Weekend Fisher writes today concerning some historical evidence for the story – often written off as mere myth – that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a result of a census. Apparently, as no Roman documents exist from that period, that there is no record of such a census. However, some interesting documents exist from the 2nd and early 3rd centuries that refer to such tax/census documents. He writes:
Justin Martyr, attempting to persuade the Roman government to stop persecuting Christians, refers the Romans to their own tax registers to verify Jesus’ birth. After mentioning the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem he continues:
Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judæa.– Justin Martyr, First Apology XXXIV (circa 150-155 A.D.)
Tertullian makes a similar reference approx. 50 years later, indicating that Jesus’ birth was recorded in the documents kept in the archives in Rome, essentially challenging doubters to go look it up.
Of course, naysayers will respond that these 2 could simply have been bluffing, although I doubt they could provide any proof that either Tertullian or Justin Martyr had a tendency to make stuff up. Historically, these references – if related to nearly any other issue – would be given serious consideration.
At this point, it would seem that there is no reason whatsoever to doubt this portion of the story. And, this provides another example of why it is important to pay attention to the writings of the early church.