“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not”. (Mt. 2:16-18)
There are Bible critics who make the claim that Herod could not have massacred the baby boys of Bethlehem because the Jewish Historian Josephus failed to make reference to King Herod committing this particular evil. But Josephus is not the only first century historian, or source of what happened in first century Judah. Matthew, the author of the gospel by his name, gives us a historical account of the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod. The Holy Spirit inspired Evangelist Matthew is much more trustworthy than a Jewish historian writing 100 years after the said event. There was, by the way, a Roman historian, Macrobius (c.a. 400 A.D.), that writes about Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents.
THE SCOPE OF THE SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENTS
Some historians, even Christian historians, say that only a few children were slain by King Herod because Bethlehem probably only had a population of about 1000 people, and therefore would have only had 10 to 30 two year old and under children that could have been slain. But the scope of the slaughter appears from the text of Matthew that it was not just the children in the little town of Bethlehem that were in danger of King Herod’s edict. The text states that the slaughter was not limited to the “little town of Bethlehem”, because it bluntly reads that Herod “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, AND in all the coasts thereof” (KJV, 1599 Geneva, Wycliffe). In other translations we read, “and the borders” (Young’s, Douay-Rheims, ASV, Aramaic Bible in Plain English, Jubilee 2000, Darby, Webster’s); “and in the environs” (NASB, NAS 1977, ); “and in the region” (RSV, ISV ); “and in the vicinity” (NIV); “and in all the districts” (NKJV, Phillips). We can see from these translations that the massacre was not limited to the town of Bethlehem, but included a far greater territory, as far as the coasts and/or borders of Judah.
“There appears to be a hint in verse 18 as to what is being spoken of when we read, “AND in all the coasts thereof”, or “AND in all the borders thereof”. Ramah, the city of Jeremiah’s prophecy is located 5 miles north of Jerusalem (10 Miles north of Bethlehem). Ramah is the city where Rachel lamented from. She was buried in Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19). Ramah is a border town situated on the northern border of the kingdom of Judah, and the southern border of the kingdom of Israel. Judah’s borders ran from the east along the shores of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea to the west at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, some 30 miles; in the south in the desert, and borders in the north, Samaria, some 55 miles. We also have a hint from the prophecy of Micah as to the scope of Herod’s slaughter; “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah…” (Micah 5:2). Let us take note that the prophecy that Herod was made aware of by the chief priests (Mt. 2:4-8) references Judah as the greater territory in which the Messiah-King would be born. Micah, of course, names the very birthplace of the Messiah, the little town of Bethlehem, and its 1000’s of villages (hyperbolic or not). So it appears from the textual evidence that the slaughter was not limited to “the little town of Bethlehem”, but spread all the way north to Ramah on the border with the kingdom of Israel and quite possibly to the remaining borders; west, south, and east.
An interesting note is that Ramah was the city where Jewish captives were gathered for deportation to Babylon (Jeremiah 40:1). Rachel, the wife of Jacob-Israel, was the mother of Benjamin, whose tribe became part of the southern kingdom, Judah. The city of Ramah was given to Benjamin by lots. So Rachel’s descendants, her beloved children, after much suffering as captives, are now suffering the slaughtering of Herod’s soldiers. Rachel weeps for her children.
So, exactly how many children were slaughtered? According to the Tradition of the Ancient Church, 14,000 children were slain. They are commemorated every year on December 29. For me, this number is far more likely than the 6 or 10 children as the modern scholars seem to prefer.