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This is my second rebuttal to the efforts Dave Armstrong is putting in to trying to debunk my claims of contradictions in the Bible. The first rebuttal, completed yesterday, looked at his criticisms of my case that there are contradictions involved in the accounts of Jesus alighting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to exorcise some demons.

He didn’t do a great job, if I am to be brutally honest, completely ignoring my main argument in one case and having spurious appeals elsewhere.

Here, he looks at my claim that the dating for the death of Herod and the census of Luke in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke respectively, and supposedly finds issue.

The problem, yet again, is that Armstrong singularly fails to deal with the actual issue. Here is what I originally said:

Thus using simple logic we can deduct that, at the time of Jesus’ birth, both the census of Quirinius took place and Herod lived. However, this is extremely problematic since we know that the census took place in 6 CE and Herod died in 4 (0r 5) BCE. This is a gap of at least ten years! It is at least ten years since if Herod was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth and we know he ordered a massacre and suchlike (all of which would have taken some time), then we know he would have survived for some time around this moment and after the birth. This is quite a long period of time to have as some anomaly. On the face of it, either one or both of the Gospel authors are lying. They are simply claiming things as facts which are impossible….

To conclude this section, it seems to be irrefutable, given the evidence, that Herod the Great died in either 4 or 5 BCE. The evidence comes from Josephus, Dio and coinage, as well as Roman records of governorship of Judea. Just taking Josephus alone, the various accounts and claims he makes are considerably interwoven with other facts. It is not good enough to simply say that he might have been inaccurate and got his dates wrong since the interconnectedness would make such a claim of inaccuracy affect a whole web of events. There would simply be no reason to throw out this positive evidence unless you have an agenda set against the implications that such a date would give. It is far more probable that, in this particular case, Josephus is correct and this is born out by further corroborated sources such as Dio and coinage.

Therefore, it is safe to say that Herod did indeed die in 4 or 5 BCE and that if Jesus was born at this time, any claims of a census coinciding with this timeframe would need some serious investigation. On the face of it, the contradiction between Luke and Matthew still clearly stands.

Armstrong tackles Josephus and looks a little at coinage. He ignores all other arguments. He even appeals to the “very credentialed” Vardaman. When you see the lies Vardaman peddled about micro-letters on coinage, I would steer well away from him, but that’s just me.

I am actually going to, for the sake of argument here, grant that everything Armstrong says in his piece is true. I don’t think this, but let’s run with it. What Armstrong spends his entire “paper” doing is arguing (using Jimmy Akin) for Herod dying not in 4 or 5 BCE, but in 1 BCE. Well, this does nothing to solve the problem.

The problem is that the census and Herod cannot coexist. What Armstrong does is move Herod’s death a few years closer to the census, but it is still seven whole years away.

The problem still remains.

Herod, the census and the 10-year gap becomes Herod, the census and the 7-year gap. Whoop.

Furthermore, Herod Archelaus was ruling Judea (for ten years) and did a bad job, which is precisely why the Romans took the province back from being a client kingdom to being under their direct (taxed) control. The history that we know is that the census was ordered so that they could account for the potential income from a province newly under their control, fallen foul since the death of its once expansive leader, Herod the Great. There is no conceivable way of reconciling Herod and a census coexisting (especially since Herod was king of a client kingdom, not directly taxable or censused by the Roman Empire).

So, I don’t need to go on. I don’t need to refer to any of the points he makes, and that’s granting the truth of everything he does say! He has still utterly failed to solve the problem.

I’m not really sure what his piece, therefore, achieved. It showed me that he loves Jimmy Akin and will unquestioningly laud anything he says, but he seems think showing Josephus might have been out by a couple of years does the trick. The point is that if Jesus was born at the time of Herod, then the census couldn’t have happened (thus contradictions ensues); if he was born at the time of the census, then Herod couldn’t have been alive. All Armstrong arguably achieves is a case that Jesus was born at the time of Herod’s death, but does not reconcile this at all with the census.

That said, Armstrong is still out by a year, and most people tend to think that Herod the Great lived for a couple of years after Jesus’ birth in order that Joseph, Mary and baby could stay safely in Egypt until Archelaus took charge. This is a further contradiction because Luke has them explicitly returning straight home (via the Jerusalem Temple) to Nazareth.

There is nothing about Armstrong’s case that harmonises the problem as originally set out.

Please see my book on the nativity for further analysis.


A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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