April 29

1086 BCE/CE

I am writing this on the evening of "Census Day 2001". No room at the inn. Have declared myself Jewish under both ethnic and religious, but crossed through the section that invites you to state your racial origins and have written HUMAN in large letters across it, the only race I am prepared to separate myself into, though not one I would be prepared to run. Hope the Roman Governor will not decree a massacre of the immigrants. Much more worthy of the occasion and the expense would be a Concensus day (the cartoon on the right will need enlarging if you are to appreciate its sarcasms).

Just for the information:

 the first known census was carried out by Moses, and is recorded in the opening chapter of the Book of Numbers. It contends that, leaving Sinai for the wilderness, there were 603,550 men above the age of twenty, eligible for military conscription; a figure which implies a total community of Israelite refugees approaching 2 million. That's an awful lot of quail and manna that's going to be needed.

* the first census in the UK, unless you count the Domesday Book (see below), took place on March 10th, 1801, and has been repeated every ten years since, with the exception of 1941, when people were inconveniently not where a census needed them to be for a successful numbers-blitz.

✡ King David's census, carried out with some considerable reluctance by Yo-Av (Joab) in 2 Samuel 24, revealed a total population of 800,000 valiant men in Israel, a further 500,000 in Judah; it was regarded as a sin to carry out the tally, "and David said to the Lord, 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done; and now, I beseech you, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.'" No such remorse or humility from the moderns.

(Just as a side-note, the date of King David’s census could very well have been 1086 BCE, as this is about the time when archaeologists believe that there might have been such a person, or even several, and the name a dynastic title, like William among the English monarchs.)

* Despite the name of the presiding Home Secretary, the present census is not being sobriqueted as a Straw Poll (sorry, that was also written in 2001, when Jack of said name still was).

♰ Jesus' parents (mum and surrogate father?) were registering for a census when he was born - so the Gospels claim. But they were probably a trifle tardy; if Jesus was born in 1 CE (zero hadn't been invented yet so it was either 1 BCE, which doesn't sound right, or 1 CE, which does), they will have missed the census by about 6 years. This is how it fails to work:-

First, the text:

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)" Luke 2:1-2

Then the difficulties:

♰ the only known census of the period was conducted in the name of Quirinius, the governor of Syria, but there is no record that Quirinius was actually governor of Syria at that time, or that he included Herod's separate kingdom of Judea in his census (why would he?)

♰ other than the Gospels, there is no record of such a local, let alone an empire-wide census, ever being instituted by Augustus, who was definitely the Emperor at that time.

♰ had there been a Roman census, it would have required Joseph to register in the principal city of his Roman administrative district, presumably somewhere in Galilee, and not in some fanciful idea of an ancestral home in a tribal territory that hadn't existed as such for generations; and if he was going to the central city of Judea, it would have been Jerusalem anyway, not Bethlehem.

♰ At no point in the entire history of the Roman Empire was a census carried out to determine the population of a client kingdom, such as Herod's was.

♰ Luke describes Jesus' birth and this census as taking place during Herod the Great's reign (1:5; cf. also Matthew 2:1); that reign ended with Herod's death in March or April of 4 BCE.

For those of us who inhabit the UK (or at least the Norman-English parts of it), the greatest survey was the one known as the "Great Survey", commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records of 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland at the time). It wasn't actually called "The Domesday Book" until two hundred years later, some wit of the latter day picking up the comment by a wit of the earlier time, that "there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out", a statement that suggested the "Doomsday", the Last Judgement described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgement - and this despite the fact that the survey was abandoned unfinished when William died in 1087, and his son Rufus could see no earthly use for it.

A “New Doomsday” survey was started in the UK in 1986, but only about a million people took part, and the survey was abandoned when its organisers realised that William Rufus was almost certainly correct.

If you want to hunt for your name, or your village (which has probably changed its name, or at least the spelling of its name), click here.

and after all that, does this page really have any use for:

Zubin Mehta, symphony conductor, born today in 1936

Or: Women first admitted to examinations at Oxford University, today in 1885

Or: US troops liberated Dachau concentration camp, today in 1945

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