Massacre of the Innocents

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The Massacre of the Innocents is an episode of infanticide by the King of Judea, Herod the Great, that appears in the Gospel of Matthew 2:16-18. The author, traditionally Matthew the Evangelist, reports that Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi. The incident, like others in Matthew, is described as the fulfillment of a passage in the Old Testament read as prophecy,[1] in this case a reading of Jeremiah: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children."[2]

The infants, known in the Church as the Holy Innocents, have been claimed as the first Christian martyrs. Traditional accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative historicizing estimates put their number in the low dozens,[3] but there is dispute over whether the story is historical.

Contents

Biblical account

In Matthew's account, magi from the east go to Judea in search of the newborn king of the Jews, having "seen his star in the east". They are directed to Bethlehem, and Herod asks them to let him know who this king is when they find him. They find Jesus and honor him, but an angel tells them not to alert Herod, and they return home by another way.

The Massacre of the Innocents is at Matthew 2:16-18, although the preceding verses form the context:

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."[4] When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."[2]

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