A cry was heard in Ramah – weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for
her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead. Matthew 2:16-18
In Christian groups with a liturgical worship tradition the Bible readings at any given service are not selected willy-nilly by the preacher; they are part of a three year cycle of texts specified by something called the Common Lectionary, a clever device designed to protect congregations from preachers with only one arrow in their sermonic quiver, a favorite theme which they harp on to the neglect of other topics.
Today, December 28, is the day the Lectionary calls for remembering The Holy Innocents, an event described in the book of Matthew wherein the Roman puppet King Herod of Palestine, in a fit of panic and pique, ordered the killing of all Hebrew males under age 2 to forestall the alleged new-born King of the Jews from leading an insurrection sometime down the road and taking over his kingdom.
But it never happened. The slaughter.
Bible scholars almost unanimously agree that the Holy Innocents event is totally fictitious. We can only surmise why Matthew, whoever he was, thought it important to insert a manufactured event into his account of Jesus birth.
It may have been because Matthews intended audience was the leaders of the Jewish community. He wanted to show the quisling ruler King Herod in the worst possible light. Matthew was being provocative and inflammatory.
Mixing fact and fancy without distinguishing between them was commonplace journalistic practice in that time and place. Factual accuracy was frequently compromised by inserting fanciful anecdotes to augment the point the writer sought to make: in this case that Jesus was truly the Chosen One of God.
But a lot of good things have happened as the result of myth treated as fact. And the Holy Innocents non-event provided an eerily accurate presage of events in the following millennia.
Of all the tragedies, atrocities, and sub-human cruelty occasioned by religion, those committed in the name of and for the sake of a mythologized Jesus rank with the worst of them. Religion has been the motivation for the best and the worst ever produced by human beings.
Over the centuries Jews, Muslims, and Christians, religious cousins with a common root in Mosaic monotheism, have practiced a hideous kind of one-upmanship in dredging the depths of demonic depravity.
They still are.
Last month in Kismayu, Somalia, Islamic fundamentalists executed a 13 year old girl. The child had reported to the militia which controls the city that she had been raped by three men. Bad move!
According to Islamic sharia (religious law) her statement amounted to a confession of adultery. The Muslim clergyman/judge who presided over the court was quoted; The evidence came from her and she officially confirmed her guilt. The girl was reportedly dragged screaming into a soccer stadium and stoned for more than 10 minutes by 50 executioners. The rapists were not arrested.
John Milton Chivington was the presiding elder of the Rocky Mountain District of the Methodist Church who resigned his church job to become a U.S. Army Colonel. He led the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in which more than 400 Cheyenne and Arapaho children, women, and elders were gratuitously murdered.
Several major Middle East newspapers recently published photos of comely Israeli teenage girls writing hate notes on the heads of missiles which were to be dropped on Muslim targets in Lebanon. The same issue carried photos of blown-to-bits bodies of Lebanese Muslim babies.
Ah yes, all in the name of the Prince of Peace.
We cant be sure how effective Matthew was as a propagandist / converter, but he certainly had a knack for predicting the future.
King Herod lives! Some days hes a Jew, some days a Muslim, and other days hes a Christian.
Editor's note: W. Jackson "Jack" Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.
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