12.28.2020

Today, for Christians, it's the feast of the Holy Innocents... (the 14,000 babies and children under age two, historically killed by King Herod)

The Holy Innocents are few in comparison to the genocide and abortion of our day. But even if there had been only one, we recognize the greatest treasure God put on the earth—a human person.

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Herod “the Great” ruled as king of the Jews under Roman authority for thirty-three years, from 37–4 BC.

From the start, Herod proved to be an extraordinary political survivor. When civil war broke out in Rome between Mark Antony and Octavian, Herod first sided with Antony and his ally Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt.

Then, when Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC, Herod immediately switched sides, convincing Octavian of his loyalty.

Following his victory, Octavian returned to Rome, where the Roman senate made him imperator, or supreme military leader, and gave him the honorary title “Augustus” (“exalted one”).

Historians mark this event as the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire, the transfer from rule by the senate to rule by a supreme emperor.

Under the patronage of Octavian—now Caesar Augustus—Herod’s position as king of the Jews was secure. For his Roman soldier part, Herod would prove to be a loyal subject to his Roman overlords, maintaining order in Israel and protecting the western flank of the Roman Empire.

What Herod Was Like

Herod was a strange mix of a clever and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant.

On the one hand, he was distrustful, jealous, and brutal, ruthlessly crushing any potential opposition. The Jews never accepted him as their legitimate king, and this infuriated him.

He constantly feared conspiracy. He executed his wife when he suspected she was plotting against him. Three of his sons, another wife, and his mother-in-law met the same fate when they too were suspected of conspiracy.

Herod, trying to be a legitimate Jew, would not eat pork, but he freely murdered his sons! Matthew’s account of Herod’s slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem fits well with what we know of the king’s ambition, paranoia, and cruelty.

When Herod realized 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. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “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.”[d]

 

As a final act of vengeance against his contemptuous subjects, he rounded up leading Jews and commanded that at his death they should be executed. His reasoning was that if there was no mourning for his death, at least there would be mourning at his death! (At Herod’s death, the order was overruled and the prisoners were released.)