Work in Progress:

Jesus Mortal


Massacre of the innocents

In Matthew, King Herod the Great massacres infants in an attempt to snuff Jesus, newly born as king of the Jews. The legend is known as the massacre of the innocents.

The story is preposterous because it presumes Herod the Great is some sort of goof. Herod supposedly takes to killing all the boys in Bethlehem under two years old in attempt to eliminate the king of the Jews, who, the Persian magicians had said, had been born there. The massacre takes place after the magicians, warned in a dream, skip out of town instead of telling Herod who this infant king is. But hold on a minute. These magicians just showed up at Joseph’s house with gold, frankinscence, and myrrh as gifts for his infant son. Are we to believe that the neighbors didn’t notice? In Matthew’s nativity story, Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem; they’re not weary travelers visiting for a census, as in Luke. Their neighbors know who they are. For his part, the historical Herod demonstrated repeatedly that he had the cunning and the intelligence resources to suss out plots on his life and various rebel movements. But Matthew would have us believe that this wily operator wasn’t able to figure out which little kid in Bethlehem received magical guests and accepted kingly gifts? The magicians’ visit would have been the talk of the town. Anyone could have found baby Jesus.

Another sour element to the story is God’s intervention. He knows that Herod is about to slaughter some number of infants, and he only protects Jesus. He lets the other babies get massacred. Apparently God was happy to let infants be murdered if it benefited Jesus’ resume, identifying him as like Moses. In Moses’ story Yahweh massacres the first born of the Egyptians, also as a demonstration. Dead kids really make one’s point.

But for Matthew’s Jewish audience, the story wasn’t so complicated. The Jews hated Herod, and this legend tells them that Jesus was Herod’s enemy from the get-go. It also makes Jesus out to have escaped an infant massacre, one more way in which Matthew likens Jesus to Moses.

The happy ending for the murdered infants is that they went to heaven. In church tradition, being martyred for Christ counts as a high-class baptism, and these kids all got it. Reflecting this understanding, the murdered children are known as the holy innocents.


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table of contents you're already looking at it

introduction for the inquisitive reader

biographical overview who he was and wasn't


afterlife not Jesus' concern

animal sacrifice bloodless religion

apocalypse did Jesus preach hellfire?

baptism sin wash for Jesus and others

beatitudes Jesus' words and others' words

beloved disciple witness for the un-gospel

bible scripture old and new

bishop the unjesus

body focus on the physical

Buddha Jesus' close kin

charity key Christian virtue and legacy of Jesus

The Da Vinci Code secret (and false) messages

divorce women's status

dreams convenient literary device

Elijah Jewish prophet with his own second coming

equality ancient source of modern egalitarianism

exorcist Jesus and demons

failure reinterpreting Jesus as a failure

faith from trust to blind belief

father Jesus on titles of honor

Francis of Assisi the most Christlike Christian

Gandhi the 20th century's most Christly holy man

Galilee Jesus' inauspicious homeland

gentiles Jesus' inadvertent audience

god how Jesus became god

golden rule key to Jesus' success

gospels competing accounts

heaven from sky to spiritual home

hell revenge fantasy

humanism Jesus' legacy

inerrant Christian treatment of scripture

Thomas Jefferson ethics of Jesus

Jewish guilt Christian libel

John's gospel the un-gospel

John the baptist, see John the washer

John the washer Jesus' apocalyptic mentor

Judaism libeled religion of Jesus

kingdom of god what Jesus promised

Lao Tzu poet of the cosmic way

logos jesus as the word of god

C. S. Lewis famous, flawed trilemma

little drummer boy Luke beats Matthew

logos Jesus as the divine word

LORD Yahweh transitioning to the one god of all

Luke's gospel the all-around best gospel

Mark's gospel the gospel that lost its point

Mary of Magdala women, visions, and sex

massacre of the innocents bloodshed starts early

Matthew's gospel best gospel for church reading

Mormon, see Joseph Smith

Moses Jewish lawgiver

Muhammad a prophet who got it right

mystery Orpheus and transubstantiation

oppression origin of Jesus' compassion

The Passion of the Christ Luke as buzzkill

Paul revealer of the revealer

private and public public Jesus and secret Christ

relativism the secret power of the golden rule

sacrifice Jesus' death and Christian sacrament

Albert Schweitzer Jesus as a failure

sheol dark pit of death

show Jesus' deeds as put-ons

slavery abolished by Jesus' efforts

Joseph Smith flesh-and-blood Jesus

Socrates secular Jesus

son of god on close terms with the man upstairs

soul, see body

synoptics three gospels that agree

temple center of Jewish religion

trinity unifying and divisive doctrinre

vision, see dreams

Yahweh, see LORD

Zoroaster Persian dualistic holy man