The Massacre of the Innocents is the traditional name of the order king Herod gives to kill those two years old and under in Bethlehem, according to the time Herod ascertained from the Magi about the star they had seen in the East. Even sympathetic readers in Biblical studies believe that the Massacre of the Innocents is “unrecorded” in history. Therefore, the general belief is that the story is completely made up.
I’m here to tell you it is not made up. In fact, it is recorded in history. I’ll show it to you in this post.
The Passage at Issue, Matthew 2:13-18
The Massacre of the Innocents occurs after the visit of the Magi to Joseph and Mary. At this time, it says the following:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Noticing the Details of the Journey To and From Egypt
But before we move on, we need to realize the chronology of this passage. It is typical to view this as a quick flight out of Bethlehem with the soldiers of Herod hot on the tail of the holy family. But no such thing is actually described. Instead, the parenthetical citations to old testament prophecy obscure the timeline.
Notice that it says an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to go to Egypt. Joseph does go to Egypt, and he stays there until a particular time. The particular time is “the death of Herod.” However, in Greek, that phrase is τῆς τελευτῆς Ἡρῴδου. It is a noun that is related to the verb τελευτάω (teleutaó), meaning “to complete, to come to an end, to die.”
Normally, this extra detail would be of no consequence. However, with Herod the Great, there was much more going on. As Josephus explains, the “end” of Herod was a long, protracted, violent, and ugly affair in Judea. Joseph stays in Egypt until “the end” of Herod.
We can also note that Herod himself did not come into Bethlehem to kill the children, age two years old and under. Instead, he “sent” or in Greek ἀποστείλας (aposteilas), to have this done. This obviously implies intermediaries.
The final detail we should notice is a change that happens in the warning of the angel, when Joseph goes to and returns from Egypt. The difference is subtle, but see if you can catch it:
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)
Later, we read:
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:19-20)
Did you catch it? First it says “Herod” was seeking to kill the child. Then, Herod dies, but the angel says “those who sought the child’s life are dead.” It switches from singular to plural.
What is going on here? The answer is in Josephus, as well as a description of the Massacre of the Innocents.
Josephus on “the Death of Herod.”
Josephus makes it very clear that the “death” or “end” of Herod was a very big deal, both in and around Jerusalem. The events are described in Book 17 of The Antiquities of the Jews, Chapters 6 – 12. There is A LOT that is going on.
Royal Family Drama to Rome and Back
The “end” of Herod begins with a murder of two priests. After this murder, there is the famous and historically controversial “eclipse of Josephus.” After this murder and eclipse, Josephus describes a long-existing disease that grew and overcame Herod. It’s really gross and involves worms and private parts and putrid smells, etc. He tries to manage and treat his disease. He does not have much luck.
In the midst of this health trouble, Josephus describes Herod learning that his son Antipater was plotting to take his throne from him. Josephus records Herod changing his last will and testament (concerning the inheritance of his throne), and many other things. It records Herod executing Antipater. Five days later, Herod dies.
Josephus then describes Herod’s death, his funeral, and his burial. He describes the plot Herod has to kill all manner of prominent families in Judea, so that there will be mourning in Judea rather than rejoicing at Herod’s death. Luckily, Herod’s son Archelaus, next in line for the throne, has two brain-cells that aren’t fighting, and he refuses to enact this murderous plan.
After dealing with these troubles, soon after Passover, the family of Herod sails to Rome. Half of them are trying to get Caesar to enact Herod’s will, giving his kingdom to Archelaus. The other half — who did not get the power they desired in that testament — are trying to prevent this will from being enacted.
There is a long back-and-forth trial about who gets the kingdom, but Caesar, being a Roman, acting the way Roman’s do — decides that there is too much money to be made in Judea merely to giving the kingdom back to the sons of Herod. Therefore, he does this:
When Cæsar had heard these pleadings, he dissolved the assembly; but a few days afterwards he appointed Archelaus, not indeed to be king of the whole country, but ethnarch of the one half of that which had been subject to Herod, and promised to give him the royal dignity hereafter, if he governed his part virtuously. But as for the other half, he divided it into two parts, and gave it to two other of Herod’s sons, to Philip and to Antipas, that Antipas who disputed with Archelaus for the whole kingdom. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.11.4)
If that writing is too dense, here’s a summary: Caesar gives no one the throne. Instead, he makes Herod Antipas “tetrarch” of Galilee (or “ruler of the part” of Galilee). He makes Archelaus “ethnarch” in Jerusalem (or “ruler of the nation/people” of Judea), promising to give him the full honor of “king” at a later date if he does a good job. (Spoiler alert: he does not do a good job). That’s what happens in Rome.
Meanwhile, Back in Judea…
Back in Judea, things were more complicated. Josephus describes it as follows:
Now at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea, which were like tumults, because a great number put themselves into a warlike posture, either out of hopes of gain to themselves, or out of enmity to the Jews. (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.10.4)
Josephus goes into further detail about the violence that breaks out in Judea. The relations of Herod are involved. The Jews are involved. The Romans are involved. Random people are involved. Everyone is involved, and everything is a mess.
This is where we meet two VERY important characters in Josephus’s narrative. They are two Romans named Sabinus and Varus.
These Romans — like most Romans in this time — are always looking for an excuse to get rich at the expense of the provinces they are governing. Publius Quinctilius Varus was a very powerful Roman, because he was the official governor of Syria, with four legions under his command at Antioch. Sabinus is also a Roman official, but did not hold the same military authority as Varus, being described as “Caesar’s steward for Syrian affairs.”
We read the following about what happens in Judea after Herod’s death:
But Sabinus, Cæsar’s steward for Syrian affairs, as he was making haste into Judea to preserve Herod’s effects, met with Archelaus at Cæsarea; but Varus came at that time, and restrained him from meddling with them, for he was there as sent for by Archcelaus, by the means of Ptolemy. And Sabinus, out of regard to Varus, did neither seize upon any of the castles that were among the Jews, nor did he seal up the treasures in them, but permitted Archelaus to have them, until Cæsar should declare his resolution about them; so that, upon this his promise, he tarried still at Cæsarea. But after Archelaus was sailed for Rome, and Varus was removed to Antioch, Sabinus went to Jerusalem, and seized on the king’s palace. He also sent for the keepers of the garrisons, and for all those that had the charge of Herod’s effects, and declared publicly that he should require them to give an account of what they had; and he disposed of the castles in the manner he pleased; but those who kept them did not neglect what Archelaus had given them in command, but continued to keep all things in the manner that had been enjoined them; and their pretense was, that they kept them all for Cæsar.
So in other words, Archelaus is trying to inherit the throne in Jerusalem. He gets Varus to prevent Sabinus from seizing all of his father’s money when Archelaus goes to Rome. But when Varus — who is on good terms with Archelaus — returns to Syria with his legions, Sabinus just uses the few troops he has, comes to Jerusalem, and takes possession of Herod’s money anyway.
That’s because Sabinus is a Roman, doing what Romans do.
Revolt Against Sabinus
Then, we read the following that happens around the Feast of Pentecost, also called the “Feast of Weeks.” Sabinus shuts himself up in the Temple with all of Herod’s possessions and money, awaiting the ruling on Herod’s will, which will allow him to “distribute” it (preferably to himself, as well).
But on the approach of pentecost, which is a festival of ours, so called from the days of our forefathers, a great many ten thousands of men got together; nor did they come only to celebrate the festival, but out of their indignation at the madness of Sabinus, and at the injuries he offered them. A great number there was of Galileans, and Idumeans, and many men from Jericho, and others who had passed over the river Jordan, and inhabited those parts. This whole multitude joined themselves to all the rest, and were more zealous than the others in making an assault on Sabinus, in order to be avenged on him; so they parted themselves into three bands, and encamped themselves in the places following:—some of them seized on the hippodrome and of the other two bands, one pitched themselves from the northern part of the temple to the southern, on the east quarter; but the third band held the western part of the city, where the king’s palace was. Their work tended entirely to besiege the Romans, and to enclose them on all sides. Now Sabinus was afraid of these men’s number, and of their resolution, who had little regard to their lives, but were very desirous not to be overcome, while they thought it a point of puissance to overcome their enemies; so he sent immediately a letter to Varus, and, as he used to do, was very pressing with him, and entreated him to come quickly to his assistance, because the forces he had left were in imminent danger, and would probably, in no long time, be seized upon, and cut to pieces; while he did himself get up to the highest tower of the fortress Phasaelus, which had been built in honor of Phasaelus, king Herod’s brother, and called so when the Parthians had brought him to his death. So Sabinus gave thence a signal to the Romans to fall upon the Jews, although he did not himself venture so much as to come down to his friends, and thought he might expect that the others should expose themselves first to die on account of his avarice. However, the Romans ventured to make a sally out of the place, and a terrible battle ensued; wherein, though it is true the Romans beat their adversaries, yet were not the Jews daunted in their resolutions, even when they had the sight of that terrible slaughter that was made of them; but they went round about, and got upon those cloisters which encompassed the outer court of the temple, where a great fight was still continued, and they cast stones at the Romans, partly with their hands, and partly with slings, as being much used to those exercises. All the archers also in array did the Romans a great deal of mischief, because they used their hands dexterously from a place superior to the others, and because the others were at an utter loss what to do; for when they tried to shoot their arrows against the Jews upwards, these arrows could not reach them, insomuch that the Jews were easily too hard for their enemies. And this sort of fight lasted a great while, till at last the Romans, who were greatly distressed by what was done, set fire to the cloisters so privately, that those that were gotten upon them did not perceive it. This fire being fed by a great deal of combustible matter, caught hold immediately on the roof of the cloisters; so the wood, which was full of pitch and wax, and whose gold was laid on it with wax, yielded to the flame presently, and those vast works, which were of the highest value and esteem, were destroyed utterly, while those that were on the roof unexpectedly perished at the same time; for as the roof tumbled down, some of these men tumbled down with it, and others of them were killed by their enemies who encompassed them. There was a great number more, who, out of despair of saving their lives, and out of astonishment at the misery that surrounded them, did either cast themselves into the fire, or threw themselves upon their swords, and so got out of their misery. But as to those that retired behind the same way by which they ascended, and thereby escaped, they were all killed by the Romans, as being unarmed men, and their courage failing them; their wild fury being now not able to help them, because they were destitute of armor, insomuch that of those that went up to the top of the roof, not one escaped. The Romans also rushed through the fire, where it gave them room so to do, and seized on that treasure where the sacred money was reposited; a great part of which was stolen by the soldiers, and Sabinus got openly four hundred talents. (Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.2)
So, the Romans act like Romans, killing people and looking to get rich when the opportunity presents itself. And the Jews act like Jews, getting really mad at the Romans, and doing their best to kill as many Romans as they can. The story continues:
But this calamity of the Jews’ friends, who fell in this battle, grieved them, as did also this plundering of the money dedicated to God in the temple. Accordingly, that body of them which continued best together, and was the most warlike, encompassed the palace, and threatened to set fire to it, and kill all that were in it. Yet still they commanded them to go out presently, and promised, that if they would do so, they would not hurt them, nor Sabinus neither; at which time the greatest part of the king’s troops deserted to them, while Rufus and Gratus, who had three thousand of the most warlike of Herod’s army with them, who were men of active bodies, went over to the Romans. There was also a band of horsemen under the command of Rufus, which itself went over to the Romans also. However, the Jews went on with the siege, and dug mines under the palace walls, and besought those that were gone over to the other side not to be their hinderance, now they had such a proper opportunity for the recovery of their country’s ancient liberty; and for Sabinus, truly he was desirous of going away with his soldiers, but was not able to trust himself with the enemy, on account of what mischief he had already done them; and he took this great [pretended] lenity of theirs for an argument why he should not comply with them; and so, because he expected that Varus was coming, he still bore the siege. (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.10.3)
As we see, Sabinus is in trouble, and he is just a bureaucrat, with only a small number of Roman soldiers from Varus’s legion.
Sabinus Calls in the Big Guns
Because of this trouble, Sabinus calls to Varus for some “muscle,” because Varus has many more soldiers. Varus DEFINITELY brings the muscle:
As soon as Varus was once informed of the state of Judea by Sabinus’s writing to him, he was afraid for the legion he had left there; so he took the two other legions, [for there were three legions in all belonging to Syria,] and four troops of horsemen, with the several auxiliary forces which either the kings or certain of the tetrarchs afforded him, and made what haste he could to assist those that were then besieged in Judea. He also gave order that all that were sent out for this expedition, should make haste to Ptolemais. The citizens of Berytus also gave him fifteen hundred auxiliaries as he passed through their city. Aretas also, the king of Arabia Petrea, out of his hatred to Herod, and in order to purchase the favor of the Romans, sent him no small assistance, besides their footmen and horsemen; and when he had now collected all his forces together, he committed part of them to his son, and to a friend of his, and sent them upon an expedition into Galilee, which lies in the neighborhood of Ptolemais; who made an attack upon the enemy, and put them to flight, and took Sepphoris, and made its inhabitants slaves, and burnt the city. But Varus himself pursued his march for Samaria with his whole army; yet did not he meddle with the city of that name, because it had not at all joined with the seditious; but pitched his camp at a certain village that belonged to Ptolemy, whose name was Arus, which the Arabians burnt, out of their hatred to Herod, and out of the enmity they bore to his friends; whence they marched to another village, whose name was Sampho, which the Arabians plundered and burnt, although it was a fortified and a strong place; and all along this march nothing escaped them, but all places were full of fire and of slaughter. Emmaus was also burnt by Varus’s order, after its inhabitants had deserted it, that he might avenge those that had there been destroyed. From thence he now marched to Jerusalem; whereupon those Jews whose camp lay there, and who had besieged the Roman legion, not bearing the coming of this army, left the siege imperfect: but as to the Jerusalem Jews, when Varus reproached them bitterly for what had been done, they cleared themselves of the accusation, and alleged that the conflux of the people was occasioned by the feast; that the war was not made with their approbation, but by the rashness of the strangers, while they were on the side of the Romans, and besieged together with them, rather than having any inclination to besiege them. There also came beforehand to meet Varus, Joseph, the cousin-german of king Herod, as also Gratus and Rufus, who brought their soldiers along with them, together with those Romans who had been besieged; but Sabinus did not come into Varus’s presence, but stole out of the city privately, and went to the sea-side. (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.10.9)
So the siege of Sabinus in the palace of Jerusalem ends. Sabinus is safe, but Varus — being a Roman — wasn’t done.
Upon this, Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand. After which he disbanded his army, which he found no way useful to him in the affairs he came about; for they behaved themselves very disorderly, and disobeyed his orders, and what Varus desired them to do, and this out of regard to that gain which they made by the mischief they did. As for himself, when he was informed that ten thousand Jews had gotten together, he made haste to catch them; but they did not proceed so far as to fight him, but, by the advice of Achiabus, they came together, and delivered themselves up to him: hereupon Varus forgave the crime of revolting to the multitude, but sent their several commanders to Cæsar, many of whom Cæsar dismissed; but for the several relations of Herod who had been among these men in this war, they were the only persons whom he punished, who, without the least regard to justice, fought against their own kindred. (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.10.10)
THAT is the Massacre of the Innocents! RIGHT THERE!!!! Did you catch it?
Let me explain what is going on.
The Massacre of the Innocents in Josephus Explained
When Varus comes to Jerusalem, there is a siege of Caesar’s “steward of affairs in Syria.” Romans — especially Romans with legions — do not take kindly to sieges of fellow Romans.
Romans Being Romans
Therefore, Varus clears the siege of Sabinus, at which point the Jews who are still in Jerusalem start shrugging their shoulders and pointing fingers and say, “It wasn’t us! It was all the people who came here for the Feast of Pentecost! We didn’t want to besiege Sabinus! It was them!”
So Varus goes out to find them, and we he finds those “most guilty,” he punishes them… …BY CRUCIFYING TWO THOUSAND PEOPLE!!!!
Romans being Romans…
The Perpetrator of the Massacre of the Innocents
But then there is a strange event. Varus dismisses his army, because he notices that they are very disobedient, and they tend to make trouble. Some of this is the result of the animosity towards Herod from the auxiliary forces (which basically means “not Roman” forces). Some of this trouble is the result of the auxiliary forces animosity towards the Jewish people. Regardless, Varus notices that his non-Roman soldiers are not being good soldiers. So, he dismisses them.
As we saw above, some of this army included “three thousand of the most warlike of Herod’s army” that “went over to the Romans.” We even get a mention of “Joseph” described by the Greek word ἀνεψιός, meaning “first cousin” or sometimes “nephew.” Therefore, it is significant that a first-cousin of Herod — who participated in the siege of Sabinus in Jerusalem and went over to the Romans side — was part of this “disobedient” army that Varus dismissed.
Varus sends them away and keeps only his own Roman soldiers. The location of this event seems to be Jerusalem, where the revolt against Sabinus was. We should remember that Herod the Great was an Idumean, and Edomite, who lives south of Jerusalem. Therefore, this Joseph, the first-cousin of Herod the Great, is heading South from Jerusalem. And do you know what is south of Jerusalem? Bethelehem:
The Massacre of the Innocents
After Varus sends the extra soldiers away, Varus hears that 10,000 Jews have gathered up and are in a state of revolt. So Varus gathers up and goes to “catch them.” If you want to know what happens when Romans “catch” those who revolt in a gif, here you go:
But shockingly, when Varus actually catches up to the Jews, they do not fight him. Instead, upon the advice of someone named Achiabus, these Jews “delivered themselves up to him.” Under normal circumstances, this advice of Achiabus would be about as convincing as this famous scene from the Life of Brian:
Notice how STRANGE this choice is. This Varus guy just CRUCIFIED 2,000 PEOPLE because of the revolt in Jerusalem. He hasn’t even gone home to Syria yet. But here are some more Jews who are also “in revolt,” and they just go straight up to Varus and explain their case. That’s when something even stranger happens:
“hereupon Varus forgave the crime of revolting to the multitude, but sent their several commanders to Cæsar, many of whom Cæsar dismissed”
That word “dismissed” means “pardoned” or “found not guilty.” In the parallel account in the Jewish War, we see Josephus explain that NONE of these people were punished by Caesar:
He was also informed that there continued in Idumea ten thousand men still in arms; but when he found that the Arabians did not act like auxiliaries, but managed the war according to their own passions, and did mischief to the country otherwise than he intended, and this out of their hatred to Herod, he sent them away, but made haste, with his own legions, to march against those that had revolted; but these, by the advice of Achiabus, delivered themselves up to him before it came to a battle. Then did Varus forgive the multitude their offenses, but sent their captains to Caesar to be examined by him. Now Caesar forgave the rest, but gave orders that certain of the king’s relations [for some of those that were among them were Herod’s kinsmen] should be put to death, because they had engaged in a war against a king of their own family. When therefore Varus had settled matters at Jerusalem after this manner, and had left the former legion there as a garrison, he returned to Antioch. (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2.5.3)
If you haven’t connected the dots on the Massacre of the Innocents yet in these texts, I’ll be very specific.
The Massacre of the Innocents Explained
Let’s review what happened here. There are 10,000 Jews who are “revolting” against their rulers. When Varus hears this, he goes to “fix” the situation. But instead of this Roman acting like an ordinary Roman general who can crucify 2,000 people without blinking an eye, Varus straight-up FORGIVES ten-thousand Jews of the crime of “revolt.” Only the captains of this band were sent to Caesar, and Caesar forgives the rest of them. That is STRANGE.
But EVEN MORE STRANGELY, the only people who are punished are the “several relations of Herod” who were EXECUTUED, unlike the absolute NOBODIES who were forgiven and let off. Why do ordinary people get forgiven and people of royal blood get executed? What could their crime have been? Josephus tells us:
“they had engaged in a war against a king of their own family”
King? What king? I thought Josephus told us that Caesar didn’t make ANYBODY king. Who is this king?
The text of Josephus does not say, but we do have an answer from the gospel of Matthew:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
. . .
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, 7-8)
The Relations of Herod “Made War” against Jesus in Bethlehem
You see, when we read this passage in our Bibles, we assume the murderous intent of Herod was there from the beginning. We assume that Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem intending to kill this upstart king from the beginning. But the text does not say that. Is there any alternative reading?
What we know from Josephus and the Bible is that Herod IS king. He also has several sons that he is trying to give his kingdom to in his last will and testament.
So when a bunch of “Magi” or astrologers from “the East” come to Jerusalem and start talking about how a “star” showed them that there was bout the one “born king of the Jews,” Herod would know that they weren’t talking about any of HIS children. That’s why most people think that Herod has his murderous intent right from the beginning.
But what they neglect to remember is that Herod’s children are also in line for the throne. Herod is too old and sick to have his own child be the child of this prophecy. But that’s not the only option. The Magi could have been talking about one of Herod’s GRANDCHILDREN!
This is why the following sentence from Josephus is so important:
Now Caesar forgave the rest, but gave orders that certain of the king’s relations [for some of those that were among them were Herod’s kinsmen] should be put to death, because they had engaged in a war against a king of their own family.
As far as the relatives of Herod knew, this Magi prophecy was not from some non-Herodian King. It was a king OF THEIR OWN FAMILY. If you wonder why Herod the King would order to kill someone of his own family, then you do not know anything about Herod the King.
In Josephus, we read that Herod executed his wife and two of his sons for plotting against him. Then, we read that Herod’s other son, Antipater, had framed these other two children of Herod, and Herod found out about it.
Because of this, Herod has a DRASTIC change of mind about who would intherit his kingdom. He took it away from Antipater, and gave the kingdom to Archelaus. This quick change of Herod’s will is what Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and all of the other Herods went to Rome to fight about before Caesar. As we read before, nobody actually won that fight.
The only “king” that is left in the picture is the “one born king of the Jews” that the Magi predicted to Herod in the gospel of Matthew. But remember, Herod never knew about Jesus because the Magi never returned to tell him:
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:7-12)
Therefore, this “king” is “the one born king of the Jews” that the Magi told Herod about. And it is not clear that Herod has murderous intent when he tells the Magi to “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
For all Herod knows, he wants to come “worship” his own heir! For all Herod knows, he wants to incorporate this knowledge into his last will and testament.
This corresponds to Josephus, because what other king “of their own family” was there to make war against? Almost all of the relatives of Herod are in Rome, trying to become king!
This is why, when Herod orders that all children in Bethlehem two years old and under be killed, he believes he is trying to execute ONE OF HIS OWN GRANDCHILDREN, who he may have thought was the (illegitimate?) child of Antipater, who he executed five days before his own death.
“Without The Least Regard to Justice”
It is strange that the Romans — who crucified 2,000 Jews without blinking an eye — could describe something as “without the least regard to justice.” But the Massacre of the Innocents fits that description.
Killing all the infants in a town due to an astrological prediction of a bunch of Parthian/Persian magic-men is NOT something that would be smiled upon by Romans. As Pliny the Elder stated in his 70 AD work, Natural History:
IN former parts of this work, I have had occasion more than. once, when the subject demanded it, to refute the impostures of the magic art, and it is now my intention to continue still further my exposure thereof. . . . That it first originated in medicine, no one entertains a doubt; or that, under the plausible guise of promoting health, it insinuated itself among mankind, as a higher and more holy branch of the medical art. Then, in the next place, to promises the most seductive and the most flattering, it has added all the resources of religion, a subject upon which, at the present day, man is still entirely in the dark. Last of all, to complete its universal sway, it has incorporated with itself the astrological art; there being no man who is not desirous to know his future destiny, or who is not ready to believe that this knowledge may with the greatest certainty be obtained, by observing the face of the heavens. The senses of men being thus enthralled by a three-fold bond, the art of magic has attained an influence so mighty, that at the present day even, it holds sway throughout a great part of the world, and rules the kings of kings in the East.
In other words, Varus, when he realizes that the relatives of Herod have murdered people based on a prediction of Magi from the East, finds it atrocious. He executes them under the authority of Caesar.
Singular and Plural
This explanation also corresponds to the change we explained in Matthew’s gospel:
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:19-20)
It also corresponds to the grammar of the change in the angel’s warning to Joseph. While it was “Herod” who was seeking to kill the child in Matthew 2:13, the angel says “those” seeking to kill the child are dead in Matthew 2:20. They are dead because Varus killed them.
That is the Massacre of the Innocents recorded in history.
Conclusion and Request for Help
If you are still reading this, thank you. If you are impressed by what you see, please spread the word. Feel free to share this.
However, this post is just a small tangent of the real stuff I’ve been researching in my spare time. You see, not only have I found the Massacre of the Innocents in recorded history, I found the Magi’s Star, both the Star in the East and the Star of Bethlehem.
I know what “the star” is, when it appeared, when it appeared again, how it moved, how “went before” the Magi, how it “came and stood,” and how it brought the Magi to Jesus’s doorstep. Believe it or not, it’s a rather straightforward description of EXACTLY what happened. I even have compelling proof of its existence in recorded history. And yes, the events described in this post happen about “two years” from the appearance of the Star in the East.
This post is a tangent: just one chronological supporting detail of my Star of Bethlehem research.
But I need help. I am only a (very good looking and) moderately talented lawyer. I am not an academic. I have no clout in the academic biblical-studies field. I need help getting published or getting attention in the Biblical studies department. If you’d like to see the full scope of my research and help bring it to a larger audience, please contact me at mrcalebjones at gmail dot com. Let me know who you are and how you can help, and I’ll show you what I’ve got.
But that’s not all the next post is going to be about why Joseph moved from his hometown of Bethlehem to Mary’s hometown of Nazareth after they returned from Egypt.
Why did Joseph do this even though he was assured by an angel that “those seeking the life of the child are dead”? I guarantee you that the story is FAR crazier than you ever thought.