[originally posted on Facebook, 2-10-21]
Chapter two of Matthew tells us of King Herod’s anger at the three wise men and then of the killing of every child. Surely, the slaughter of every male child (Matthew 2:16-18) in Bethlehem, Ramah, and the surrounding area would have got mentioned in many places, such as Josephus’ detailed accounts of the times, in fact it would likely cause the downfall of such an immoral, monstrous leader who issued such orders!
Such an act of cruelty perfectly corresponds with Herod’s paranoid and merciless character, which bolsters the argument for its historicity. Josephus records that Herod was quick to execute anyone he perceived to threaten his rule, including his wife and children (Antiquities 15.7.5–6 and 16.11.7). Two Jewish scholars have made the case that Herod suffered from “Paranoid Personality Disorder,” and Caesar Augustus even said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.*In addition, first-century Bethlehem was a small village that would have included, at most, a dozen males under the age of two. Josephus, if he even knew about the massacre, probably did not think an isolated event like the killings at Bethlehem needed to be recorded, especially since infanticide in the Roman Empire was not a moral abomination as it is in our modern Western world.*[prominent archaeologist William F. Albright estimated the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to be about 300 people]*Herod’s massacre would also not have been the first historical event Josephus failed to record.*We know from Suetonius and from the book of Acts that the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in A.D. 49, but neither Josephus nor the second century Roman historian Tacitus record this event (Acts 18). Josephus also failed to record Pontius Pilate’s decision to install blasphemous golden shields in Jerusalem, which drove the Jews to petition the emperor for their removal. The Alexandrian philosopher Philo was the only person to record this event.*Sometimes historians choose not to record an event, and their reasons cannot always be determined. In the nineteenth century Pope Leo XIII noted the double standard in critics for whom “a profane book or ancient document is accepted without hesitation, whilst the Scripture, if they only find in it a suspicion of error, is set down with the slightest possible discussion as quite untrustworthy” (Providentissimus Deus, 20).*We should call out this double standard when critics demand that every event recorded in Scripture, including the massacre of the Holy Innocents, be corroborated in other non-biblical accounts before they can be considered to be historical. (“Is the Massacre of the Holy Innocents Historical?”, Catholic Answers, 12-26-19)
Many other myths, including more ancient Roman ones, had an event where all the male children were killed, and the famous Romulus and Remus story is (once again) a good, famous example. The story of Moses also contains a period of time when all Jewish male children are being killed by the King of the time, when Moses escapes in a basket pushed down a river by his mother. The princess who picked him out of the water called him Moses, which means “picked out”.
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Photo credit: Massacre of the Innocents (1824), by Léon Cogniet (1794-1880) [public domain / GetArchive.Net]
Summary: Examination of the irrationality of one example of atheist skepticism regarding the “slaughter of the innocents” in Bethlehem: King Herod’s attempt to kill the Messiah.