Graduate School of Theology


The Gospel of Matthew contains a brief report o f a massacre of the infants in Bethlehem that was ordered by King Herod and carried out by his soldiers right after the birth of Jesus (Matt 2:16-18). The question of the historicity of this account has been a matter o f scholarly debate for various reasons. It has often been pointed out that there is no corroborating account elsewhere of the massive infanticide in Bethlehem. The fact that Josephus, who narrates many other atrocities by Herod, does not mention this event certainly adds weight to toe argument against its historicity. The historicity of this account; however, is not an ate concern of this article. What is important here is that there is no doubt that Matthew himself, whether rightly or wrongly, presents this report in his Gospel as an actual historical event. Even though Matthew does not provide a direct interpretive comment for this event, I believe that the evangelist intends to present this story as an exposé of an extreme form of injustice by way of abuse of power by a vassal king appointed by toe Roman emperor. This event was solely for Herod’s s^-preservation and entailed a huge sacrifice on toe part of ordinary innocent people. The pericope also includes a citation of a poetic verse from Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children (Jer 31:15; Matt 2:18). This citation has an evocative power emanating from toe multiple layers of the biblical tradition embedded in it regarding toe oppression of great foreign empires and the suffering o f colonized people. By examining how Matthew invites readers to appreciate toe meaning of Rachel’s crying through the overlapping images generated by the citation, I will show how toe account of a tragic massacre itself, through both intertextuahty and intratextual allusions, could be a form of criticism, however implicit it may be, of the abuse of imperial power.

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The Catholic Biblical Quarterly

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License