009 edition of Unbelievable?, featuring Christian barrister Charles Foster and atheist scientist Robert Stovold. However, I was a little frustrated that the presenter Justin Brierley and the participants didn’t quite get my point about the mystical census in the Gospel of Luke.
While there is some ambiguity over whether a census of any kind took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria and whether he held office more than once, the points I was driving at in my email to Justin before the show was that Roman censuses were:
- Based on property ownership of the living, not the dead.
- Not based on remote genealogies, let alone false ones.
- Local censuses of provinces, not the entire Roman empire.
The reason why I am so insistent is that during my first appearance on Unbelievable? in September 2009, my “scholarly” opponent, Andy Bannister from London School of Fairyology, said that Dawkins, Hitchens etc. had “been machine gunned to the wall by ‘scholars’ of all stripes” by objecting to the apparent nonsense of having the population return to the home town of a distant ancestor because apparently people at that time were not as mobile as they are today we actually have records of such arrangements.
Being a tad green back in the day, I let it go. However, a friend who had listened to the show emailed me to say that Bannister was talking rubbish. I emailed him my friend’s comments and he did not respond. Further research showed that this is actually a common objection by historians (as opposed to “scholars”) of all stripes and not something the Oxford biologist made up off the top of his head.
Justin did actually ask me to do the show but alas, I did not have enough holiday time till the end of the year. Besides, I find biblical scholarship rather dense and unexciting. Robert did a much better job than I could have done. I had no idea, for example, that Josephus referred to Hercules as if he was a real person. Kudos Stovold!
For those of us how can’t be bothered with textual criticism, below are the videos of a couple of excellent can-sized expositions of the Gospels’ historical dating botch-ups.
The Jesus Timeline Part 1
The Jesus Timeline Part 2
Tags: andy bannister, bible, Census, Charles Foster, christ, christianity, christopher hitchens, dawkins, god is not great, gospel, governor, harris, historicity, hitchens, jesus, justin brierley, letter to a christian nation, London School of Fairyology, london school of theology, Luke, Nativity, New Testament, premier christian radio, Quirinius, Religion, richard dawkins, Robert Stovold, Roman, sam harris, Syria, the end of faith, the god delusion, unbelievable