hold on the Jews is reflected by the fact that those who had fled down to Egypt after the murder of Governor Gedaliah attributed their calamity to their neglecting to make sacrificial smoke and drink offerings to the “queen of the heavens.” The prophet Jeremiah, though, forcefully pointed out the wrongness of their view.—Jer. 44:15-30.
The title “queen of the heavens” suggests that this goddess was a stellar deity. Although the Israelites, even before their entering the Promised Land, were explicitly warned against the worship of sun, moon and stars (Deut. 4:15, 19; 17:2-5), the veneration of heavenly bodies came to be practiced extensively by apostate Israelites, both in the ten-tribe kingdom and in the kingdom of Judah. (2 Ki. 17:16, 17; 21:3, 5; Jer. 8:1, 2; Ezek. 8:16) Likely the “queen of the heavens” was associated with one or more of these heavenly bodies.
The worship of heavenly bodies formed an integral part of the religion of Babylon. (Isa. 47:5, 12-15) Numerous authorities, in fact, suggest identifying the “queen of the heavens” with the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar, who is generally associated with the planet Venus. Others identify the “queen of the heavens” with the corresponding Canaanite fertility goddess Ashtoreth, who is likewise associated with the planet Venus by some ancient writers and with the moon by others. Scholars who identify Ashtoreth with the moon suggest that the sacrificial cakes offered to the “queen of the heavens” were in the form of a crescent or the full moon. Others view the phrase “to make an image of her” (the “queen of the heavens”) as indicating that the cakes made by apostate Israelite women possibly had the form of figurines. (Jer. 44:19) The historian Alexander Hislop, on page 141 of his book The Two Babylons, links the “queen of the heavens” with Semiramis, saying: “According to the Chaldean doctrine, Semiramis, the wife of Ninus or Nimrod, [was] exalted to divinity under the name of the Queen of Heaven.”—See ASHTORETH; BAAL No. 4.
Roman governor of Syria at the time of the “registration” ordered by Caesar Augustus that resulted in Jesus’ birth taking place in Bethlehem. (Luke 2:1, 2) His full name was Publius Sulpicius Quirinius.
In the Chronographus Anni CCCLIIII, a list of Roman consuls, the name of Quirinius appears in 12 B.C.E. along with that of Messala. Roman historian Tacitus briefly recounts Quirinius’ history, saying: “He was born at Lanuvium, a municipal town: he distinguished himself by his military services, had considerable talents for business, and was raised by Augustus to the honor of the consulship. Having afterwards stormed and taken the strongholds of the Homanadensians in Cilicia, he obtained triumphal honors. He attended Gaius Caesar in his expedition to Armenia.” (Annals, III, 48) His death took place in 21 C.E.
Not mentioned by Tacitus is Quirinius’ relationship to Syria. Jewish historian Josephus relates Quirinius’ assignment to Syria as governor in connection with the simultaneous assignment of Coponius as the Roman ruler of Judea. He states: “Now Cyrenius [Quirinius], a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul, and one who, on other accounts, was of great dignity, came at this time into Syria, with a few others, being sent by Cæsar to be a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance. Coponius also, a man of the equestrian order, was sent together with him, to have the supreme power over the Jews.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, chap. I, par. 1) Josephus goes on to relate that Quirinius came into Judea, to which his authority was extended, and ordered a taxation there. This brought much resentment and an unsuccessful attempt at revolt, led by “Judas, a Gaulonite.” This is evidently the revolt referred to by Luke at Acts 5:37. According to Josephus’ account it took place in the year 6 C.E., “the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over Antony at Actium.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, chap. II, par. 1) Quirinius is generally held to have been governor of Syria during the years 6-7 C.E.
For long this was the only governorship of Syria by Quirinius for which secular history supplied confirmation. However, an inscription known as the Lapis Tiburtinus has been found in Rome, which, though not giving the name, contains information that most scholars acknowledge could apply only to Quirinius. It contains the statement that on going to Syria he became governor (or, “legate”) for ‘the second time.’ On the basis of inscriptions found in Antioch containing Quirinius’ name many authorities acknowledge that Quirinius was also governor of Syria in the B.C.E. period.
There is uncertainty on their part, however, as to where Quirinius fits among the secularly recorded governors of Syria. Josephus lists Varus (P. Quintilius Varus) as “president” or governor of Syria at the time of, and subsequent to, the death of Herod the Great. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, chap. V, par. 2; chap. IX, par. 3) Tacitus also refers to Varus as being governor at the time of Herod’s death. (History, V, 9) Josephus states that Varus’ predecessor was Saturninus (C. Sentius Saturninus).
Many scholars, in view of the evidence of an earlier governorship by Quirinius, suggest the years 3-2 B.C.E. for his governorship. While these dates would harmonize satisfactorily with the Biblical record, the basis on which these scholars select them is in error. That is, they list Quirinius as governor during those years because they place his rule after that of Varus and hence after the death of Herod the Great, for which they use the popular but erroneous date of 4 B.C.E. (See CHRONOLOGY, page 331; HEROD No. 1 [Date of His Death].) (For the same reason, that is, their use of the unproved date of 4 B.C.E. for Herod’s death, they give Varus’ governorship as from 6-4 B.C.E., the length of his rule, however, being conjectural, for Josephus does not specify the date of its beginning or its end.) The best evidence points to the date of 2 B.C.E. for the birth of Jesus. Hence Quirinius’ governorship must have included this year or part thereof.
Some scholars call attention to the fact that the term used by Luke, and usually translated “governor,” is he·ge·monʹ. This Greek term is used to describe Roman legates and procurators and proconsuls, and means, basically, a “leader” or “high executive officer.” Some, therefore, suggest that, at the time of what Luke refers to as the “first registration,” Quirinius served in Syria in the capacity of a special legate of the emperor exercising extraordinary powers. A factor that may also aid in understanding the matter is Josephus’ clear reference to a dual rulership of Syria, as twice in his account he speaks of two persons, Saturninus and Volumnius, serving simultaneously as “presidents of Syria.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVI, chap. IX, par. 1; par. 8) Thus, if Josephus is correct in his listing of Saturninus and Varus as successive presidents of Syria, it is possible that Quirinius served simultaneously either with Saturnius (as Volumnius had done) or with Varus prior to Herod’s death (which likely occurred in 1 B.C.E. or even early 1 C.E.). The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Vol. IX, pp. 375, 376) presents this view: “Quirinius stood in exactly the same relation to Varus, the governor of Syria, as at a later time Vespasian did to Mucianus. Vespasian conducted the war in Palestine while Mucianus was governor of Syria; and Vespasian was legatus Augusti, holding precisely the same title and technical rank as Mucianus.”
An inscription found in Venice (Lapis Venetus) refers to a census conducted by Quirinius in Syria. However, it provides no means for determining whether this was in his earlier or his later governorship.
Luke’s proved accuracy in historical matters gives