Massacre of the Innocents
Matteo di Giovanni
Read: Matthew 2.13-19
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, 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.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
King Herod the Great was a client king, installed and supported by the Romans. His family were originally from Idumea, a neighbouring tribe to Judea, who had converted to Judaism for political reasons. Herod was regarded with suspicion by Judean Jews and had a reputation for paranoia. He had several members of his own family killed because he thought they might push him off the throne. There’s no independent evidence for the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, but it would have been entirely in character.
Matteo di Giovanni’s portrayal of the Massacre of the Innocents shows Herod gloating over the slaughter taking place in front of him. His left hand grips his marble throne, as if he is clinging to power. His face is contorted with hatred, reflecting a soul that has become twisted also. It is hard for us to understand how anyone could enjoy such a spectacle, but he seems to be doing so, just as extremist fanatics today video their acts of brutality and broadcast them with pride.
- Pray for those who perpetrate brutality today, and for all vulnerable to their propaganda.
- We may not like it, but a bit of Herod lurks in all of us. Are there people you hate, fear or feel threatened by? Tell God how you feel.