"Cyrenius" and "Quirinius"

Edward Hobbs (EHOBBS@wellesley.edu)
Tue, 17 Dec 1996 16:19:19 -0500 (EST)

From: LUCY::EHOBBS "Edward Hobbs" 17-DEC-1996 16:17:53.86
To: IN%"cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu"
Subj: RE: Cyrenius vs Quirinus

Dear Colleagues, especially Edward Venetten and Carl Conrtad:

Carl Conrad replied quite well to Edward Vanetten's query [word
carefully chosen!] about Quirinius/Cyrenius. May I suggest, however, an
even simpler explanation of the KJV's choice of "Cyrenius"? Carl's reply
credits them with reflecting about this with some care. I suspect that in
fact they did what they usually did with names in the Greek New Testament
which didn't already have standardized translations/transliterations---
they simply "Latinized" the name. I.e., Kappa of course becomes "C", the
"-os" ending becomes "-us", Upsilon becomes the letter "y" (imported into
Latin for just this purpose), etc. "Cyrenius" is thus the only possible way to
put the name into English (i.e., the Latin form). If "Quirinius" had been a
name well-known the 16th-17th century England, then they might have used
that form, but it wasn't.
The exceptions to this were chiefly the names of the gods; Greek
gods' names were replaced by their (conventional) Roman equivalents (see
Acts, where Artemis becomes Diana, Zeus becomes Jupiter, Hermes becomes
Mercury, Ares becomes Mars, etc.).

The dating is, as Carl says, impossible, even on Luke's own terms.
If Jesus was born in 6-7 C.E. (when Quirinius was Legatus of Syria), then how
could he be "about 30 years of age" soon after John's ministry began, which
is dated as "the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar" -- i.e., 28-29 C.E. A
little arithmetic wold give 22 years of age. The one date that seems to be
mistaken is the dating of the birth as during the term of office of
Quirinius, and at the time of a census.

Edward Hobbs

Vanetten and Conrad's messages follow:

At 9:16 AM -0600 12/17/96, Vanetten.Edward wrote:
> In Luke 2:2 the KJV translators used Cyrenius
> instead of Quirinus. Does anyone know why?
> Was Cyrenius a nickname, cognomen, Greek
> transliteration of a Roman name, or what?

My guess is that the KJV translators didn't know exactly who Quirinius was
and that they thought the spelling of the name indicated it was derived
from the North African Greek city of Cyrene. In fact, however, the Greek
KYRHNIOS transliterates quite well--in the pronunciation of Luke's era--the
pronunciation of the Latin name Quirinius--and of course it would be a
Roman functioning as governor. If they DID know of Quirinius, they might
have had problems with the fact that Quirinius wasn't governor of Syria
until 6 A.D., whereas the birth of Jesus is also said by Luke to occur
while Herod the Great is still ruling Judea, and Herod died in 4 B.C. So:
they may have thought it couldn't be Quirinius. There have been many and
various ways of dealing with the problem of the anachronistic dating, but
naming the governor Cyrenius is not really one of the more adequate

Carl W. Conrad