Slaughter Prophecy?

© Copyright 2003

     Joseph Francis Alward  


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem... King Herod...asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea' they replied [and] he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under...





            E-Mail Alward                               Home Page     

In their effort to reconstruct the life story of Jesus, Matthew scoured the scriptures for any verses that might be construed as prophecies about the coming savior of the Hebrews. Since the savior would have to fulfill these prophecies, they made sure that their story about Jesus included the appropriate prophecy-fulfillments.

In the example described below, Matthew claims that the wailing of the mothers of the children murdered by King Herod was foreshadowed hundreds of years earlier in events described in the book of Jeremiah. We will show that the Jeremiah story probably had nothing whatever to do with an evil king and murdered children, and that the authors were mistaken.

Jeremiah's Rachel Passage is About Hope and Joy

In the passage below, Jeremiah speaks of the Jews who had been scattered abroad during the Diaspora, figuratively referring to the land of Israel as Rachel weeping in the town of Ramah for her children. But, the Lord tells Rachel to dry her tears and rejoice at his promise that Israel's children would soon be coming home out of captivity.

"This is what the LORD says: The people who survive the sword will find favor in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel. .... I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel...I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth...a great throng will return. They will come with weeping...They will come and shout for joy.... they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD....they will sorrow no more.....This is what the LORD says:

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.

This is what the LORD says: Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded, declares the LORD. They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future, declares the LORD. Your children will return to their own land." (Jeremiah 31:1-17)

Meaning of Jeremiah Verse is Distorted

In telling the story about King Herod ordering the murder of all the young male children of Bethlehem--a heinous act that apparently nobody but Matthew knew about and reported by no historian of the first century--he took special notice of the grieving mothers of the murdered children, an event that he apparently claimed was foretold in the book of Jeremiah. Here are Matthew's words:

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem... King Herod...asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea' ....he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under...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 2:1-18

If one can believe Matthew, the wailing of the Bethlehem mothers was somehow related or foretold by Rachel's wails in Ramah. However, one can clearly see that Jeremiah is not speaking of dead children and grieving mothers six centuries in the future, but of the joy over the eventual return of exiled children who are very much alive.

Thus, there is not the slightest meaningful connection between the events described in Jeremiah and the story of Herod's slaughter reported by Matthew. In Matthew's story of Herod's murders, the children are dead and are never to return; in Jeremiah's story, the children are alive and returning to their homeland. In no way does the Jeremiah passage have anything to do with a king's murder of children, or any other event in the life of a savior in the first century. Furthermore, if Matthew is right, then the mothers' lamentations and cries of grief were so loud that they could be heard in the village of Ramah, twenty miles from the scene of the crime in Bethlehem. If such sounds were heard there, then surely they also were heard in Jerusalem, which lay between Bethlehem and Ramah. How, then, could it have been possible that Matthew--alone among all of the gospel writers--could have been the only one to write about this horrible crime? Could it be that so few children were killed that no historian wrote of it?


Matthew's story seems to be just one more example of a misguided effort to mold Jesus to Old Testament passages, even if the pieces don't fit. This failed attempt--just one of several-- to grow a messiah out of non-existent prophecy-fulfillment based on a non-existent prophecy is reason enough to question all of the book Matthew and the intelligence of the committee of elder infallible churchmen who decided to include his writings in their bible.

Harmonization Requirements

Inerrantists wishing to explain away the apparent inconsistencies between the Ramah verses in Jeremiah and Matthew will need to address the following points:

 The alleged Herod murders occurred in Bethlehem, not twenty miles away in Ramah.
 Jeremiah spoke of scattered Israelis of the Diaspora, not murdered babies.
 Rachel was weeping for her lost children, not her murdered children.
 Matthew says Jeremiah foretold the grief of the mothers of Herod's murder victims.
 Only Matthew wrote about or referenced the Herod murders.
 There is no extra-canonical account of these murders.