Posts Tagged ‘Herod’

Any Rationalization in the Storm

Monday, December 28th, 2020

December 28 is traditionally observed as the commemoration of the “Massacre of the Innocents” under Herod the Great. The dark episode is recorded only in Matthew’s gospel, and its absence from any other primary historical source – despite Herod’s generally bad reputation among contemporary Jewish and pagan historians – leads many scholars to view the story as a narrative device.

Whether historical fact or instructive fable, it sheds much needed light on the human habit of justifying brute force and lethal violence in service of some abstract greater good. The myth of redemptive violence in the United States, for example, doesn’t mark a partisan or ideological divide. Wars, invasions, and massacres have been championed by left and right. American notions of progress have underwritten the Indian Removal Act, Prohibition, and eugenic sterilization. “The greater good” has been invoked to justify chattel slavery and the bombing of entire cities. Doing bad things with the best intentions is not a quirk of history but an all too human constant.

We often come to admit and regret the large-scale disasters, if only in retrospect. It’s far easier to rationalize away the smaller instances in our everyday lives. Among the challenges of the Christmas season is the temptation to put ourselves into the story as a shepherd, a wise man or woman – perhaps even an angel – and not to recognize Herod’s shadow in our hearts and minds.

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