QI and Quirinius’ Census

I was watching QI XL last night, and the topic of the Bible came up (you can still see it on the iPlayer at the time of writing – at 20 minutes in). Now, it should be pointed out before we start that Stephen Fry has been known to be wrong before – he is not infallible! And on this particular occasion, I think he was wrong.

Stephen Fry and the panel made a few points about the census described in Luke 2:1-3.

The points were, broadly speaking:

  1. There was never a census of the entire Roman world;
  2. People didn’t have to return to their home towns in a census.

So the Lukan account of the census was put it only to account for the Bethlehem prophecy (i.e. Luke made up the gospel in order to account for all the prophecies). He (Stephen Fry) then went on to say “We’ve been cheated of books which should have been in the Bible”, and read an account from an infancy narrative of Jesus which happened to include dragons.

I have to say, I find this disappointing: QI prides itself on getting its facts right. It’s a shame that such a programme would broadcast what is essentially misinformation. On the two points above, there are plenty of sources (that last one looking particularly at the Greek text and the dating of the census, and – if you read on – coming up with what I believe to be an interesting resolution). In short, what QI said is simply not true.

This untruthfulness comes across again when they say it was basically a free-for-all when it came to which books were included in the Bible and which ones weren’t. Now this is such an incredible argument to make because it is totally false: It was used in the Da Vinci Code, for goodness’ sake, and we know how accurate that was! There is an article in my ESV Study Bible on the Canon of Scripture  (it’s available online but you have to have an account) which gives an interesting overview of the history of the canon of what we call the Bible. Essentially, the early church didn’t decide what went in and what didn’t in terms of their own agenda, and it wasn’t decided many years after the fact.

The books of the NT were “self-selecting”, as it were; the books that were ‘chosen’ was simply a ratification of the books that already were in use by the majority of churches as authoritative.

Anyway, it’s disappointing to see ‘research’ like this make its way onto our screens, especially on a programme which is watched by millions of people. It’s just sloppy. QI, you have gone down a little in my estimation.

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Posted on November 13, 2011, in Rants and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Further to your comment, Phill, a papyrus record from Egypt refers to the Prefect Gaius Vibius Maximus ordering the people of the region to their home towns to comply with the census declared by the emperor Trajan in AD 104. Mr Fry’s assrtion that such censuses did not happen in the Roman world is patently untrue.

    • Thanks for your comment Andrew. Could it be that Stephen Fry’s friend Richard Dawkins has influenced him somewhat here? – make groundless assertions about Christianity which in some cases are patently false!

  2. So annoying just watch QI on iplayer! Bad time Stephen Fry!
    Records exist to show that Roman-controlled Egypt had begun a census as early as 10 B.C. and it was repeated every 14 years. And Augustus himself notes in his Res Gestae (The Deeds of Augustus) that he ordered three wide-spread censuses of Roman citizens, one in 28B.C., one in 8 B.C. and one in 14 A.D.2 In between there are several other censuses that happened locally across Rome.

    Read more: http://www.comereason.org/bibl_cntr/con100.asp#ixzz2R3axTpym

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