Tuesday, November 18, 2008

almost certainly innocent?

The December issue of National Geographic arrived yesterday. The cover story "The Real King Herod" had this large-print statement inserted on page 42, "Herod is best known for slaughtering every male infant in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus. He is almost certainly innocent of this crime."

I found this claim interesting. So I started reading the article. In the first paragraph of the text (p.40) the author offered as his only evidence for his conclusion, "...that there is no report apart from Matthew's account."

The very next sentence states that Herod certainly had killed "three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court." Later the author claims they were killed because their "frequent conspiracies brought out Herod's cruelty and paranoia" (p.46).

Would Herod ever order mass murder? According to the author Herod did indeed order "...his army to imprison a crowd of leading Judean citizens in the hippodrome in Jericho, and to massacre them when his death was announced" (ibid).

Hmmm.... Paranoid. Cruel. Fond of killing people, especially when threatened. How would such a guy react to the Magi stopping by his palace to ask directions to the location of the new king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2)? That new king would be replacing Herod.

Let's put this together. Good-looking (as we can see on the right) but quite paranoid Herod kills at the hint of anything that threatens his position as king. There is a historical account of Herod sending the Magi to Bethlehem with instructions to return and let him know the precise location of the usurper to his throne. When they don't come back Herod has all the baby boys two years old and under killed in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-16). This slaughter of non-Romans in an unimportant town isn't noted in the very few Roman records surviving to the present.

Sound far fetched? Apparently it does to the author, as well as to the editors of National Geographic. They conclude King Herod is almost certainly innocent.

For this fine bit of historical analysis to make sense, it must rest on the the "educated" inference that any account in the Bible is so extremely unreliable that it is wrong unless proved otherwise.

Lacking confirming evidence of a historical account is a long way from concluding "almost certainly" that the account is wrong

Is it just coincidence that this example of bad reasoning and poor scholarship related to the Christmas story is foisted on readers just before Christmas?

The really sad thing is that these smart people think they are coming to the smart conclusion.

Be blessed.

P.S. I wonder if the folks at National Geographic think O.J. is almost certainly innocent too.

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