The Gospel of Matthew makes two rather outrageous (I can't think of a better word) claims: The Massacre of the Innocents and that many people were resurrected along with Jesus and walked to Jerusalem and appeared to many (Matthew 27:53).

By the way, I asked a question on Latin StackExchange about the wording of Matthew 27:53.

Do most denominations of Christianity consider them to be true stories or do they consider them to be myths? If they consider them to be true stories, how do they explain away the lack of evidence? Something like the Massacre of the Innocents or a zombie apocalypse would certainly be noted by non-Christian sources, wouldn't it?

  • 4
    Bear in mind the so-called Massacre of the Innocents, despite the name and reputation, would only have resulted in the death of a handful of infants, double digits at most and likely less than 20. Bethlehem was not a large city. Additionally, not every recording of events survived for us to find, and even if it was noted, that doesn't necessarily mean we would have found the notes. Jun 24, 2023 at 23:48
  • 1
    The question reports an historic account from documentation which has survived for two thousand years - and then claims 'lack of evidence' . . . . ! This appears, to myself, to be an opinion-based contribution.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 25, 2023 at 6:38
  • 1
    Archeological evidence of the synoptics is resoundingly strong. When the gospel writers say there was a building structure here, it turned out to be exactly there. The issue with Matthew is the early readers of the gospel would have been able to verify the account. The church wouldn't have started if his testimony was false, especially for Matthew's gospel written for the Jews of the day.
    – M__
    Jun 25, 2023 at 18:13
  • It is probably impossible to answer a question about what most Christians think.
    – davidlol
    Jun 26, 2023 at 17:57
  • Sects don't reject the historicity of those passages, bec sects or denom in themselves don't have a higher educated hermeneutical training. Scholars on the other hand reject the zombie apocalypse account as a Haggada, and I think the massacre of infants may fall in the same category, you can search bout it as well hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/83541/…
    – Michael16
    Jul 2, 2023 at 17:38

4 Answers 4


What do most Christians think about the Massacre of the Innocents and the claim in Matthew 27:53 that many people were resurrected with Jesus?

The Gospels are considered true events of actual accounts of actual historical happenings.

The Massacre of the Holy lnnocents is considered true historical event by Christians the world over. The Evangelist St. Matthew recounts the event as a true event. The fact that there are no historical writings on the event may simply be due that that number of infant murdered under Herod was quite small and thus it was not noticed by historians of that time.

Modern scholars think that only 10 to 30 (maybe 40) infants were killed. Remember that Bethlehem was a very small town back then.

The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys (ton hagion id chiliadon Nepion), the Syrians speak of 64,000, many medieval authors of 144,000, according to Apocalypse 14:3. Modern writers reduce the number considerably, since Bethlehem was a rather small town. Knabenbauer brings it down to fifteen or twenty (Evang. S. Matt., I, 104), Bisping to ten or twelve (Evang. S. Matt.), Kellner to about six (Christus and seine Apostel, Freiburg, 1908); cf. "Anzeiger kath. Geistlichk. Deutschl.", 15 Febr., 1909, p. 32. This cruel deed of Herod is not mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, although he relates quite a number of atrocities committed by the king during the last years of his reign. The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod. Macrobius (Saturn., IV, xiv, de Augusto et jocis ejus) relates that when Augustus heard that amongst the boys of two years and under Herod's own son also had been massacred, he said: "It is better to be Herod's hog [ous], than his son [houios]," alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing, swine. Holy Innocents

The Gospels reveal that many raised from the dead at the moment Christ died on the Cross. Nowhere in the Gospels is it reveal who rose from the dead at that moment.

It is highly doubtful that any of the Holy Innocents were in that number. Remember that Bethlehem is not Jerusalem. Bethlehem is 10 kilometres south of Jerusalem.


The murder of the children in Bethlehem

I live in a country where more than 600,000 developing babies are violently killed every year, and a surprising number of my fellow Americans do not consider this newsworthy. I would not be surprised if 2,000 years from now people were shocked by the way the mass killing of defenseless human beings is treated (or ignored) by those who write today's history books too. Tragically, people grow numb to violence.

Herod was a particularly violent man (just ask his wives, sons, and in-laws) and killed many people. In the 1st century Bethlehem was a small village and was not home to the rich & prominent. He likely had a few dozen children in Bethlehem murdered (which is still monstrous!), and this got less attention than other murders he committed - particularly the murders of prominent citizens.

Furthermore, most of Herod's murders (that we know about) are recorded in only one surviving source: Flavius Josephus. The OP's argument regarding Matthew could be paired with an identical argument regarding Josephus: if Herod really killed all those people wouldn't more surviving sources mention it? Apparently not.


The appearance of those who rose from the graves in Jersualem

Matthew says they appeared to many. How many is many??

The longest list of names in the Gospel of Matthew is the 12 apostles, so if Matthew says "many" instead of listing their names, perhaps we're talking about more than 12, but nothing in the text requires it to have been hundreds or thousands.

The appearances were to more people than Matthew cares to name, but that may have been only a few dozen people. And if the people who saw these appearances were Christians, or became Christians thereafter, it would have been easy for non-Christians to treat these reports as disreputable.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reports that the resurrected Christ (not just some other saints here, but the Son of God Himself!) appeared to more than 500 people at once. Step aside Matthew 27, if any supernatural appearance should be all over contemporary records it's 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Yet no other source mentions this monumental event...not even the Gospels.

I see no reason why Jewish or pagan historians would have treated the events behind Matthew 27:52-53 any more seriously than they treated the events of 1 Corinthians 15:6 or any of the other appearances of the risen Lord to His disciples.



Most of the literature from 2,000 years ago has been lost to history. Most events from 2,000 years ago are recorded in 0 surviving sources (and we don't know about them). Most events that we do know about from 2,000 years ago are recorded in only 1 surviving source. It is exceedingly common for significant events to be found in only one surviving ancient record.

Are there Christians who believe these events, preserved only in Matthew's account, really happened? Yes!

  • 1
    Similarly, people have up to 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents (except Cleopatra, who had only 2). How much recorded detail do people have about their own 64 ancestors? I certainly have no records at all about mine, not even their names. And that goes back less than 200 years, not 2000. Jun 25, 2023 at 13:14

The Massacre of the Innocents is attested to nowhere outside of the New Testament, and in the NT it is reported only in the Gospel of Matthew. However it is not out of character with Herod I. According to Josephus, Herod executed several of his own family members, including his wife, uncle and son, as well as massacring large numbers political enemies. Although he was in some ways a capable ruler and great builder, he was absolutely ruthless toward anyone who threatened his throne. So killing infant boys under the age of two in the area of Bethlehem does fit with what we know about him from other sources. Arguing against it is the fact that Matthew seems to go out of his way to cast Herod as a new Pharaoh and Jesus as a new Moses. None of the other Gospels do this, nor do they even mentioned the flight to Egypt.

So the report of the Massacre of the Innocents, from a historical perspective, is plausible but open to challenge. Regarding the dead rising from their graves, like the Massacre of the Innocents, in is not attested to in "the Gospels" but in one Gospel, again Matthew:

Also the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (27:52-53)

One need not think of a "zombie apocalypse" here, for the event can also be understood as a spiritual one. In this interpretation, the Jewish saints followed Jesus into Paradise, just as the thief on his right side had done. There, they would join other righteous people in the "Bosom of Abraham," like the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:23. Jews considered this to be a spiritual realm not a physical one. So although Christian theology insists that Jesus' resurrection was physical, it is possible that the resurrection of the saints as reported by Matthew was spiritual.

To summarize: The Massacre of the Innocents, while not recorded in history outside of the New Testament, is consistent with Herod's behavior elsewhere reported. The resurrection of Jewish saints reported in Mt. 27 may be understood as a spiritual experience, so that they would "appear" only to those whose spiritual eyes were open.

  • "None of the other Gospels do this". Remember that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, and so would want to include details that they could appreciate. The Romans (Mark) and Greeks (Luke) didn't have the background to understood the significance, and John was more concerned with summarizing the spiritual details for all people to read, so there would have been no reason to report these parallels to Moses in the other three Gospels. Jun 25, 2023 at 15:37

Do most denominations of Christianity consider them to be true stories or do they consider them to be myths?

Stating with certainty the position of "most denominatios of Christianity" on any issue would require a huge amount of survey work, because there are thousands of denominations. Therefore that question, as stated, cannot be answered.

Now, speaking individually as a Roman Catholic, I can state that the Roman Catholic Church considers all stories in the New Testament factually true, allowing for some simplification of concrete details and some grouping of events and discourses by the evangelists, because they wrote for a catechetical purpose, not for recording history in the modern scientific sense of the term.

If they consider them to be true stories, how do they explain away the lack of evidence? Something like the Massacre of the Innocents or a zombie apocalypse would certainly be noted by non-Christian sources, wouldn't it?

Regarding the Massacre of the Innocents, what kind of evidence would you expect of Herod sending a bunch of trusted soldiers to kill maybe 10 babies in Bethlehem and around? Do you expect Herod to put the order in writing? Or to send a letter to Augustus requesting permission?

What we do know from recorded history is that the order was entirely in line with Herod's character. The guy accused his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus of high treason in 8 BC and had them executed in 7 BC, and then did the same to another son, Antipater, in 5 BC and 4 BC [1]. Moreover, Josephus wrote that when he felt his own death was imminent he had all principal men of Judean society gathered in the hyppodrome to have them all killed after his death, so that there would be great mourning in Judea! [2]

Regarding the resurrection of many saints at the time of Jesus' death according to Mt 27:52-53, a simple hypothesis can account for the complete silence about this event in non-Christian sources: the saints raised in Mt 27:52 were precisely the children murdered in Mt 2:16.

First, this hypothesis explains the term "the Holy City" in Mt 27:53, which, if understood as referring to physical Jerusalem, would carry a strong cognitive dissonance. Would precisely Matthew, who a few chapters before had quoted Jesus saying "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!" (Mt 23:37) and a few verses before had narrated that "All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”" (Mt 27:25), refer to Jerusalem as "the Holy City"??? It is far more plausible that Matthew is referring here to the New Jerusalem, the spiritual Jerusalem, the Church: the raised saints appeared, or better said manifested, disclosed, revealed themselves as resurrected (*), to members of the Church.

Centrally to the question at hand, this hypothesis explains the total absence of social impact in Jerusalem out of that resurrection of "many" (maybe 10, certainly no more than 20) saints: given that they had died 35 years ago while being less than 2 years old, and that they had been raised as adults, any inhabitant of Jerusalem that crossed ways with one of them would have no idea at all of whom he was, even less of the fact that he had been raised from the dead, and would simply take him as just another Jew that had come from far away to Jerusalem for the Passover. Only those members of the Church to whom these raised saints manifested, disclosed, revealed themselves as such, i.e. as resurrected (*), could come to know what had really happened.

(*) The word in Mt 27:53 usually translated as "appeared" is enephanisthēsan, 3rd person plural of the aorist indicative passive tense of the verb emphanizō, which appears 10 times in the NT, with the following meanings in the other passages:

Jn 14:21-22: manifest, disclose, reveal (oneself)

Act 23:15: give notice, make a report, notify

Act 23:22: report, notify

Act 24:1; 25:2; 25:15: present (a case against X), inform (Y about X)

Heb 9:24: appear

Heb 11:14: make manifest, make it clear

From these occurrences, it is clear that the expression in Mt 27:53 can be plausibly understood as meaning that the raised saints manifested, disclosed, revealed themselves as resurrected to many, that they notified many about their resurrection.

It is also clear that these "many" to whom the raised saints manifested themselves as such were exclusively members of the initial community of disciples of Jesus, because they were the only ones who could believe their testimony. Just think of the reaction of an inhabitant of Jerusalem in 30 AD (or of anyone at any place in any time) if a stranger approaches him saying: "Hi, I have been dead for the last 35 years and have just been raised from the dead. Would you be so kind as to provide me with lodging and food for a while?"

If anyone wants to know whether and how this hypothesis makes theological sense, see [3].


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great#Last_decade_BCE

[2] Josephus, "The Antiquities of the Jews", Book XVII, Chapter 6. https://gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2848/pg2848-images.html#link172HCH0006

"and having no longer the least hopes of recovering, he gave order that every soldier should be paid fifty drachmae; and he also gave a great deal to their commanders, and to his friends, and came again to Jericho, where he grew so choleric, that it brought him to do all things like a madman; and though he were near his death, he contrived the following wicked designs. He commanded that all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived, should be called to him. Accordingly, they were a great number that came, because the whole nation was called, and all men heard of this call, and death was the penalty of such as should despise the epistles that were sent to call them. And now the king was in a wild rage against them all, the innocent as well as those that had afforded ground for accusations; and when they were come, he ordered them to be all shut up in the hyppodrome, 9 and sent for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and spake thus to them: "I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king's death." For that he was not unacquainted with the temper of the Jews, that his death would be a thing very desirable, and exceedingly acceptable to them, because during his lifetime they were ready to revolt from him, and to abuse the donations he had dedicated to God that it therefore was their business to resolve to afford him some alleviation of his great sorrows on this occasion; for that if they do not refuse him their consent in what he desires, he shall have a great mourning at his funeral, and such as never had any king before him; for then the whole nation would mourn from their very soul, which otherwise would be done in sport and mockery only. He desired therefore, that as soon as they see he hath given up the ghost, they shall place soldiers round the hippodrome, while they do not know that he is dead; and that they shall not declare his death to the multitude till this is done, but that they shall give orders to have those that are in custody shot with their darts; and that this slaughter of them all will cause that he shall not miss to rejoice on a double account; that as he is dying, they will make him secure that his will shall be executed in what he charges them to do; and that he shall have the honor of a memorable mourning at his funeral. So he deplored his condition, with tears in his eyes, and obtested them by the kindness due from them, as of his kindred, and by the faith they owed to God, and begged of them that they would not hinder him of this honorable mourning at his funeral. So they promised him not to transgress his commands.

  1. Now any one may easily discover the temper of this man's mind, which not only took pleasure in doing what he had done formerly against his relations, out of the love of life, but by those commands of his which savored of no humanity; since he took care, when he was departing out of this life, that the whole nation should be put into mourning, and indeed made desolate of their dearest kindred, when he gave order that one out of every family should be slain, although they had done nothing that was unjust, or that was against him, nor were they accused of any other crimes; while it is usual for those who have any regard to virtue to lay aside their hatred at such a time, even with respect to those they justly esteemed their enemies."

[3] https://www.academia.edu/34622725/

You must log in to answer this question.

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