by Sir Robert Anderson
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The Coming Prince
Sir Robert Anderson
"MESSIAH THE PRINCE"
JUST as we find that in certain circles people who are reputed pious are apt to
be regarded with suspicion, so it would seem that any writings which claim Divine
authority or sanction inevitably awaken distrust. But if the evangelists could gain
the same fair hearing which profane historians command; if their statements were
tested upon the same principles on which records of the past are judged by scholars,
and evidence is weighed in our courts of justice, it would be accepted as a well-established
fact of history that our Savior was born in Bethlehem, at a time when Cyrenius was
Governor of Syria, and Herod was king in Jerusalem. The narrative of the first two
chapters of St. Luke is not like an ordinary page of history which carries with it
no pledge of accuracy save that which the general credit of the writer may afford.
The evangelist is treating of facts of which he had "perfect understanding from
the very first;" (Luke 1:3) in which, moreover, his personal interest was intense,
and in respect of which a single glaring error would have prejudiced not only the
value of his book, but the success of that cause to which his life was devoted, and
with which his hopes of eternal happiness were identified.
The matter has been treated as though this reference to Cyrenius were but an incidental
allusion, in respect of which an error would be of no importance; whereas, in fact,
it would be absolutely vital. That the true Messiah must be born in Bethlehem was
asserted by the Jew and conceded by the Christian: that the Nazarene was born in
Bethlehem the Jew persistently denied. If even today he could disprove that fact,
he would justify his unbelief; for if the Christ we worship was not by right of birth
the heir to David's throne, He is not the Christ of prophecy. Christians soon forgot
this when they had no longer to maintain their faith against the unbroken front of
Judaism, but only to commend it to a heathen world. But it was not forgotten by the
immediate successors of the apostles. Therefore it was that in writing to the Jews,
Justin Martyr asserted with such emphasis that Christ was born during the taxing
of Cyrenius, appealing to the lists of that census as to documents then extant and
available for reference, to prove that though Joseph and Mary lived at Nazareth,
they went up to Bethlehem to be enrolled, and that thus it came to pass the Child
was born in the royal city, and not in the despised Galilean village.
And these facts of the pedigree and birth of the Nazarene afforded almost
the only ground upon which issue could be joined, where one side maintained, and
the other side denied, that His Divine character and mission were established by
transcendental proofs. None could question that His acts were more than human, but
blindness and hate could ascribe them to Satanic power; and the sublime utterances
which in every succeeding age have commanded the admiration of millions, even of
those who have refused to them the deeper homage of their faith, had no charm for
men thus prejudiced. But these statements about the taxing which brought the Virgin
Mother up to Bethlehem, dealt with plain facts which required no moral fitness to
appreciate them. That in such a matter a writer like St. Luke could be in error is
utterly improbable, but that the error would remain unchallenged is absolutely incredible;
and we find Justin Martyr, writing nearly a hundred years after the evangelist, appealing
to the fact as one which was unquestionable. It may, therefore, be accepted as one
of the most certain of the really certain things of history, that the first taxing
of Cyrenius was made before the death of Herod, and that while it was proceeding
Christ was born in Bethlehem.
1. Bethlehem, "in
which Jesus Christ was born, as you may also learn from the lists of the taxing which
was made in the time of Cyrenius, the first Governor of yours in Judea." — Apol.,
1., § 34.
"We assert Christ to have been born a hundred and fifty years ago, under Cyrenius."
— Ibid., § 46.
"But when there was an enrollment in Judea, which was then made first under
Cyrenius, he went up from Nazareth, where he lived, to Bethlehem, of which place
he was, to be enrolled," etc. — Dial. Trypho, § 78.
Not many years ago this statement would have been received either with ridicule or
indignation. The evangelist's mention of Cyrenius appeared to be a hopeless anachronism;
as, according to undoubted history, the period of his governorship and the date of
his "taxing" were nine or ten years later than the nativity. Gloated over
by Strauss and others of his tribe, and dismissed by writers unnumbered either as
an enigma or an error, the passage has in recent years been vindicated and explained
by the labors of Dr. Zumpt of Berlin.
By a strange chance there is a break in the history of this period, for the seven
or eight years beginning B.C. 4. The list of the governors of Syria, therefore, fails us, and for the same
interval P. Sulpicius Quirinus, the Cyrenius of the Greeks, disappears from history.
But by a series of separate investigations and arguments, all of them independent
of Scripture, Dr. Zumpt has established that Quirinus was twice governor of
the province, and that his first term of office dated from the latter part of B.C.
4, when he succeeded Quinctilius Varus. The unanimity with which this conclusion
has been accepted renders it unnecessary to discuss the matter here. But one remark
respecting it may not be out of place. The grounds of Dr. Zumpt's conclusions may
be aptly described as a chain of circumstantial evidence, and his critics are agreed
that the result is reasonably certain. To make that certainty absolute, nothing is wanting but the positive testimony
of some historian of repute. If, for example, one of the lost fragments of the history
of Dion Cassius were brought to light, containing the mention of Quirinus as governing
the province during the last months of Herod's reign, the fact would be deemed as
certain as that Augustus was emperor of Rome. A Christian writer may be pardoned
if he attaches equal weight to the testimony of St. Luke. It will, therefore, be
here assumed as absolutely certain that the birth of Christ took place at some date
not earlier than the autumn of B.C. 4.
The dictum of our English chronologer, than whom none more eminent or trustworthy
can be appealed to, is a sufficient guarantee that this conclusion is consistent
with everything that erudition can bring to bear upon the point. Fynes Clinton sums
up his discussion of the matter thus. "The nativity was not more than about
eighteen months before the death of Herod, nor less than five or six. The death of
Herod was either in the spring of B.C. 4, or the spring of B.C. 3. The earliest
possible date then for the nativity is the autumn of B.C. 6 (U. C. 748), eighteen
months before the death of Herod in B.C. 4. The latest will be the of B.C.
4 (U. C. 750), about six months before his death, assumed to be in spring B.C. 3."
This opinion has weight,
not only because of the writer's eminence as a chronologist, but also because his
own view as to the actual date of the birth of Christ would have led him to narrow
still more the limits within which it must have occurred, if his sense of fairness
had permitted him to do so. Moreover, Clinton wrote in ignorance of what Zumpt has
since brought to light respecting the census of Quirinus. The introduction of this
new element into the consideration of the question, enables us with absolute confidence,
adopting Clinton's dictum, to assign the death of Herod to the month Adar of B.C.
3, and the nativity to the autumn of B.C. 4.
2. Josephus here leaves
a gap in his narrative; and through the loss of MSS., the history of Dion Cassius,
the other authority for this period, is not available to supply the omission.
3. Dr. Zumpt's labors in
this matter were first made public in a Latin treatise which appeared in 1854. More
recently he has published them in his Das Geburtsjahr Christi (Leipzig, 1869).
The English reader will find a summary of his arguments in Dean Alford's Greek
Test. (Note on Luke 2:1), and in his article, on Cyrenius in Smith's Bible
Dict.; he describes them as "very striking and satisfactory." Dr. Farrar
remarks, "Zumpt has, with incredible industry and research, all but established
in this matter the accuracy of St. Luke, by proving the extreme probability that
Quirinus was twice governor of Syria" (Life of Christ, vol. 1.
p. 7, note). See also an article in the Quarterly Review for April
1871, which describes Zumpt's conclusions as "very nearly certain," "all
but certain." The question is discussed also in Wieseler's Chron. Syn. (Venables's
trans.) In his Roman history, Mr. Merivale adopts these results unreservedly. He
says (vol. 4., p. 457), "A remarkable light has been thrown upon the point by
the demonstration, as it seems to be, of Augustus Zumpt in his second volume of Commentationes
Epigraphicae, that Quirinus (the Cyrenius of St. Luke 2.) was first governor
of Syria from the close of A. U. 750 (B. C. 4), to A. U. 753 (B. C. l)."
4. The birth of our Lord
is placed in B. C. 1, by Pearson and Hug; B. C. 2, by Scaliger; B. C. 3, by Baronius,
Calvisius, Suskind, and Paulus; B. C. 4, by Lamy, Bengel, Anger, Wieseler, and Greswell;
B. C. 5, by Ussher and Petavius; B. C. 7, by Ideler and Sanclementi (Smith's Bible
Dict., "Jesus Christ," p. 1075). It should be added that Zumpt's date
for the nativity is fixed on independent grounds in B. C. 7. Following Ideler, he
concludes that the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, which occurred
in that year, was the "Star" which led the Magi to Palestine.
That the least uncertainty should prevail respecting the time of an event of such
transcendent interest to mankind is a fact of strange significance. But whatever
doubt there may be as to the birth-date of the Son of God, it is due to no omission
in the sacred page if equal doubt be felt as to the epoch of His ministry on earth.
There is not in the whole of Scripture a more definite chronological statement than
that contained in the opening verses of the third chapter of St. Luke. "In the
fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of
Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea
and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and
Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias
in the wilderness."
5. Fasti Romani, A. D. 29.
Now the date of Tiberius Caesar's reign is known with absolute accuracy; and his
fifteenth year, reckoned from his accession, began on the 19th August, A.D. 28. And
further, it is also known that during that year, so reckoned, each of the personages
named in the passage, actually held the position there assigned to him. Here then,
it might be supposed, no difficulty or question could arise. But the evangelist goes
on to speak of the beginning of the ministry of the Lord Himself, and he mentions
that "He was about thirty years of age when He began." This statement, taken in connection with the date commonly
assigned to the nativity, has been supposed to require that "the fifteenth year
of Tiberius" shall be understood as referring, not to the epoch of his reign,
but to an earlier date, when history testifies that certain powers were conferred
on him during the two last years of Augustus. All such hypotheses, however, "are
open to one overwhelming objection, viz., that the reign of Tiberius, as beginning
from 19th August, A.D. 14, was as well known a date in the time of Luke, as the reign
of Queen Victoria is in our own day; and no single case has ever been, or can be,
produced, in which the years of Tiberius were reckoned in any other manner."
Nor is there any inconsistency whatever between these statements of St. Luke
and the date of the nativity (as fixed by the evangelist himself), under Cyrenius,
in the autumn of B.C. 4; for the Lord's ministry, dating from the autumn of A.D.
28, may in fact have begun before His thirty-first year expired, and cannot have
been later than a few months beyond it. The expression "about thirty
years implies some such margin. As therefore it is wholly unnecessary, it becomes wholly unjustifiable, to
put a forced and special meaning on the evangelist's words; and by the fifteenth
year of Tiberius Caesar he must have intended what all the world would assume he
meant, namely, the year beginning 19th August, A.D. 28. And thus, passing out of
the region of argument and controversy, we reach at last a well-ascertained date
of vital importance in this inquiry.
6. Luke 3:23. Such is the right rendering of the verse.
The Revised Version renders it: "And Jesus Himself, when He began to teach,
was about thirty years of age."
7. Lewin, Fasti Sacri,
p. 53. Diss., chap. 6: The joint-principate theory of the reign of Tiberius, elaborately
argued for by Greswell, is essential with writers like him, who assign the crucifixion
to A. D 29 or 30. Sanclementi, indeed, finding "that nowhere in histories, or
on monuments, or coins, is a vestige to be found of any such mode of reckoning the
years of this emperor," disposes of the difficulty by taking the date
in Luke 3:1 to refer, not to John the Baptist's ministry, but to Christ's death.
Browne adopts this in a modified form, recognizing that the hypothesis above referred
to "falls under fatal objections." He remarks that "it is improbable
to the last degree" that Luke, who wrote specially for a Roman officer, and
generally for Gentiles, would have so expressed himself as to be certainly misunderstood
by them. Therefore, though the statement of the evangelist clashes with his conclusion
as to the date of the Passion, he owns his obligation to accept it. See Ordo Saec.,
§§ 71 and 95.
The first Passover of the Lord's public ministry on earth is thus definitely fixed
by the Gospel narrative itself, as in Nisan A.D. 29. And we are thus enabled to fix
32 A.D. as the year of the crucifixion.
8. As Dean Alford puts
it (Gr. Test., in loco): "This hosei tpiakonta admits of considerable latitude, but only in one direction,
viz., over thirty years."
This is opposed, no doubt, to the traditions embodied in the spurious Acta
Pilati so often quoted in this controversy, and in the writings of certain of
the fathers, by whom the fifteenth year of Tiberius was held to be itself the date
of the death of Christ; "by some, because they confounded the date of the baptism
with the date of the Passion; by others, because they supposed both to have happened
in one year; by others, because they transcribed from their predecessors without
9. "It seems to me
absolutely certain that our Lord's ministry lasted for some period above three years"
(Pusey, Daniel, p. 176, and see p. 177, note 7). This opinion
is now held so universally, that it is no longer necessary to set forth in detail
the grounds on which it rests; indeed, recent writers generally assume without proof
that the ministry included four Passovers. The most satisfactory discussion of the
question which I know of is in Hengstenberg's Christology (Arnold's trans.,
§§ 755-765). St. John mentions expressly three Passovers at which the Lord
was present; and if the feast of John 5:1 be a Passover, the question is at an end.
It is now generally admitted that that feast was either Purim or Passover,
and Hengstenberg's proofs in favor of the latter are overwhelming. The feast of Purim
had no Divine sanction. It was instituted by the decree of Esther, Queen of Persia,
in the 13th year of Xerxes (B. C. 473), and it was rather a social and political
than a religious feast, the service in the synagogue being quite secondary to the
excessive eating and drinking which marked the day. It is doubtful whether our Lord
would have observed such a feast at all; but that, contrary to the usual practice,
He would have specially gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate it, is altogether incredible.
An imposing array of names can be cited in support of any year from A.D. 29
to A.D. 33; but such testimony is of force only so long as no better can be found.
Just as a seemingly perfect chain of circumstantial evidence crumbles before the
testimony of a single witness of undoubted veracity and worth, and the united voice
of half a county will not support a prescriptive right, if it be opposed to a single
sheet of parchment, so the cumulative traditions of the Church, even if they were
as definite and clear as in fact they are contradictory and vague, would not outweigh
the proofs to which appeal has here been made.
10. Clinton's Fasti Rom.,
A. D. 29.
One point more, however, claims attention. Numerous writers, some of them eminent,
have discussed this question as though nothing more were needed in fixing the date
of the Passion than to find a year, within certain limits, in which the paschal moon
was full upon a Friday. But this betrays strange forgetfulness of the intricacies
of the problem. True it is that if the system by which today the Jewish year is settled
had been in force eighteen centuries ago, the whole controversy might turn upon the
week date of the Passover in a given year; but on account of our ignorance of the
embolismal system then in use, no weight whatever can be attached to it. While the Jewish year was the old lunisolar year of 360 days,
it is not improbable they adjusted it, as for centuries they had probably been accustomed
to do in Egypt, by adding annually the "complimentary days" of which Herodotus
speaks. But it is not to be
supposed that when they adopted the present form of year, they continued to correct
the calendar in so primitive a manner. Their use of the metonic cycle for this purpose
is comparatively modern. And it is probable that with the lunar year they obtained also under the Seleucidae
the old eight years' cycle for its adjustment. The fact that this cycle was in use
among the early Christians for their paschal calculations, raises a presumption that it was borrowed from the Jews;
but we have no certain knowledge upon the subject.
Indeed, the only thing reasonably certain upon the matter is that the Passover did
not fall upon the days assigned to it by writers whose calculations respecting
it are made with strict astronomical accuracy, for the Mishna affords the clearest proof that the beginning of the
month was not determined by the true new moon, but by the first appearance
of her disc; and though in a climate like that of Palestine this would seldom be
delayed by causes which would operate in murkier latitudes, it doubtless sometimes
happened "that neither sun nor stars for many days appeared." These considerations justify the statement that in any year
whatever the 15th Nisan may have fallen on a Friday.
11. "The month began
at the phases of the moon…and this happens, according to Newton, when the moon is
eighteen hours old. Therefore the fourteenth Nisan might commence when the moon was
13d. 18h. old, and wanted 1d. oh. 22m. to the full. [The age of the moon at the full
will be 14d. 18h. 22M.] But sometimes the phases was delayed till the moon
was 1d. 17h. old; and then if the first Nisan were deferred till the phases,
the fourteenth would begin only 1h. 22m. before the full. This precision, however,
in adjusting the month to the moon did not exist in practice. The Jews, like other
nations who adopted a lunar year, and supplied the defect by an intercalary month,
failed in obtaining complete accuracy. We know not what their method of calculation
was at the time of the Christian era" (Fasti Rom., vol. 2., p. 240);
A. D. 30 is the only year between 28 and 33 in which the phases of the full moon
was on a Friday. In A. D. 29 the full moon was on Saturday, and the phases on Monday.
(See Wurm's Table, in Wiesler's Chron. Syn., Venables's trans., p.
12. Herod. 2:4.
13. It was about A. D. 360
that the Jews adopted the metonic cycle of nineteen years for the adjustment of their
calendar. Before that time they used a cycle of eighty-four years, which was evidently
the calippic period of seventy-six years with a Greek octaeteris added. This is said
by certain writers to have been in use at the time of our Lord, but the statement
is very doubtful. It appears to rest on the testimony of the later Rabbins. Julius
Africanus, on the other hand, states in his Chronography that "the Jews
insert three intercalary months every eight years." For a description of the
modern Jewish calendar see Encyc. Brit. (9th ed., vol. 5., p. 714).
14. Browne, Ordo saec.,
For example, in A.D. 32, the date of the true new moon, by which the Passover
was regulated, was the night (10h 57m) of the 29th March. The ostensible date
of the 1st Nisan, therefore, according to the phases, was the 31st March. It may
have been delayed, however, till the 1st April; and in that case the 15th Nisan should
apparently have fallen on Tuesday the 15th April. But the calendar may have been
further disturbed by intercalation. According to the scheme of the eight years' cycle,
the embolismal month was inserted in the third, sixth, and eighth years, and an examination
of the calendars from A.D. 22 to A D. 45 will show that A.D. 32 was the third year
of such a cycle. As, therefore, the difference between the solar year and the lunar
is 11 days, it would amount in three years to 33 3/4 days, and the intercalation
of a thirteenth month (Ve-adar) of thirty days would leave an epact still
remaining of 3 3/4 days; and the "ecclesiastical moon" being that much
before the real moon, the feast day would have fallen on the Friday (11th April),
exactly as the narrative of the Gospels requires.
15. See ex. gr. Browne
Ordo saec., § 64. He avers that "if in a given year the paschal
moon was at the full at any instant between sunset of a Thursday and sunset of a
Friday, the day included between the two sunsets was the 15th Nisan; "and
on this ground he maintains that A. D. 29 is the only possible date of the crucifixion.
As his own table shows, however, no possible year (i. e., no year between
28 and 33) satisfies this requirement; for the paschal full moon in A. D. 29 was
on Saturday the 16th April, not on Friday the 18th March. This view
is maintained also by Ferguson and others. It may be accounted for, perhaps, by the
fact that till recent years the Mishna was not translated into English.
16. Acts 27:20. Treatise
Rosh Hashanah of the Mishna deals with the mode in which, in the days
of the "second temple," the feast of the new moon was regulated. The evidence
of two competent witnesses was required by the Sanhedrin to the fact that they had
seen the moon, and the numerous rules laid down for the journey and examination
of these witnesses prove that not unfrequently they came from a distance. Indeed,
the case of their being "a day and a night on the road" is provided for
(ch. i., § 9). The proclamation by the Sanhedrin, therefore, may have been sometimes
delayed till a day or even two after the phases, and sometimes the phases was delayed
till the moon was 1d. 17h. old [Clinton, Fasti Rom., vol. 2., p. 240]; so
that the 1st Nisan may have fallen several days later than the true new moon. Possibly,
moreover, it may have been still further delayed by the operation of rules such as
those of the modern Jewish calendar for preventing certain festivals from falling
on incompatible days. It appears from the Mishna ("Pesachim")
that the present rules for this purpose were not in force; but yet there may
have been similar rules in operation.
17. See Fasli Rom.,
vol. 2., p. 240, as to the impossibility of determining in what years the Passover
fell on Friday.
This, moreover, would explain what, notwithstanding all the poetry indulged
in about the groves and grottoes of Gethsemane, remains still a difficulty. Judas
needed neither torch nor lantern to enable him to track his Master through the darkest
shades and recesses of the garden, nor was it, seemingly, until he had fulfilled
his base and guilty mission that the: crowd pressed in to seize their victim. And
no traitor need have been suborned by the Sanhedrin to betray to them at midnight
the object of their hate, were it not that they dared not take Him save by stealth.
Every torch and lamp increased the risk of rousing
the sleeping millions around them, for that night all Judah was gathered to the capital
to keep the Paschal feast. If, then, the full moon were high above Jerusalem, no other light were needed
to speed them on their guilty errand; but if, on the other hand, the Paschal moon
were only ten or eleven days old upon that Thursday night, she would certainly have
been low on the horizon, if she had not actually set, before they ventured forth.
These suggestions are not made to confirm the proof already offered of the year date
of the death of Christ, but merely to show how easy it is to answer objections which
at first sight might seem fatal.
18. The following is the
scheme of the octaeteris: "The solar year has a length of 365 & 1/4 days;
12 lunar months make 354 days. The difference, which is called the epact or epagomene,
is 11 & 1/4 days. This is the epact of the first year. Hence the epact of the
second year = 22 & 1/2 days; of the third, 33 & 3/4. These 33 & 3/4 days
make one lunar month of 30 days, which is added to the third lunar year as an intercalary
or thirteenth month (embolismos),
and a remainder or epact of 3 3/4 days. Hence the epact of the fourth year =11 &
1/4 + 3 & 3/4=15 days; that of the fifth year =26 & 1/4; of the sixth, 37
& 1/2, which gives a second embolism of 30 days with an epact of 7 & 1/2.
The epact, therefore, of the seventh year is 18 & 3/4, and of the eighth =18
& 3/4 + 11 & 1/4= just 30, which is the third embolism with no epact remaining."
— BROWNE, Ordo Saec., § 424. The days of the Paschal full moon in the
years A. D. 22-37 were as follows; the embolismal years, according to the octaeteris,
being marked "E":
22 ... 5th April
23 ... 25th March
24 ... 12th April
25 ... 1st April
26 ... 21st March
27E ... 9th April
28 ... 29th March
29E ... 17th April
30 ... 6th April
31 ... 27th March
32E ... 14th April
33 ... 3rd April
34 ... 23rd March
35E ... 11th April
36 ... 30th March
37E ... 18th April
19. Luke 22: 2-6
20. Josephus testifies that
an "innumerable multitude" came together for the feast (Ant., 17.,
9, § 3); and he computes that at a Passover before the siege of Jerusalem upwards
of 2, 700, 200 persons actually partook of the Paschal Supper, besides the foreigners
present in the city (Wars, 6., 9, § 3).
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