AMAZING TAILS FROM THE PAST
raises baffling questions
The massacre of the innocents is perhaps the most terrible crime recorded in the Bible. The man who ordered the slaughter, Herod, King of Judea, was undoubtedly a bloodthirsty tyrant - and had a motive for his actions. But do the historical facts really add up?
Matthew's Gospel tells how three wise men from the East came to Jerusalem after receiving news of the birth of Jesus. They claimed to have been following a star and now wanted to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews. Herod summoned the wise men and questioned them about the appearance of the star - from which he was able to calculate the child's age. Alarmed at the news of a possible rival to his throne, Herod asked them to let him know as soon as they found the child, so that he too could come and worship him. The wise men continued their journey still guided by the star.
When the wise men came to the house where the infant Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph, were staying, they began to worship the child and present him with valuable gifts. The next morning they planned to return to Jerusalem to inform Herod of the child's whereabouts. But in a dream God instructed them to avoid Herod and return home. Hardly had they left when Joseph also had a dream. The Angel of the Lord told him to take his wife and son and go to Egypt as Herod was planning to hunt down the child and kill him. Alarmed, Joseph fled with his family.
In Jerusalem, Herod waited for the return of the wise men and their report. It soon became clear that he had been deceived. Enraged, he issued the order that all male children of two years old and under in Bethlehem were to be killed - a policy which would guarantee to rid the king of his potential rival. But by the time the massacre began, Jesus, Joseph and Mary were safe in Egypt. Shortly afterwards, Herod died and they were able to make their way back to Judea.
BIBLE STORY OR HISTORICAL FACT?
Historians have found little evidence beyond Matthew's Gospel to support the story of the infanticide. But the incident does fit with what is known of Herod's character. A brutal, pragmatic politician, he was quite prepared to use murder as a final resort. He had even ordered the assassination of members of his own family as he suspected treachery and intrigue everywhere.
[Herod left an architectural legacy of far more lasting significance than his political exploits. He reconstructed Jerusalem and a number of temples, especially the great temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, were remodelled or completely rebuilt]
At least three of his 14 sons - the product of a total of ten marriages - were killed on Herod's orders along with his wife Miriam and her mother Alexandra.
TOWER BASED ON ROMAN PATRONAGE
Herod's fears were entirely justified. His power, like that of his father, Antipater, was based on securing the goodwill of powerful patrons in Rome. In 63 BC, the Romans had occupied Syria and gained control of the neighbouring territory of Palestine. The politicians and high priests of Judea immediately began ingratiating themselves with the Romans, vying with one another to govern the country on behalf of their new masters. One of those most active in seeking Roman approval was Antipater. He was an Idumaean, from a tribal state to the south of Palestine. In 47 BC, Julius Caesar entrusted a control over Judea. When, following Caesar's murder in 44 BC, civil war erupted in Rome, Judea was also thrown into chaos and Antipater was killed by a local political opponent.
MAINTAINING A HOLD ON POWER
After the murder of his father, Herod made a bid for power. Following his father's example, he made overtures to Mark Antony, now in command in Rome. He offered him such an enormous sum of money that the Roman was prepared to install Herod in his father's place immediately.
But it was not long before Herod was called upon to defend his newly won power. The Parthians, a warlike people from Persia, overran Palestine, expelled Herod and appointed one of their own as ruler of Judea. Herod refused to surrender. He battled his way to Rome, where he made it clear to the senators that he was prepared to spend large sums of money to secure their help. In response to his bribery, Herod was officially named King of the Jews and returned to Palestine with their blessing and a contingent of Roman troops. After a series of further struggles, Herod finally managed to overcome his enemies both at home and abroad. His empire became almost as great as that of King David, the great hero of early Jewish history. Herod was obsessed with maintaining his hold on power. He owed his position to his close relationship with Rome, but among subjects, he had many enemies.
['I'd rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son.'
Jews resented his interference in their religious affairs - he had taken over the appointment of a high priest, and filled the Jewish high tribunal with his own supporters. Pious Jews never accepted him as a legitimate ruler - thought he was a pagan usurper of the Jewish throne. At the same time, pagans perceived him as a Jew who played favourites with his Jewish subjects. With so many out to get him, Herod believed he was justified in using any means to eliminate a rival. Such reasoning could have supplied him with a motive for the infanticide at Bethlehem. As someone who had fought so hard for his kingdom, he was predisposed to see the birth of Christ as a declaration of war against his own authority.
WEIGHING THE EVIDENCE
So did the infanticide at Bethlehem actually take place? Although Herod may have had the capacity - and motive - to do so, it as unlikely that he did order the slaughter. He died in 4 BC, before the birth of Jesus - a chronological inconsistency that would seem to absolve him of the charges. But the discrepancy is tually the result of an error made by the 6th-century monk Dionysius when he devised the Christian calendar and calculated Christ's date of birth.
(THE TRUTH IS JESUS WAS BORN 5 B.C. PROVED IN AN IN-DEPTH STUDY ON THIS WEBSITE - Keith Hunt)
Perhaps more significant is the fact that only the Gospel of St Mathew includes the infanticide. A Roman philosopher of the 4th century, Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, gives the earliest reference to the event outside the Bible: "When Augustus heard that Herod, King of the Jews, had ordered all the boys in Syria underer the age of two years to be put to death and that the king's son was among those killed, he said, 'I'd rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son.'" As Macrobius places the massacre in Syria, and combines it with the separate killing of one of Herod's
[I shall pass through the land of Egypt and all the first-born shall perish.'
GOD TO MOSES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT]
sons, some historians have argued that the account is independent. But it is likely that, given the popularity of Matthew's Gospel and the spread of Christianity, it was taken from Matthew.
(THE SECULAR REASONING OF SPIRITUALLY BLINDED MAN, WOULD DOUBT THE ACCOUNT BY MATTHEW; BUT AS PAUL WAS INSPIRED TO SAY, GOD'S WORD IS "GOD BREATHED" - INSPIRED - SO THE EVENT DID IN REALITY TAKE PLACE - Keith Hunt)
INFANTICIDE IN EGYPT AND ROME
Although Herod's alleged massacre seems to derive exclusively from St Matthew, similar incidents are described elsewhere in the Bible and in the writings of early historians.
[Herod's Roman friends
As Governor of Judea in 47 BC, Herod first backed Julius Caesar.
After Caesar's murder in 44 BC, Herod switched his support to Caesar's assassin Cassius.
In 42 BC, when Cassius had been eliminated, he ingratiated himself with Mark Antony.
Following Mark Antony's defeat at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, Herod changed sides once again, becoming Octavian's representative in Judea]
The Old Testament tells how Moses and the Israelites were enslaved by a Pharaoh who refused to let them return to the Promised Land. As a consequence, God visited ten plagues upon Egypt to force Pharaoh to change his mind. The worst of these was the final plague: 'Around midnight' God told Moses, 'I shall pass through the land of Egypt and all the first-born shall perish, from the eldest son of the Pharaoh on his throne to the eldest son of the serving maid sitting behind her mill.' The cruel judgment was duly enacted: neither the Pharaoh nor his lowliest servant was spared the loss of a child. The last loss was too much for him to bear and Pharaoh was forced to swallow his pride. Moses and the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt and set off on their exodus back to the Promised Land.
(WE MUST REMEMBER THAT DEATH WITH GOD, IS NOT LIKE DEATH TO THE SECULAR MIND. GOD IS ABLE TO RESURRECT THE DEAD, AS HE WILL DO IN THE SECOND RESURRECTION MENTIONED IN REVELATION 20 - Keith Hunt)
Another parallel comes from Rome, shortly before the birth of the future Emperor Augustus, in 63 B.C. a number of miracles had indicated that something momentous was about to happen. Rumours abounded that the natural world was about to produce a new king to rule the Roman people. The senators became alarmed, fearing the demise of the Republic if they lost control of the succession. So they resolved that no boy born in that year should be permitted to survive. Although the measure was intended to save the Republic from being supplanted by a king, there was discord as a result of the ruling and the resolution of the Senate was overturened. Every man whose wife was pregnant hoped that it would be his son who would be the prophesied ruler and bring his family renown, power and honour.
A final example of an event that could be regarded as an infanticide took place in Rome under the despotic Emperor Nero, who reigned from AD 54-68. Fearful of conspiracies against him, Nero had many of his citizens placed under arrest, and their children driven out of the city and then killed, either by poisoning or starvation.
[When Herod heard of the quest of the three wise men, he asked his scribes where the birth of the King of the Jews might have taken place. They quoted the prophet, Micah, who had foretold that a new ruler of Israel would come out of Bethlehem]
SOLVING THE PUZZLE
So in ancient times, the motif of the murder of children was just one - but a potent example - of an arsenal of accusations that might be used against tyrants and despots. And many rulers were ready to kill in order to hang onto their hard-won power.
In Judea there was no shortage of people who had scores to settle with Herod. 'I know that the Jews will celebrate my death with an outpouring of joy' the king is reputed to have said, shortly before his death. It is entirely plausible that his dissatisfied Jewish subjects wanted to blacken his memory by ascribing to him a particularly monstrous deed.
Another possibility is that if a massacre did take place, it was on too small a scale to rate a historical mention. Some of the early churches suggested that as many as 64,000 children had been murdered on Herod's orders. But given the size of Bethlehem and the surrounding area, it is unlikely that more than a few dozen children could have been killed.
It is also possible that the early Christians of Palestine created the myth. The alleged murder plot and the miraculous escape of Jesus and his family showed their Saviour in a uniquely favourable light - as a divine figure whom even the most evil ruler could not touch.
THE LAST STATEMENTS ARE THE REASONING OF THE SECULAR MIND. THOUGH IT IS TRUE THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY HOW MANY CHILDREN WERE KILLED UNDER HEROD'S ORDER, THE FACT IS IT DID HAPPEN. IF GOD DOES EXIST [AS HE INDEED DOES] THEN HE HAS THE POWER TO INSPIRE THE WRITING OF THE BIBLE, WHICH HE DID DO. HENCE THE RECORD OF MATTEW IS AN INSPIRED FACTUAL RECORD OF AN EVENT THAT DID TAKE PLACE.