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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Innocents

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INNOCENTS.—In Matthew 2:16-18 we find the narrative of what is called the Massacre of the Innocents. Adopting the language of Jeremiah 31:15, the Evangelist represents Rachel, the ancestral mother of the people of Israel, as weeping over the cruel death of her children. Herod the Great, hearing from the Magi about the birth of a king of the Jews, foreshadowed by the star in the East which they had followed, inquired of the chief priests and scribes where this promised prince should be born. They quoted to him the words of Micah (Micah 5:2), who speaks of the governor ruling Israel, who is to come out of Bethlehem in Judah, the city of David. When the Magi, having offered their gifts before the young child at Bethlehem, refused to inform Herod, but returned to their own country another way, the enraged king gave orders that all the children from two years old and under should be slain. This was done with much cruelty, so that in Bethlehem and the surrounding country there was great lamentation.

The truth of this story has been questioned. The chief ground is the silence of Josephus on the subject. While he speaks of many cruel deeds of Herod, he passes this one by. But it is plainly quite of a piece with Herod’s well-known character, and, indeed, compared with his other deeds of monstrous cruelty, it would easily escape notice. The whole number of victims, probably not more than twenty or thirty, would not make a very great sensation at that time. Besides, the whole of Josephus’ statements in regard to the Messianic expectations and doings of his time are to be looked upon with some suspicion, for he seems to have been afraid to make many clear and direct allusions to those matters. See Infancy.

The deed illustrates well Herod’s general character for bloodthirsty cruelty and short-sighted folly. But all his efforts to defeat the purposes of God with His people turn out to be vain. Joseph, warned in a dream by the angel, took Mary and the young child hastily down to Egypt, where they could calmly await the death of the tyrant. Heaven’s vengeance soon fell on the blood-stained usurper, dyed with so many inhuman crimes, and he passed away from earth under the maledictions of his down-trodden people.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Herod’; Schaff-Herzog, Encyc. of Rel. Knowl., art. ‘Innocents’ Day’; Farrar, Christ in Art, p. 268 ff.; C. Rossetti, Verses, p. 57.

D. M. W. Laird.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Innocents'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/i/innocents.html. 1906-1918.

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