It was night. Night in the king’s life and night in the king’s soul. The fear of evil permeated the palace. The king was very upset and when Herod became upset people usually died.
Herod turned and moved towards the Captain of his guards, Jehua, who subtlety backed away. The stench of the King’s disease was nauseating even from a few yards.
He waved his hand towards the Captain dismissively and the candlelight reflected in the many jewels on the rings he wore.
“You have your orders; go and do as instructed.”
Jehua bowed and withdrew. He was wise enough not to question what he had been told but silently he cursed the Magi. Damn those Persian astronomers! Why did they have to come now? He was due to go on leave. Their visit had been a strange event. The large retinue, with its rich silks and servants, had looked as out of place as it travelled through the poorer quarters of the city as a white sheep in a pig pen.
Why did they have to mention the word king? If they had said prophet, seer, or priest Herod would have lived with that, for there were always fervent Judeans mad enough to say they spoke God’s word. But oh no, they had to say king, the one word that would set off his paranoia. Oh yes, king. Now that was something different; a whole new jar of olives. Jehua had known immediately that Herod would want something definitely drastic to be done about king,
The above lines are the opening paragraphs to my new novel ‘The First Gift’ which follows what happened to the gold given by the Magi to the infant Christ and what happened in the massacre of the children at Bethlehem. It took me many years to research the events and people mentioned in the biblical account of the Nativity but one thing never became entirely clear to me. Why did the children have to die?
History reveals that Herod the Great was that time riddled with disease and completely paranoid about someone usurping his throne. He had already executed a wife and two sons and therefore ordering the death of innocents at Bethlehem would be entirely in keeping with his character, having been advised by the Magi that a king had been born there.He would have viewed that as a threat, especially when the Magi mentioned they were looking for the true King of the Jews. The first century historian, Flavius Josephus, records that Herod was deluded, violent and vicious.So, we can understand that he might well act in an extreme manner to squash any potential rival to his throne.
Being warned in a dream of this threat from Herod, Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt and I think that somehow this is the key to what happened at Bethlehem. If there had been no danger, Mary and Joseph would probably not have had to go to Egypt. However, there is a quotation from the prophet Hosea several hundred years earlier which states “Out of Egypt I have called my son”. Of course, this prophecy can refer to the people of Israel making the exodus from slavery under the Egyptians. Also, there are echoes of the story of Moses being found in bulrushes to escape being killed by Pharaoh’s soldiers. Nevertheless, it can also apply to Jesus. It is a different type of exodus but one more significant, with a new and superior Moses, and that applies to everybody and not just Israel.
So, is the account by Matthew merely a contrivance to remind us of where salvation comes from and hinting that Jesus can free us from bondage? I don’t think so and the killing of the children at Bethlehem is the key to this. Herod’s biographer was Nicolas of Alexandria and there is no record of the massacre by him. Is this really surprising? Surely, it’s a small step to imagine that Herod would want to suppress any bad publicity. Also, when the first Gospels were written many years later, there would still be people alive who would remember whether the incident at happened or not. If it hadn’t, then surely they would have noted that the Gospel account was inaccurate. Apparently they didn’t raise any contradiction and the account has stood. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that the massacre did happen.
This leads to another conclusion. Namely, that what prompted the killings was the information given to Herod by the Magi.
A few years later, Herod dies and the holy family return to Nazareth. This prompts me to ask as to why Jesus’s birth was not delayed for a couple of years until Herod was dead? That would probably have avoided any necessity of the murder of the children. Like many things in Scripture this is something of a mystery. However, the only explanation I can offer is that it was necessary for Jesus to fulfil the prophecy of coming out of Egypt and being warned of the intended murders would have been the only thing to make the family flee Bethlehem. Alternatively, devotees of the occult would probably see the deaths as a real attempt by Satan to kill the infant Jesus. The latter explanation is probably more comforting although many will probably scoff at the suggestion of an evil force. Isaac Newton would not agree with you. His third law of motion states that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and taking this literally, if there is a force for good there must also be a force for evil. That may not be a popular opinion today but there are enough things happening in the world to suggest that it is true.
One day, perhaps, we will know the truth. For now, I would like to leave you with a few words from Richard Warhurst, the hero of my novel The Time Element (An Element Of Time). Very near the end of the book he says:
‘I would like to propose a Christmas toast. It’s been another circle around the sun and yet again we arrive at the yearly mulching of elation and sadness. Christmas always seems to evoke memories of a mellower age and memories fall down like needles from that fir tree in the corner over there, to prick your mind about past times and past relationships. But here’s to the next circle and wherever that may lead us. May the journey be full of peace and joy.’
Happy Christmas to you all.
The First Gift and The Time Element are both available at Smashwords.com or Amazon Kindle for download onto any e-book reader, tablet or laptop etc
PLEASE NOTE: The Time Element is now called AN ELEMENT OF TIME and is available in paperback at Amazon and can be ordered at all good bookshops.So also is THE FIRST GIFT . Both books are also on Amazon Kindle to download. Right click on the link below.