|Born||Various, presumably close to the birth of Jesus|
|Died||c. 7–2 BC|
Bethlehem, Judea (martyred by King Herod the Great)
|Attributes|| Martyr's palm |
Crown of martyrdom
|Events in the|
| Life of Jesus |
according to the canonical gospels
|Portals: Christianity Bible|
The Massacre of the Innocents is the incident in the nativity narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (2:16–18) in which Herod the Great, king of Judea, orders the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The Catholic Church regards them as the first Christian martyrs, and their feast – Holy Innocents' Day (or the Feast of the Holy Innocents) – is celebrated on 28 December. A majority of Herod biographers, and "probably a majority of biblical scholars," hold the event to be myth, legend or folklore.
The Magi visit Jerusalem to seek guidance as to where the king of the Jews has been born; King Herod directs them to Bethlehem and asks them to return to him and report, but they are warned in a dream and do not do so. The massacre is reported in Gospel of Matthew:
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.
This is followed by a reference to and quotation from the Book of Jeremiah: "Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Matthew 2:17-18).
A majority of Herod biographers, and "probably a majority of biblical scholars," hold the event to be myth, legend or folklore. AD 94), despite recording many of Herod's misdeeds including the murder of three of his own sons. It appears to be modeled on Pharaoh's attempt to kill the Israelite children (Exodus 1:22), and more specifically on various elaborations of the original story that had become current in the 1st century. In that expanded story, Pharaoh kills the Hebrew children after his scribes warn him of the impending birth of the threat to his crown (i.e., Moses), but Moses' father and mother are warned in a dream that the child's life is in danger and act to save him. Later in life, after Moses has to flee, like Jesus, he only returns when those who sought his death are themselves dead. The story of the massacre of the innocents thus plays a part in Matthew's wider nativity story, in which the proclamation of the coming of the Messiah (his birth) is followed by his rejection by the Jews (Herod and his scribes and the people of Jerusalem) and his later acceptance by the gentiles (the Magi). The relevance of Jeremiah 31:15 to the massacre in Bethlehem is not immediately apparent, as Jeremiah's next verses go on to speak of hope and restoration.It is found in no other gospel, and the Jewish historian Josephus does not mention it in his Antiquities of the Jews (c.
Some scholars argue for the historicity of the event. R. T. France, despite noting that the massacre is "perhaps the aspect [of his story of Jesus' infancy] most often rejected as legendary", – no more than a dozen or so – may have been too insignificant to be recorded by Josephus, who could not be aware of every incident far in the past when he wrote it.and acknowledging that the story is similar to that of Moses, argues "[i]t is clear that this scriptural model has been important in Matthew's telling of the story of Jesus, but not so clear that it would have given rise to this narrative without historical basis." Some scholars, such as Everett Ferguson, write that the story makes sense in the context of Herod's reign of terror in the last few years of his rule, and the number of infants in Bethlehem that would have been killed
Byzantine liturgy estimated 14,000 Holy Innocents, while an early Syrian list of saints put the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raised this to 144,000 and placed the event on 29 December.The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–12) suggested that probably only between six and twenty children were killed in the town, with a dozen or so more in the surrounding areas.
Medieval liturgical drama recounted Biblical events, including Herod's slaughter of the innocents. The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, performed in Coventry, England, included a haunting song about the episode, now known as the Coventry Carol. The Ordo Rachelis tradition of four plays includes the Flight into Egypt, Herod's succession by Archelaus, the return from Egypt, as well as the Massacre all centred on Rachel weeping in fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy. These events were likewise in one of the medieval N-Town Plays.[ citation needed ]
The "Coventry Carol" is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors . The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. The carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants two years old and under in Bethlehem to be killed.The lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother's lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play. The author is unknown. The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. The carol is traditionally sung a cappella.
The 17th Century Dutch Christmas song O Kerstnacht, schoner dan de dagen , while beginning with a reference to Christmas Night, is about the Massacre of the Innocents. The Dutch progressive rock band Focus recorded in 1974 the first two verses of the song for their album Hamburger Concerto .
The theme of the "Massacre of the Innocents" has provided artists of many nationalities with opportunities to compose complicated depictions of massed bodies in violent action. It was an alternative to the Flight into Egypt in cycles of the Life of the Virgin. It decreased in popularity in Gothic art, but revived in the larger works of the Renaissance, when artists took inspiration for their "Massacres" from Roman reliefs of the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs to the extent that they showed the figures heroically nude. – Bruegel's versions show the soldiers carrying banners with the Habsburg double-headed eagle (often used at the time for Ancient Roman soldiers).[ citation needed ]The horrific subject matter of the Massacre of the Innocents also provided a comparison of ancient brutalities with the brutalities of the early modern period, during the period of religious wars that followed the Reformation
The 1590 version by Cornelis van Haarlem also seems to reflect the violence of the Dutch Revolt. Guido Reni's early (1611) Massacre of the Innocents , in an unusual vertical format, is at Bologna. [ citation needed ]The Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens painted the theme more than once. One version, now in Munich, was engraved and reproduced as a painting as far away as colonial Peru. Another, his grand Massacre of the Innocents is now at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Ontario. The French painter Nicolas Poussin painted The Massacre of the Innocents (1634) at the height of the Thirty Years' War.
The Childermass, after a traditional name for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is the opening novel of Wyndham Lewis's trilogy The Human Age. In the novel The Fall (La Chute) by Albert Camus, the incident is argued by the main character to be the reason why Jesus chose to let himself be crucified—as he escaped the punishment intended for him while many others died, he felt responsible and died in guilt. A similar interpretation is given in José Saramago's controversial The Gospel According to Jesus Christ , but there attributed to Joseph, Jesus' stepfather, rather than to Jesus himself. As depicted by Saramago, Joseph knew of Herod's intention to massacre the children of Bethlehem, but failed to warn the townspeople and chose only to save his own child. Guilt-ridden ever after, Joseph finally expiates his sin by letting himself be crucified (an event not narrated in the New Testament).[ citation needed ]
The Massacre is the opening plot used in the 2006 film The Nativity Story (2016).[ citation needed ] It is also dramatized in season 1 of the television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977).
The Cornish poet Charles Causley used the subject for his poem The Innocents' Song, which as a folk song has been performed by Show of Hands with music by Johnny Coppin (on their album Witness ); by Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham; and by Keith Kendrick and Lynne Heraud (as Herod on their Album Stars in my Crown).[ citation needed ]
The commemoration of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, traditionally regarded as the first Christian martyrs, if unknowingly so,first appears as a feast of the Western church in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. The earliest commemorations were connected with the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January: Prudentius mentions the Innocents in his hymn on the Epiphany. Leo in his homilies on the Epiphany speaks of the Innocents. Fulgentius of Ruspe (6th century) gives a homily De Epiphania, deque Innocentum nece et muneribus magorum ("On Epiphany, and on the murder of the Innocents and the gifts of the Magi").
Today, the date of Holy Innocents' Day, also called the Feast of the Holy Innocents or Childermas or Children's Mass, varies. It is 27 December for West Syrians (Syriac Orthodox Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Maronite Church) and 10 January for East Syrians (Chaldeans and Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), while 28 December is the date in the Church of England (Festival),the Lutheran Church and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. In these latter Western Christian denominations, Childermas is the fourth day of Christmastide. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast on 29 December.
From the time of Charlemagne, Sicarius of Bethlehem was venerated at Brantôme, Dordogne as one of the purported victims of the Massacre.
In the Roman Rite, the 1960 Code of Rubrics prescribed the use of the red vestments for martyrs in place of the violet vestments previously prescribed on the feast of the Holy Innocents. The feast continued to outrank the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas until the 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis replaced this Sunday with the feast of the Holy Family.
In the Middle Ages, especially north of the Alps, the day was a festival of inversion involving role reversal between children and adults such as teachers and priests, with boy bishops presiding over some church services.Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens suggest that this was a Christianized version of the Roman annual feast of the Saturnalia (when even slaves played "masters" for a day). In some regions, such as medieval England and France, it was said to be an unlucky day, when no new project should be started.
There was a medieval custom of refraining where possible from work on the day of the week on which the feast of "Innocents Day" had fallen for the whole of the following year until the next Innocents Day. Philippe de Commynes, the minister of King Louis XI of France tells in his memoirs how the king observed this custom, and describes the trepidation he felt when he had to inform the king of an emergency on the day.
In Spain, Hispanic America, and the Philippines,December 28 is still a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool's Day in many countries. Pranks (bromas) are also known as inocentadas and their victims are called inocentes; alternatively, the pranksters are the "inocentes" and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin . One of the more famous of these traditions is the annual "Els Enfarinats" festival of Ibi in Alacant, where the inocentadas dress up in full military dress and incite a flour fight.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Roman Catholic children have their toys blessed at a Mass.
Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration by billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world's nations, is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season organized around it.
The Church of the Nativity, or Basilica of the Nativity, is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The grotto it contains holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus. The grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land.
In the Christian tradition, a nativity scene is the special exhibition, particularly during the Christmas season, of art objects representing the birth of Jesus. While the term "nativity scene" may be used of any representation of the very common subject of the Nativity of Jesus in art, it has a more specialized sense referring to seasonal displays, either using model figures in a setting or reenactments called "living nativity scenes" in which real humans and animals participate. Nativity scenes exhibit figures representing the infant Jesus, his mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph.
The biblical Magi, also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men or (Three) Kings, also the Three Magi were distinguished foreigners in the Gospel of Matthew and Christian tradition. They are said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are regular figures in traditional accounts of the nativity celebrations of Christmas and are an important part of Christian tradition.
The nativity of Jesus, nativity of Christ, birth of Christ or birth of Jesus is described in the Biblical gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, his mother Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was descended from King David and was not his biological father, and that his birth was caused by divine intervention.
The Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as Twelvetide, is a festive Christian season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus. In some Western ecclesiastical traditions, "Christmas Day" is considered the "First Day of Christmas" and the Twelve Days are 25 December to 5 January, inclusive, with 6 January being a "thirteenth day" in some traditions and languages. However, 6 January is most often considered Twelfth Day/Twelfth Night with the Twelve Days "of" Christmas actually after Christmas Day from 26 December to 6 January. For many Christian denominations—for example, the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church—the Twelve Days are identical to Christmastide, but for others, e.g., the Roman Catholic Church, Christmastide lasts longer than the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The Adoration of the Magi or Adoration of the Kings is the name traditionally given to the subject in the Nativity of Jesus in art in which the three Magi, represented as kings, especially in the West, having found Jesus by following a star, lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worship him. It is related in the Bible by Matthew 2:11: "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path".
The Star of Bethlehem, or Christmas Star, appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew where "wise men from the East" (Magi) are inspired by the star to travel to Jerusalem. There, they meet King Herod of Judea, and ask him:
Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.
Epiphany, also known as Theophany in the east, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.
Matthew 2 is the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It describes the events after the birth of Jesus, the visit of the magi and the attempt by King Herod to kill the infant messiah, Joseph and his family's flight into Egypt, and their later return to live in Israel, settling in Nazareth.
The flight into Egypt is a story recounted in the Gospel of Matthew and in New Testament apocrypha. Soon after the visit by the Magi, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus since King Herod would seek the child to kill him. The episode is frequently shown in art, as the final episode of the Nativity of Jesus in art, and was a common component in cycles of the Life of the Virgin as well as the Life of Christ. Within the narrative tradition, iconic representation of the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" developed after the 14th century.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, arriving soon after the actual birth. It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title. The Annunciation to the Shepherds, when they are summoned by an angel to the scene, is a distinct subject.
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century.
The Ordo Rachelis, Interfectio Puerorum, or Ludus Innocentium is a medieval dramatic tradition consisting in four plays and based on the Massacre of the Innocents, an event recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, and on the prophecy recorded in the Book of Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not". The prophecy, which Matthew believed to be fulfilled when Herod the Great ordered the slaughter of all boys under two in Bethlehem, looks backwards to Rachel, the matriarch of the Hebrews, and towards her lamentation over the death of her children, the Hebrew children, in the massacre.
Joseph is a figure in the canonical gospels who was married to Mary, mother of Jesus, and was the legal father of Jesus. The Gospels name brothers of Jesus; the Gospel of James, an apocryphal work of the late 2nd century, theorized these as the sons of Joseph from an earlier marriage. This position is still held in the Orthodox churches, but the Western church holds to Jerome's argument that both Joseph and Mary must have been lifelong virgins and that the "brothers" must have been his cousins. Perspectives on Joseph as a historical figure are distinguished from a theological reading of the Gospel texts.
In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the King of the Jews, both at the beginning of his life and at the end. In the Koine Greek of the New Testament, e.g., in John 19:3, this is written as Basileus ton Ioudaion.
Saint Melchior, or Melichior, was purportedly one of the Biblical Magi along with Caspar and Balthazar who visited the infant Jesus after he was born. Melchior was often referred to as the oldest member of the Magi. He was traditionally called the King of Persia and brought the gift of gold to Jesus. In the Western Christian church, he is regarded as a saint.
Saint Balthazar; also called Balthasar, Balthassar, and Bithisarea, was according to tradition one of the biblical Magi along with Caspar and Melchior who visited the infant Jesus after he was born. Balthazar is traditionally referred to as the King of Macedonia and gave the gift of myrrh to Jesus. In the Roman Catholic Church, he is regarded as a saint.
The date of birth of Jesus is not stated in the gospels or in any historical reference, but most theologians assume a year of birth between 6 and 4 BC. The historical evidence is too incomplete to allow a definitive dating, but the year is estimated through three different approaches: (A) by analyzing references to known historical events mentioned in the nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, (B) by working backward from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus, and (C) astrological or astronomical alignments. The day or season has been estimated by various methods, including the description of shepherds watching over their sheep.
"Deep in the Darkness a Starlight is Gleaming" is a British Christian Epiphany hymn by Jan Berry. The hymn was written to reference to the Massacre of the Holy Innocents following the visit of the Biblical Magi to the baby Jesus.
The version from Bramley and Stainer (1878)
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Massacre of the Innocents
Flight into Egypt
| New Testament |
Death of Herod,
further succeeded by
Return of young Jesus to Nazareth