Understandings of the Lukan Census

A. J. M. Wedderburn was a professor of theology who taught at the University of St. Andrews, the University of Durham, and was finally chair of New Testament Theology at the University of Munich (he is now retired). He wrote numerous significant monographs, and numerous articles, and is regarded as first-class scholar by the academy. In 2002, while he was still teaching at the University of Munich, a Festschrift was published in his honour, with Sheffield University Press, edited by Alf Christophersen, Carsten Claussen, Jörg Frey, and Bruce Longenecker.

Festschriften (the plural of Festschrift) are collections of writings presented in honour of a person on some momentous occasion; they are celebration writings. The tradition originated in Germany, and so, sometimes the German term, Festschrift, is used in the title. Oftentimes in English however, you simply have a title, and a sub-title which begins with “Essays in honour of. . .” and then states the name of the scholar, and even perhaps the occasion of the writing (a milestone birthday, perhaps). In 2002 was published Paul, Luke and the Greco-Roman World: Essays in Honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn. It is an interesting book because, like other Festschriften, it contains essays otherwise usually not brought together in one volume: They do not concern a specific sub-discipline per se, but rather reflect work relevant to the interests of that scholar.

Why have I mentioned this book? Because there is one essay in the book which is relevant to the purposes of this site and to the season. The essay, “The Reasons for the Lukan Census,” by Stanley E. Porter, introduces six different positions in scholarly discussion as to how the Lukan census at the beginning of Luke 2 might be understood. Did you know that there were more than two or three positions on the question? Perhaps not. The essay is great because it surveys the major contours of each position and looks in detail at the historical and linguistic sources in support of each one (and he is not uncritical of any of them). In the end, Porter accumulates reasons to think Luke got far more right in his account than is sometimes considered. I’ve scanned the article and linked it for you below.

This Christmastime, why not give yourself (and anyone whom you can force to listen to you) the gift of some textual and historical knowledge relevant to the season? Enjoy.

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