James McGrath Is Wrong: Herod Really Did Massacre the Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Brueghel (Wikicommons)

Fellow #progGOD theoblogger James McGrath is glad that Matthew got the infancy narrative of Jesus wrong. The Massacre of the Innocents never happened, he confidently proclaims in his post “Why I’m Glad that the Infancy Narrative in Matthew Isn’t Literally True,” because Matthew lacked sympathy and theological concern:

If Matthew had had more sympathy towards those who lose children, and more theological concern not to depict God in a manner that people would eventually find morally problematic, he could have used his imagination and added still more details to the story he concocted.

Like many liberals, he brushes off the deeper implications of the text in order to assuage his modern sensibilities:

Aren’t you glad that we have no reason to think that this story Matthew tells actually happened?

Instead, we can attribute it to the shortcomings of Matthew. And we can take a lesson from it.

Real life includes murders and tragedies – like that which happened in reality at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut recently, and like that depicted in story in Matthew’s Gospel.

But when we insert God as a character and say that God acted to save some, we turn God into a monster who chooses for inscrutable reasons to spare some but lead others to the slaughter.

We also read this text at our church, Solomon’s Porch, on Sunday night. And I could not possibly have a more diametrically opposed response than James. In fact, I feel so passionate about it that I’m going to shout:


I’m going to now ask James and all my other fellow progressives to take a journey with me. The year is 3012 and our descendants are reading their hologrambooks or whatever they’ll use in 1,000 years. In fact, they’re reading about a mass shooting that took place at an elementary school a millennium ago. In fact, they’re reading a theological account of that horrific story.

Now imagine this. They’re response is:

Aren’t you glad that never happened? Aren’t you glad that those children never died at Sandy Hook Elementary? Aren’t you glad that human beings never actually shot real guns with real bullets? Aren’t you glad that we can discount this entire story as a myth and look at it instead as an Aesop’s Fable of moralistic truths from a primitive age?

You see, that’s exactly what happens when you dismiss the terrifying texts of the Bible as non-literal myths. YOU SILENCE THE VICTIMS!

It’s true that we don’t know how many infant boys Herod murdered. We don’t know if it was just the sons of a couple families, a village, or a whole territory. But does it matter?!? Innocent infants were killed. They were not myths. They were not fables. They were babies!

James wants to mythologize this story because that lets God off the hook. If it’s a myth, then it means that God didn’t work to save Joseph’s family while allowing other families to suffer infanticide. But this is what happens every day, every time a baby dies — of a genetic disorder or in a car accident or at the hands of a murderous madman — God, it seems, protects one and does not protect the other.

Does this make God an inscrutable monster? That’s for each one of us to decide. But you don’t get to mythologize the Bible to let God off the hook when God is implicated in the deaths of children every day.

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