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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 20. The Massacre of the Innocents and the Flight into Egypt.

The account of the massacre of the infants at Bethlehem cannot appear incredible when we consider the character of the man to whom this act of blind and senseless cruelty, worthy of an insane tyrant, is ascribed.

It was that Herod, whose crimes, committed in violation of every natural feeling, ever urged him on to new deeds of cruelty; whose path to the throne, and whose throne itself, were stained with human blood; whose vengeance against conspirators, not satiated with their own destruction, demanded that of their whole families;5858   Joseph., Archaeol., xv., viii., § 4. whose rage was hot, up to the very hour of his death, against his nearest kindred; whose wife, Mariamne, and three sons, Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater, fell victims to his suspicions, the last just before his death; who, in a word, certainly deserved that the Emperor Augustus should have said of him, “Herodis mallem porcus esse, quam filius.5959   These words were applied, in the fifth century, by an anachronism of the pagan write Macrobius, to the massacre of the infants at Bethlehem.—Saturnal., ii., 4. It was that Herod, who, at the close of a blood-stained life of seventy years goaded by the furies of an evil conscience, racked by a painful and incurable disease, waiting for death, but desiring life, raging against God and man, and maddened by the thought that the Jews, instead of bewailing his death, would rejoice over it as the greatest of blessings, commanded the worthies of the nation to be assembled in the circus, and issued a secret order6060   It Was never executed. that, after his death, they should all be slain together, so that their kindred, at least, might have cause to weep for his death!6161   Josephus (Archaeol., xvii., 6, 5) says of him: “Μέλαινα χολὴ αὐτὸν ᾕρει ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ἐξαγρια ἰνουσα.” Even Schlosser admits (View of Ancient History and Civilization, iii., 1, p. 261 that the account of the massacre of the infants, viewed in this connexion, offers no improbability. Can we deem the crime of sacrificing a few children to his rage and blind suspicion too atrocious for such a monster?

As we have no reason to question the narrative of the tyrants attempts upon the life of the wonderful child whose birth had come to his ears, we can readily connect therewith the flight into Egypt. On the supposition that this flight actually took place, it was natural enough, especially with a view to obviate any objections which the issuing of the Messiah from a profane land might suggest to Jewish minds, for men to seek analogies between this occurrence and the history of Moses and the theocratic people; while, on the other hand, it would be absurd to suppose that a legend of the flight, without any historical basis, should have had its origin solely in the desire to find such analogies.

Thus, in the very beginning of the life of Him who was to save the world, we see a foreshadowing of what it was afterward to be. The believing souls, to whom the lofty import of that life was shown by Divine signs, saw in it the fulfilment of their longings; the power of the world, ever subservient to evil, raged against it, but, amid all dangers, the hand of God guided and brought it forth victorious.6262   Instead of seeing the expression of the idea in the facts, we might, with the idealistic ghost-seers, invert the order of things, and say that “the idea wrought itself into history in the popular traditions” (whose origin, by-the-way, it would be hard to explain after what has been said) “of the Christians.” In that case we must consider every thing remarkable, every scintillation of Divinity in the lives of individual men, as absolutely fabulous. This were, indeed, to degrade and atheize all history and all life; and such is the necessary tendency of that criticism which rejects all immediate Divine influence.


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