Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
Page: 103When a marvellous occurrence is said to have happened everywhere, we may feel sure that it never happened anywhere. Popular fancies propagate themselves indefinitely, but historical events, especially the striking and dramatic ones, are rarely repeated. That this is a fictitious story is seen from the narratives of the birth of Jesus, which are recorded by the first and third Gospel writers, without any other evidence. In the one—that related by the Matthew narrator—we have a birth at Bethlehem—implying the ordinary residence of the parents there—and a hurried flight—almost immediately after the birth—from that place into Egypt,[172:3] the slaughter of the infants, and a journey, after many months, from Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee. In the other story—that told by the Luke narrator—the parents, who have lived in Nazareth, came to Bethlehem only for business of the State, and the casual birth in the cave or stable is followed by a quiet sojourn, during which the child is circumcised, and by a leisurely journey to Jerusalem; [Pg 173]whence, everything having gone off peaceably and happily, they return naturally to their own former place of abode, full, it is said over and over again, of wonder at the things that had happened, and deeply impressed with the conviction that their child had a special work to do, and was specially gifted for it. There is no fear of Herod, who seems never to trouble himself about the child, or even to have any knowledge of him. There is no trouble or misery at Bethlehem, and certainly no mourning for children slain. Far from flying hurriedly away by night, his parents celebrate openly, and at the usual time, the circumcision of the child; and when he is presented in the temple, there is not only no sign that enemies seek his life, but the devout saints give public thanks for the manifestation of the Saviour.
Dr. Hooykaas, speaking of the slaughter of the innocents, says:
"Antiquity in general delighted in representing great men, such as Romulus, Cyrus, and many more, as having been threatened in their childhood by fearful dangers. This served to bring into clear relief both the lofty significance of their future lives, and the special protection of the deity who watched over them.
"The brow of many a theologian has been bent over this (Matthew) narrative! For, as long as people believed in the miraculous inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, of course they accepted every page as literally true, and thought that there could not be any contradiction between the different accounts or representations of Scripture. The worst of all such pre-conceived ideas is, that they compel those who hold them to do violence to their own sense of truth. For when these so-called religious prejudices come into play, people are afraid to call things by their right names, and, without knowing it themselves, become guilty of all kinds of evasive and arbitrary practices; for what would be thought quite unjustifiable in any other case is here considered a duty, inasmuch as it is supposed to tend toward the maintenance of faith and the glory of God!"[173:1]
As we stated above, this story is to be found in the fictitious gospel according to Matthew only; contemporary history has nowhere recorded this audacious crime. It is mentioned neither by Jewish nor Roman historians. Tacitus, who has stamped forever the crimes of despots with the brand of reprobation, it would seem then, did not think such infamies worthy of his condemnation. Josephus also, who gives us a minute account of the atrocities perpetrated by Herod up to even the very last moment of his life, does not say a single word about this unheard-of crime, which must have been so notorious. Surely he must have known of it, and must have mentioned it, had it ever been committed. "We can readily imagine the Pagans," says Mr. Reber, "who composed the learned and intelligent men of their day, at work in exposing the story of Herod's cruelty, by showing that, considering the [Pg 174]extent of territory embraced in the order, and the population within it, the assumed destruction of life stamped the story false and ridiculous. A governor of a Roman province who dared make such an order would be so speedily overtaken by the vengeance of the Roman people, that his head would fall from his body before the blood of his victims had time to dry. Archelaus, his son, was deposed for offenses not to be spoken of when compared with this massacre of the infants."
No wonder that there is no trace at all in the Roman catacombs, nor in Christian art, of this fictitious story, until about the beginning of the fifth century.[174:1] Never would Herod dared to have taken upon himself the odium and responsibility of such a sacrifice. Such a crime could never have happened at the epoch of its professed perpetration. To such lengths were the early Fathers led, by the servile adaptation of the ancient traditions of the East, they required a