The Slaughter of Your Innocence

The end of innocenceIn the early morning hours of May 3rd, 1908, U.S. army troops were dispatched to New York City. They were on a secret mission commissioned directly by the president himself. The soldiers, working in teams of two, proceeded to enter each of the residences marked on their printouts from the Census Bureau. The addresses marked were the ones known to have boys two years old and younger in residence. Once gaining admittance (by force if necessary) one soldier would hold the family at bay while the other murdered the child.

When they were done, all of the boys two and under were dead throughout the city.

Nothing appeared in the news that day or the next. Nothing was reported that week, that month, or that year. There were no riots in the streets; no protests; no letters to the editor; no memoirs published by grieving parents; no memorials erected: nothing. Although there were writers of the time who hated the president and were always quick to criticize his actions, none of these writers wrote about his ordering these murders.

It was not until decades later that an anonymous author wrote about this incident as part of the biography of a prominent individual whose parents had been warned of the slaughter and who had whisked him safely out of the country ahead of time. All other biographies of the man failed to mention the incident altogether.

Do you believe that the above story is true? Do you think it really happened? Or is it more likely that the lone biographer made it up to add color to his story?

If you don’t believe it, why don’t you? I don’t believe it because of the deafening silence. Only one biographer mentioned the horrific incident, and that was decades after the event. It would be similar to this: Imagine if there were no record of the Holocaust except for one anonymous biography of Albert Einstein which mentioned that he fled Germany to escape Nazi persecution. Then the Holocaust deniers would have a very good case. Atrocities such as these simply do not go unrecorded in history.

You’ve probably been told that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. You should use critical thinking skills to determine whether a story is likely to be true or false. This must apply to everything you read, whether it’s on the Internet, in a newspaper, a magazine, or a book.

The above story is indeed false: I just fabricated it to make a point.

The Point
In light of the above, why does anyone believe the biblical account known as “the slaughter of the innocents”? The account appears only in Matthew (2:16-18):

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_InnocentsWhen [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 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. 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.”

As in my made-up story, this story from Matthew is surrounded by utter silence except for its mention in this one lone Gospel. Why is it missing from the other three Gospels? If you were writing someone’s biography and there was an attempt made on their life which caused them to leave the country, and resulted in many innocent deaths: do you seriously think you’d omit that? No, you wouldn’t, not unless it never happened.

But no secular historian mentions this atrocity either. There were writers at the time who hated Herod and wrote about every wicked deed he committed. Is it reasonable to conclude that they would write nothing at all about his murdering all of the baby boys in Bethlehem? There were plenty of historians around at the time who would’ve heard of this mass murder. It is inconceivable that they would’ve left out of their histories one of the most heinous acts in all of history! It’s obvious that this is one of the many incidents in the Bible that never happened.

I’m glad it didn’t happen. But what then, are we to make of the writer of the Gospel of Matthew? He claims that the incident was a fulfillment of two Scriptures. If that were true, it makes it even more incredible that the other Gospel writers would leave the story out. But, it’s not true:

  1. There wasn’t any Scripture prophesying that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. The reference in Matthew is to Hosea 11:1:

    “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

    That wasn’t a prophecy: it was just a statement of something believed to have happened to Israel centuries before. No one thought of it as a prophecy about the Messiah until after the fact when the writer of Matthew claimed that it was.

  2. There wasn’t any Scripture prophesying that a future ruler would murder all of the baby boys in a city. The Scripture cited in the book of Matthew (Jeremiah 31:15) doesn’t even come close.
    • First, the location is wrong: Ramah was a city in Benjamin, about 16 miles north of Bethlehem (nearly a day’s journey back then). When Jerusalem was conquered, Ramah was a staging area for the captives being forcibly moved to Babylon (Jeremiah 40:1).
    • Second, the people involved are wrong: Rachel and her children rather than a multitude of parents mourning their murdered boys. Rachel was the mother of Benjamin. Jeremiah used her as a symbol: weeping not because her descendants had been murdered, but because they had been taken captive: they were “no more” in Benjamin.

What Jeremiah wrote about Ramah and captivity is by no stretch of the imagination a prophecy about murdering infants in Bethlehem while attempting to get rid of a rival king. The most one could say is that it could serve as a poor analogy.

Christianity: Your seams are showing!

The writer of Matthew was obviously quote-mining. He did this as part of the project being worked on. At that time, it appears that Christians were busy manufacturing a biography in an effort to make Paul’s mystical “Christ” (seen only in a vision, and then only as a blinding light) into an actual person whom they placed in the not too distant past. [All reputable scholars acknowledge that the Gospels were written (by anonymous authors) long after the time of Paul, despite their typical placement in the Bible.] In doing this it seems that the writer of Matthew went searching the Scriptures for anything that he might twist into a prophecy. He came across the phrase “…out of Egypt I called my son” and given that he’d already written that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem he now had to invent some excuse for placing him in Egypt. The slaughter of the innocent became the excuse: the Messiah was in danger and had to flee the country. Two “fulfilled prophecies” for the price of one!

The hero in danger
Often, when men are inventing superheroes, they spin their tale in such a way that the extraordinariness of the individual is demonstrated while they’re still an infant or small child. So we have baby Moses saved from an earlier [also unhistorical] slaughter of Hebrew boys; baby Krishna, whose siblings all were murdered by the king, but who was moved to a place of safety by his parentsbaby_hercules; Dionysus, whom the jealous Hera (wife of the god Zeus) attempted to kill; Hercules, who strangled poisonous snakes in his crib [snakes sent by that bitch Hera, again]; and baby Superman having to flee his home planet of Krypton.baby_superman There’s nothing new or surprising in the fact that the writer of Matthew fell into the same pattern: dreaming up a story showing divine intervention to save this one child out of all the others.

The above makes more sense to me than the thought that Herod–who had adult male heirs to succeed him, and who had been firmly established in his position by Mark Antony–would be afraid of a Jewish baby that some foreign star-gazers told him would be king.

How this contradicts Luke’s Account
First of all, Herod died in 4 BCE. So, for the account in Matthew to be true, Jesus would’ve had to have been born somewhere between 6 BCE and 4 BCE at the latest in order for Herod to have attempted to kill him (and estimate his age at two or under). But according to Luke [who claims to “have traced all things from the start with accuracy” (Luke 1:3)] , Jesus’ birth coincided with a census taken when Cyrenius (aka Quirinius) was governor of Syria . In fact, this census is the reason Luke gives for Mary and Joseph to have journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. (Luke 2:1-7) But history shows that this census took place in the second term of Cyrenius: between 6-9 CE — at least eight years too late to ever harmonize with Matthew’s account.


In addition, Luke indicated that Jesus and his family did not go to Egypt at all. Luke’s narrative starts out in Nazareth as their hometown and tells us they only went to Bethlehem because of the census. Then, after a short trip to Jerusalem to sacrifice a couple of birds, they went right back to Nazareth:

And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. (Luke 2:39-42)

This shows that they were in Nazareth almost immediately after Jesus was born, and stayed there (other than an annual trip to Jerusalem) for at least 12 years. This precludes them from having taken the long journey to Egypt, and so we cannot believe Matthew if we believe Luke. For more details please see:

What if it were true?
Okay, I wasn’t around back in 6-4 BCE to see for myself whether there was a slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem. Neither were you. But we weren’t around in 1908 either. How did we conclude that the incident in 1908 was false? It is by the very same method we used to determine the incident in 6-4 BCE was false. If the logic works for one it works for the other.

But, we still weren’t there, so a stubborn believer could argue that we “have no proof” that it didn’t happen. It’s true that we can’t be 100% certain of precisely what events occurred before we were born (though we can make some very good educated judgments.) For the sake of argument, though, let’s pretend for a moment that the incident related in Matthew really did happen. What would that mean? Would it even make sense in light of other Christian beliefs?

In the United States, where I live, there have been a rash of genuine slaughters of the innocent in recent years. Children have brought their parents’ guns to school and shot to death many of the other children. [Some U.S. residents love guns more than they love children, and will fight to the death to keep guns in their house where their children (and thieves) can access them, thereby compromising the safety of the entire community.]

Now, imagine for a moment that the principal of the school is tipped-off well in advance that little Johnny is bringing in his father’s assault rifle today with the intention of murdering as many of his fellow classmates as possible. What would you do if you were that principal? You have time to evacuate the entire school. You have time to phone the police and have them apprehend Johnny before he ever gets close to the school. You have your own security forces which could take out Johnny–if it came to that–before he could ever squeeze off a round.

But the principal of our hypothetical school doesn’t do any of those things. He has a son of his own in the school, and he sends his security guards to escort his son out of the school to safety. That’s all that he does. Then, pouring himself a cup of coffee, he sits back and watches on the security monitors as Johnny murders the rest of the children in the school.

Do you feel like worshiping this principal as the epitome of “love”? Of course not! Such a man should be held responsible for the deaths of those children: he is guilty of criminal neglect and should face charges of manslaughter. He saw a grievous wrong about to be committed, had it in his power to prevent it, and did nothing other than save his own son.

Well then, what can we say about the God of the Bible who did practically the same thing? He saved his own son, and then — in all his omniscience and omnipotence — watched as  the other sons in Bethlehem were slaughtered! And then the Bible has the audacity to claim “God is love”?! (1 John 4:8)

balaams_assAnd what about the angels themselves? The Bible tells us that one of them once reprimanded a man for beating an ass. (Numbers 22:32-33) And Jesus reputedly stated that God cares about the death of each and every sparrow. (MT 10:29) But no angel thought it worth their time or trouble to save any of these other babies of Bethlehem from the sword?! Where were these angels that Jesus reputedly said watched over them (MT 18:10)? Were they out to lunch?

Finally, if–as Paul claims–Jesus’ mission to Earth was to die in payment for mankind’s sins, then why stop Herod from killing him? Why wait around for the reluctant Pilate when Herod was supposedly eager to do the deed some three decades earlier? Death as a baby would’ve been appropriate since Jesus was referred to as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) — a lamb is a baby sheep, after all: not an adult one.

Why any of this matters
It matters to those who have built their lives around a belief in the Bible as God’s inerrant word. The Watchtower, for instance, is built upon this very foundation. If it is quicksand, then the tower will sink from view and disappear into the muck it came from. house_of_cardsIt’s like a house of cards, with belief in God as the table that the cards are stacked upon. The rows are (from top to bottom):

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses
  2. The Watchtower
  3. The F&D Slave
  4. Each Bible story
  5. Belief in an inerrant Bible

If you pull out any card from a row, the rows above it will surely collapse. We have just pulled a card out from row 4. All of the upper rows have collapsed with enough force to demolish the lower rows as well. In a moment we will just have a mess of cards laying flat on the table. This is what’s left of “the house that Joe [Joseph Franklin Rutherford] built.”

Now that you know this
You can no longer plead ignorance. You can no longer honestly claim that you believe the Bible to be the infallible “word of god.”  Which means that you now know that any religion based on that premise is false. By simply examining one story in the Bible your innocence has been slaughtered. [We could examine all of the stories in the Bible and reach the same conclusion, as I’ve done in my book The Cure for Fundamentalism.]

You must now face reality. How will you react? Will you brush this off: try to bury it from your consciousness, hoping the memory of these facts will fade away? Will you become a hypocrite, hoping no one ever discovers that you know the real truth? Or will you face the truth and follow where it leads? Now is one of those moments in your life where your integrity is being tested. I sincerely hope you pass the test and join us back in the real world.

One thought on “The Slaughter of Your Innocence

  1. Stephanie H • 4 years ago
    This was great…. It reminds me of a lot of the fallacious “principles” and made-for-fables ideas that are consistently believed and forced upon followers. Especially in religious cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I, for one, do NOT believe this story actually happened. As a matter of fact, I believe the Bible isn’t much more than a good “story”.

    Your post was very informative, even to a girl who already thinks she knows it all. 🙂
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    SandyC • 4 years ago
    Great article Steve!

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    Anon • 4 years ago
    It has been my experience that we are a very diverse lot… Ex-JW’s go from Atheists to Agnostics to (Apparently quite a few) going to another religion.

    I find it ridiculously hard to even try and understand viewpoints in the Bible… Depending on who you ask there are many interpretations, and apparently their viewpoints seem equally valid…

    I have found that to convince a JW the most “street cred” goes to the one who can Biblically prove them wrong… Oh and place the burden of proof mainly on them…

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    WatchtowerHelper Anon • 4 years ago
    Hi Anon,

    Good points. But, as you say, there are many interpretations that seem equally valid: so it’s very difficult to prove someone “biblically wrong.” Heck, lots of ministers tried that with me when I was a JW. At most it made me confused and angry, but in the end I just chalked it off to poor understanding on my part.

    But when I saw my first undeniable contradiction in the Bible it blew me away. That’s when I started to really think about stories like the above, as well as: Jephthah’s sacrificing his daughter to Jehovah; the “angel of the Lord” killing the firstborn of Egypt; God helping his “chosen people” slaughter the Canaanites and steal their land; and God’s enjoying the smell of “sacrificed” animals. When I compared such stories to biblical sentiments such as: “God is love;” “turning the other cheek;” “caring for every sparrow,” etc., I came to see the MORAL contradictions in this supposed “guide-book for our lives.”

    So I sat down and read the Bible again for myself with an open mind. To me the results were unambiguous:

    In my experience, arguing Scriptures with Witnesses [or members of any
    other cult] is futile. But, of course, any approach that works is fine by me.

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    Anon • 4 years ago
    Hi Steve, I already like reading the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible… It’s really hard coming out of JW’s and to try to convince people that they are believing in those 5 levels of things, like you said. I personally believe that there is a God or some Higher Power, and currently I DOUBT that the Bible is the actual Word of God… Too many contradictions, too many people trying to change what it probably originally said… It’s hard to become a total skeptic because you have believed in so much… BTW, you have taken the hardest approach (killing all belief in God and/or the Bible) to covincing people.

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