|INNOCENTS, SLAUGHTER OF THE |
Herod's murder of all boys under two years of age as he attempted to destroy the Baby Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18). The Magi or wise men searched for the one born king of the Jews. Herod the Great saw a claimant to his throne. When the Magi failed to report back their finding of the Christ-child, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem two years of age or less. The Gospel writer cites this as fulfillment of the prophecy of
This incident is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. However, it can be found in ancient nonbiblical documents, such as the Protoevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. These sources no doubt relied on the biblical Gospel for the record.
Flavius Josephus, our chief ancient source on Herod, is surprisingly silent on this episode. Nonetheless, an act of such ruthlessness on Herod's part is entirely in keeping with his character as reported by Josephus. For example, when lying near death Herod ordered that all the Jewish leaders be captured and slaughtered upon his death, thus assuring grief at his passing. Fortunately, that order was not carried out. See Apocrypha, New Testament; Herod; Josephus; Magi.