Roman Governors of Syria
Revised for 2 BC
March 12 BC — Summer 8 BC Marcus Titus
Summer 8 BC — June 2 BC Sentius Saturninus
June 2 BC — October 2 BC Quirinius
October 2 BC — March AD 1 Quinctillius Varus
March AD 1 — March AD 3 Caius Caesar/ with Varus
March AD 3 — March AD 6 Volusius
March AD 6 — June AD 12 Quirinius
According to the 4 BC Theory
13/12-10/9 BC Marcus Titus
9-7/6 BC Sentius Saturninus
7/6-4 BC Quinctillius Varus
4-1 BC UNKOWN
1 BC - 4 AD Caius Caesar
AD 4-5 Volusius
AD 6 - AD 12 Quirinius
Messiah was born September 1, 2 BC. This is our starting point in straightening out the mess of Roman governorships of Syria. I have to start here because of the overwhelming biblical evidence that this is when he was born. So let us review it briefly. Revelation 12:1-2 gives the astronomical synchronism. The Magi state that star rose on the day of his birth. The priestly divisions point exactly to the same day. Luke states that Messiah was about 30 in the 15th year of Tiberius. Luke knew how old he was and when he was born. So he means “almost 30”, and not plus or minus five years. Neither Yoɦanan nor Yeshu‘a were born before the term date. Both were conceived on a new moon day. All these data put together point uniquely to Sept. 1, 2 BC.
Now let us apply this Scriptural finding against the scholars who would argue from their interpretations of sources outside scripture against the scripture. First Herod died after Messiah was born. Therefore, Herod died after September 1, 2 BC. Josephus alleges that the governors of Syria passed straight from Saturninus to Varus (Ant. 17:89). Josephus claims that Herod ruled 37 years from his appointment in Rome (War 1:665) in 40 BC (Ant. 14:389). Counting inclusively between 40 BC and 4 BC is 37 years (
40 - 4 + 1 = 37). Josephus also says that Herod died after a lunar eclipse (Ant. 17:167) and before the Passover (Ant. 17:213).
The 4 BC eclipse was March 13th at about 3 AM JMT. The following Passover was April 14th, 4 BC, just 29 days later. But as pointed out by Ernest Martin, Josephus records 10 to 12 weeks of events between the eclipse and the Passover, almost three times what can fit into 29 days. Therefore, we must say Josephus has contradicted himself. And this is right at the critical point relating to what year Herod died. So did Josephus manufacture all the events, or did he get his number 37 years incorrect? It is either he got the number 37 wrong or he goes onto the bonfire with the rest of historical fiction. The best choice is to say Josephus has his number wrong, and to pick another year with an eclipse. That other year is 1 BC, and the eclipse was Jan. 10 at about 1 AM JMT. Now all the events will fit.
What automatically follows in this case are the beginning dates for Varus in the chart above and the end dates for Saturninus. Into the gap goes Quirinius since Messiah was born on Sept. 1. Now some may suppose that the so called Varus coins show that Varus was governor earlier than 2 BC. But there is a problem. The alleged Varus coins, allegedly dated in the Actian Era from Sept. 31 BC, years 25, 26, and 27 (7-4 BC), would show that Varus became governor well before the summer of 5 BC! Josephus clearly places Sentius Saturninus as governor less than a year before Herod’s death! So what is alleged to show that Varus was governor in 4 BC also contradicts Josephus. Edward Greswell, who was a supporter of 4 BC, correctly saw the problem, and rightly proposed that the Varus coins were really Varo coins, and that Varo governed Syria in 25-22 BC, and that the coins are dated in the Caesarian Era of Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, where year one was 49/48 BC. Therefore, the alleged coin evidence that Varus governed Syria before 2 BC evaporates. Greswell also shows that Antioch likely switched from the Caesarian Era to the Actian Era when Augustus visited in 20 BC.
Oxford Scholar Greswell convincingly shows that Saturninus took office in 8 BC following Marcus Titius. Likewise, he shows that Titius took office in 12 BC. This gives Titus a tenure of 5 years. Now I depart from Greswell with the end of Saturninus’ tenure. Saturninus ended his stay in office about June of 2 BC. His total tenure was 6 years, which is fitting for a legate with exceptional privileges. There is another confirmation that Saturninus was the legate in the spring of 2 BC.
Tertullian puts Messiah’s birth in the 41st year of Augustus, and he dates this between August 3 BC and August 2 BC. He also puts the census under Sentius Saturninus instead of Quirinius. This shows at the very least that he allows for Saturninus to be governor in the spring of 2 BC. Why has Tertullian picked Saturninus? He has picked Saturninus because he believes in a birth date earlier than June 2 BC, which is the last date this governor was on duty. Tertullian would have had access to other records now lost. Quirinius filled the gap between Saturninus and Varus. But Tertullian must have believed Luke to be in error, and so he corrected Luke and said Saturninus was overseeing the census when Yosɛf, Miryam, and Yeshu‘a were enrolled. Tertullian’s dating of Saturninus is correct, and so also citing the fact that Saturninus oversaw at least part of the census. But his moving the birth back from the term of Quirinius some months into the term of Saturninus is not correct.
Saturninus was followed by Quirinius who finished the census in Judea. Under Saturninus there had been an attempt to enroll the Pharisees, which had failed. They had been fined. Saturninus being a legate of the highest privilege was allowed to retire after five and a part years, and he went back to Rome to enjoy Augustus’ special celebrations in Rome. Quirinius was appointed to fill the gap and to finish the census. After about five months of service he is replaced by Varus who serves until the death of Caius Caesar for about 3 years.
Quirinius First Census
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus for the whole inhabited world to be registered. This was the first registration occurring while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
It is well known from Josephus that Quirinius, while governor of Syria a second time, conducted a registration of property in Judea between AD 6 and AD 12. Augustus had made the decision to depose Archelaus, king of Judea, and to turn Judea into a regular Roman province. To accomplish this, Augustus sent his most expert administrator Quirinius. Therefore, all the property of Archelaus had to be inventoried. It should be noted that the word for “census” means “inventory,” and that it was applied as either an inventory of people or an inventory of property and goods. English uses separate words for counting people vs. counting goods or property. But the Greek language understood both by one word. When Quirinius was governor of Syria the first time, he inventoried the people in the jurisdiction of Syria, which then included the client kingdom of Judea. When he was governor the second time, he inventoried only the relevant property the Herodian State to turn it over to Rome in making Judea a province.
Besides Luke, there are two witnesses to the two governorships of Quirinius, and one extra witness to a prior census during his first governorship. The first is the Titulus Venetus and the second is the Titulus Tibertinus. The Titulus Venetus testifies to both a prior governorship and census of persons in Syria under Quirinius. Titulus Tibertinus says that a person fitting Quirinius description served twice as governor of Syria.
I turn to the Titulus Tibertinus first. Scholars have speculated that this referred to several governors, since the inscription is broken. They have proposed Varus, Saturninus, and Quirinius. Some proposed Piso also. But only Quirinius matches the whole description. Gerard Gertoux explains:
The very name of Quirinius does not appear in the inscription, but it is the only character to match all indications. The first line refers to a kingdom brought back under the imperial authority. Strabo (-65+20) relates the submission of Homonadeis by Quirinius (Geography XII:6:5) and he states that they had killed their king Amyntas, signifying that Quirinius had avenged this king. The third line refers to a double day of thanksgiving dedicated to triumphs (fourth line). According to Tacitus (55-120), Quirinius had actually received it for his victory against the Homonadeis (the double day commemorates first the victory in the Taurus and then against the Itureans in Lebanon). The fifth line quotes a proconsulship of Asia. Quirinius was proconsul of Crete and Cyrenaica in -21/-20, then proconsul of Asia around -1/1. He probably got it as a result of his wedding with Claudia, daughter of the consul Claudius Pulcher30. In 1 CE, Tiberius no longer in semi-disgrace (Augustus allowed him returning to Rome), Quirinius was able to honor him during his visit to Rhodes thanks to his proconsulship, as mentions Tacitus (Annals III:48).
According to epigraphy the word iterum "again" means the renewal of a same term of office in the same place31. For example: duumvir iterum in Pompeii (AE 1898 p. 143), or: optinuit ... procos. iterum designating Publius Paquius Scaeva as "again" proconsul of Cyprus. When it means a second term of office at a different location, not a renewal at the same place, inscriptions include "II" or "bis". For example, Q. Varius Geminus, who was legate twice, has stated it under the form: leg. divi Aug. II and Q. Caerellius, who was three times legate wrote it as: legato pro pr. ter. This detail eliminates Governor Gaius Saturninus Sentius because, assuming a second legation in Syria between 4 and 1 BCE, the double legation would be after his proconsulship of Asia, while the inscription of Tibur explicitly shows that the proconsulship of Asia was framed by the double legation in Syria32. In addition, it is not Saturninus who fought king Maraboduus, but Tiberius, according to Tacitus (Annals II:63). The title "Divine Augustus" in the inscription involves a publishing after 14 CE because Augustus was divinized only after his death. The character mentioned in the inscription therefore died after that date, which is not the case of Saturninus and Varus. Despite the good agreement between the inscription and what is known of Quirinius's life, some historians have sought to identify the character of the inscription to another legate as Lucius Piso Calpurnius Pontifex, but the inscription identifies the unknown to Quirinius, a conclusion already reached very early by the great scholar Mommsen.
What this shows, then, is that Quirinius was twice a governor of Syria. And we know the dates: June 2 BC to October 2 BC and AD 6 to AD 12.
“DATING THE TWO CENSUSES OF P. SULPICIUS QUIRINIUS”, Gerard Gertoux.
Now Ernest Martin contended that Varus was the unknown person of the Titulus Tibertinus. His basis for doing so was the so called “Varus coins,” which I mentioned above, allegedly in the 25th, 26th, and 27th year of the Actian Era (7/6 to 5/4 BC). But these coins are really Varo coins dating to 25-22 BC in the Caesarian Era. The Varus coins were called into question with good reasoning long ago. Martin cites Mommsen in his book, but he omitted to mention Mommsen’s conclusion that the man was Quirinius, in favor of his own conclusion: Varus. It is possible that Martin overlooked Quirinius because other scholars, committed to Luke’s errancy, would no consider Mommsen’s identification with Quirinius, precisely because it vindicated Luke.
“It would seem, then, that Saturninus was still in office, not merely when Antipater set out to Rome, but for one or two months at least, even after that.”
Dissertations upon a Harmony of the Gospels, Greswell, pg. 484, AD 1830
Antipater left for Rome in late April, and returned in October. This means that Quirinius was not in office in the spring of 2 B.C.