When Herod heard of the news from the kings form east that there was a new king (Jesus) born, he ordered the killing of all boys younger than the age of two. So that would have been a great slaughter. So is there any historical 'evidence' for that event?

  • 1
    In New Testament times Bethlehem was a small town of a few hundred inhabitants. There may only have been 10-20 of infant boys. Killing them was obviously a huge tragedy for the town, but not a great slaughter unlikely on the national historic scale. Feb 5, 2016 at 14:15
  • @DJClayworth I don't think it's so much they wouldn't care about 10-20 babies. I'm sure it could have cause outrage... If it wasn't for the fact that Herod did this kind of stuff all the time. This incident would have been white noise.
    – Joshua
    Feb 5, 2016 at 14:59
  • FWIW, a few years ago a National Geographic article on Herod took the line that since he killed his own offspring, it wasn't much of a reach to believe that people would accept him killing others' offspring without much loss of sleep. (As I don't have online Nat Geo access, I can't reference the source). Depending on who it was that writes a given record/chronicle, the emotional impact of someone killing children could be amplified. (And it's a very nasty thing to do -- not just white noise -- in any society). Feb 5, 2016 at 15:11
  • Do you mean this one: youtube.com/watch?v=vQ4ZbqUut0A ?
    – Marijn
    Feb 5, 2016 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


The short answer is: none known to date. A variety of speculation has arisen on the relationship between how Herod conducted himself and the impact that had on the narrations related to him in scripture.

At the lowest level of detail: the Wikipedia article cites a decent range of sources and still concludes there are no contemporary sources that match one for one with the event reported in scripture. (As Wiki articles go, it's a decent one).

G.J. Goldberg (http://www.josephus.org/ntparallels.htm#innocents) examines NT parallels with Josephus, in detail, arrives at the same conclusion. He cites an example from antiquities having to do with a number of Pharisees being put to death as being possibly related.

The story demonstrates at the least that the actions of Herod and the other people in the nativity story was not unheard of for the time, so that something of the sort {slaughter of innocents} might have occurred but escaped Josephus' notice. Or, the above story itself might have served as the nucleus of a tale that was elaborated over the years and applied to Jesus by his followers.

Herod was rough with a lot of people. From Goldberg:

Incidentally, in Antiquities 17.6.5 174 there is described a forced mass movement of people just before Herod's death. These people the king had planned to have these murdered so the Jews would be mourning when he died, rather than holding joyful festivities to celebrate his passing. This movement could conceivably have contributed both to the story of the slaughter of the innocents and the census of Quirinius ...

  • Horrid syntax from the source makes me wonder about its credibility. Sep 5, 2017 at 1:04
  • @freethinker36 The grammar is correct, though the writing style isn't one I'd use. (But thanks for commenting, as I found a couple of typos I'd missed. ) Sep 5, 2017 at 11:30

From Wikipedia, The first non-Christian reference to the massacre is recorded four centuries later by Macrobius, who writes in his Saturnalia:

When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered killed, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod's pig, than his son.

The above translated from original source:

Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Iudaeorum intra bimatum iussit interfici filium quoque eius occisum, ait: Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium. (Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, Saturnalia, book II, chapter IV:11)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .