I posted this to FB yeterday:
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents… the infants (newborn- 2yrs) Herod ordered killed in his attempt to murder Jesus.
I was happy to see some interest on this post! Folks were curious to know more about where I got this information, if I had more information, and if I'd be willing to share that information! I love it!
Since folks who don’t know me are now invested, a little bit about how I come about knowing things like this: I have an insane process when it comes to Sacred Art and stories in the Bible. It’s an insatiable curiosity, really, and it tends to force me down fascinating (if time-consuming) paths. I don’t stop researching until I feel my curiosity is sated.
My blog is replete with these expeditions, so feel free to peruse.
Anywho, that all being said, this journey started with The Life of Saint Joseph, written by a nun (Sr. Maria Baij). For the sake of transparency, this book, while stamped with a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, is not considered dogma and the faithful are not bound by anything in it. That said, it started me on the path to researching more about Herod and the Holy Innocents, so bear with me!
The Life of Saint Joseph only briefly mentions Herod and his plans to kill Jesus. I thought it interesting, given how detailed and foot-noted the book is, that this particular event was almost seen as a footnote itself. It felt wrong, somehow, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Thus began the quest to learn more...
I sought out a few articles/documentaries on Herod, one of which was, I think, The Real King Herod. Believe it or not, this documentary actually seems to dispel the notion of the Massacre altogether, but again, bear with me. Lots of what was raised by this documentary led to me to accounts from Josephus (a 1st century historian who happened to be Jewish).
Fun fact about Josephus- this dude mentions NOTHING about the Massacre. Nothing. This threw me for a loop, because he was Jewish. You'd think a Jewish historian would mention the slaughter of a bunch of babies, right? In his defense, he also doesn't mention much about Jesus who, hindsight being 20/20, was pretty darned important, but we'll get to that in a minute...
So I turned to where I always turn when utterly stumped (and I recommend you guys all do the same). If you ever want to understand something that just doesn't quite make sense in the Bible, talk to a Jew. Being our Big Brother in Faith, it is impossible to truly understand the Catholic Faith without grasping the Jewish Faith as well.
So off I went to read what Jewish scholars had to say about the Massacre. I specifically sought out Messianic Jews (Jews who believe that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah). While it was many years ago that I did this, I can pretty much guarantee these are the folks I would've gone to: Rabbis Jacob Neusner, Eugenio (Israel) Zolli and David Rosen as well as Eitan Bar. I can't definitively say which one of them led me to the following information, but I guarantee it was one of them that put the pieces together for me.
Big piece of the puzzle for me: Why is Matthew the only one who mentions the Holy Innocents? According to one of the guys above, it was likely because of who he was and the lens he was writing under. He was a Jewish tax collector who had access to records detailing births and deaths and would have noted the similarities in Jesus' story and that of Moses (whose peers were also killed off by Pharoah). He would've been the one most aware of the fact that two Bethlehems existed in the ancient world (they still do, today, actually). He also would've been privy to the Jewish significance of Bethlehem of Judea being the birthplace of King David and the importance of establishing the lineage of Jesus to King David.
The slaughter of the innocents did not happen all across the Jewish world. Herod specifically asked the Wise Men WHERE Jesus was to be born, then gathered all his scholars (priests among them) where Scriptures indicated He would be.
This part is important and was something the documentary pointed out to me. Herod had to ask Jewish scholars what the Scriptures said about the coming Messiah. Any Jew would have known that Scripture (Micah 5:2, in fact) said that Bethlehem would produce the Eternal Messiah. Matthew quotes it, himself, in 2:6. HEROD WASN'T ACTUALLY JEWISH- not ethnically, anyway, which is why he was detested and basically went crazy trying to prove himself a legitimate Jewish king. He was Arab and so was constantly under threat of losing his authority.
Again, if you watch the documentary, while it poo-poos the idea of him slaughtering the innocents, it absolutely highlights documented cases of him murdering anyone who threatened his power, up to and including his own wives/children. Augustus Caesar, himself, remarked that it was safer to be Herod's pig than son (a joke because Jews don't eat pork).
Moving on, the documentary notes (again, with historical evidence) that Herod was well-known to have a silver tongue. He was very creative at finding palatable solutions to serious problems. For example, when his BFF Mark Antony (who put him in power) was ousted by Octavian, Herod very quickly made his way to Rome to pledge his loyalty to Octavian. Did Herod actually care about Octavian? Of course not. Herod just wanted to keep his head in-tact, and he used his brilliant strategic mind to ensure he kept it. He won Octavian to his side and not only was forgiven for being in cahoots with Antony, his lands were EXPANDED.
So it should come as no surprise, then, that Herod was capable of putting together a strategy like the one I listed above that would have people unwittingly participate in the murder of their own children.
Annnnyway, in my continued search for more details on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, I came upon visions from Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (I'm linking you to her vision of the Slaughter, so be prepared, ok?). Again, take this with the same grain of salt as mentioned above with The Life of Saint Joseph. Emmerich's visions have been collected into a book that contain the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur noting it free from doctrinal error, but as they are considered private revelations, the faithful can wholly disregard them if they so choose, even with her being a beatified (not yet canonized) saint.
This was the first explanation of the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents that FINALLY made sense to me and answered the plethora of questions I had surrounding the "how" and "why" of things. The little bread crumbs that had led me to this point were all necessary, because in order to recognize the validity of Emmerich's vision, I needed to first understand the historical facts behind the players (Herod, Matthew, Josephus and even the historical location of the event).
Now obviously, no one is bound to believe ANY of the above information in order to memorialize the Holy Innocents. We, as faithful Catholics, believe that these events took place because the Church has, through Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, confirmed the Holy Innocents existed and were cruelly sacrificed by Herod and his son (also Herod). HOW they took place was always a bone of contention for me, and after scouring the above resources for what was probably a total of several months, the above summary is what I arrived at.
The only thing my summary differs on is number. Sr. Baij does not list a number, and Blessed ACE lists two numbers over 700. Again, taking visions with a grain of salt (especially Blessed ACE's whose numbers are often symbolic in nature), I went back to the historical evidence of populations back in the time of Jesus, and most historians seem to agree the number was anywhere from a few dozen to 200. Given that both Herods continued to seek out children in the years the Holy Family was in Egypt, I feel confident the actual number is between 200-300 (but hey, I could totally be wrong).
So to those of you wondering how I came about this summation, I hope that clears it up for you! You're welcome to do a deep dive like I did. If you do, please report back because I love hearing from folks much smarter than I!
PS - Welcome to the page.
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