While reading Reza Aslan’s book, How To Win A Cosmic War, I came across a paragraph that mentioned Herod the Great. Aslan writes, “History has not been kind to the man called Herod the Great. Best known for his slaughter of Bethlehem’s children in a vain search for the infant Jesus- an implausible event attributed to him solely by the Gospel of Matthew, for which there exists not a single corroborating source in any of the other chronicles or histories of the time-…” Clearly Aslan doesn’t believe the event that is historically known as the “Slaughter of Innocents,” ever occurred. A position maintained by a great number of skeptics.
One can’t blame Aslan I suppose. Killing thousands upon thousands of children in Bethlehem alone seems ridiculous in itself… if you overlook the many times such atrocities have occurred in world history (just look at Hitler or the infanticide of the Spartans or modern day abortion) But for the Book of Matthew to be the only one source from which this historical claim is made… can we even consider Matthew to be a reliable source? You think someone else would have documented such an outrageous event. Not just a reformed tax collector that wrote about it some 50 years later or so. The whole premise relies on the assumption that the story of Christ is a true story to begin with. But this skepticism is really just a shallow denial without a thorough logical examination of the event in question when you really look into it.
Now of course, whether or not the story of Jesus and his existence is true I will not address here for sake of time and space. I’ve covered it a large number of times in many other articles I’ve written. So for you skeptics reading this, let’s assume for the moment the story of Christ is indeed accurate as recorded in the gospels. The gospel of Matthew reads as follows, “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape toEgypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left forEgypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out ofEgypt I called my son.’ 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” (Matthew 2:13-16 NIV).
From this passage take note of the requirements Herod gave for his soldiers. He told them to kill just boys. He also told them to kill only those 2 years of age or younger. This is a significant difference from the generalized notion that all the children were killed in Bethlehem, a tradition that maintains a number of anywhere from 3,000 to 64,000. But only boys 2 years of age or younger were killed. Now consider that Bethlehem was not the decent sized city it is today. During the time of the events in question, Bethlehem was a very small village, hence why the prophecy that Christ would be born in such an insignificant location is so significant. Though we don’t know the exact population of Bethlehem at the time it was probably in the hundreds, maybe even a few thousand. Professor William F. Albright, the dean of American archaeology in the Holy Land, estimates that the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to be about 300 people. So considering that the order was to kill only the boys of two years or younger in such a small village, how many children were actually killed? Fifty? Twenty? Who knows for sure? But we do know that it was not thousands of children killed becauseBethlehem was simply put, not big enough. In the eventBethlehem only had a population of 300 it is likely that no more than 10 children were killed.
The great historian Josephus wrote that Herod often killed people and was so cruel that his subjects considered the dead to be fortunate. Many critics of the New Testament claim that a biased portrait of Herod is painted in the Bible because of untrue killing of innocent children. But outside of the Bible, every historian that wrote of Herod the Great remarked on how ruthless he was and that there was not a day during his reign when someone wasn’t executed. He once burned two Jewish rabbis alive and then killed all the rabbis’ students. He killed his brother in law, mother in law, three of his sons and his second wife Miriamme. So Herod wasn’t exactly such a nice guy, but in historical fact a King responsible for the deaths of a great many people under his authority. So in the big picture, would the murder of a few baby boys in the littlevillage ofBethlehem be a significant historical event or be out of character for Herod? Doubtful. Would any Jewish or Roman historian take particular note of the small scale of the murders amidst Herod’s long record of murders? Doubtful. But for followers of Jesus in which it indicated fulfilled prophecy it was definitely an important event. One that needed to be recorded, and subsequently was.
In addition, child death was not notable for the Roman culture either. Infanticide was widely practiced in Rome, especially in Sparta. The slaughter of a few children in a Jewish province would have hardly turned any heads. Furthermore, we must not overlook the possibility that a Jewish or Roman historian did write about the baby murders in Bethlehem, but the records were destroyed at some point or have yet to be unearthed. As the old saying goes; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. As historian Gordon Franz writes, “Even though secular history is silent on this event it does not mean it did not occur. When the life of Herod the Great is examined, this event is very consistent with his character and actions so this is pointing to the fact that it did happen as recorded in Holy Scripture.”
In conclusion, Herod’s character would make the slaughter of innocents very plausible. The event itself was a small event and therefore not likely to get any “press” with Jewish or Roman historians, so we shouldn’t expect any historical record outside the Bible. And the event is recorded in the Book of Matthew which has been found historically accurate on all archaeology related accounts as noted in my other articles. In knowing this, it is hardly logical to dismiss the Slaughter of the Innocents as implausible myth.
 Aslan, R., (2009) How To Win A Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, Random House,New York: NY, pp. 32.
 Traditional count from the Martyrdom of Matthew.
 Traditional count from Syrian tradition.
 Albright, W., & Mann, C.S., (1971) The Anchor Bible, DoubledayNew York: NY, pp. 19.
 Maier, P., (1998) “Herod and the Infants of Bethlehem,” as written in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II, Mercer University Press, Macon; GA, pp. 179