"Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi," (Matt. 2:16).
If Herod really did slaughter all the male babies in Jerusalem, why isn't there any mention of it in historical accounts outside the Bible such as the Jewish historian Josephus or some other Roman historians? Since we find none, doesn't that mean that it didn't happen or at the least cast doubt upon the validity of the event? After all, killing a town full of babies being slaughtered is something that would have been recorded.
First of all, not having any evidence outside the Bible of the slaughter of the babies does not mean it didn't happen, especially since the Bible does record it and the Bible has already been proven to be historically accurate.
Second, Bethlehem as far as the Romans was concerned, was an insignificant and very small town located about five miles south of Jerusalem at around 2500 feet elevation. It probably had a population of no more than 500-600 people. Micah 5:2 it says, "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Notice that Micah (written around 500 B.C.) prophesies that from Bethlehem, a small town, Jesus will be born. If there were as many as 600 people in Bethlehem, how many children would have been under the age of two? Ten, twenty, thirty? Whatever the number, it would not have been hundreds. It would have been relatively few. Add to this the fact that Herod was known for committing horrendous crimes against people, and you could see why this event in an insignificant village in the Jewish area would be ignored.
"But it is not surprising that he [Josephus] and other secular historians overlooked the death of a few Hebrew children in an insignificant village, for Herod’s infamous crimes were many. He put to death several of his own children and some of his wives whom he thought were plotting against him. Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community."1
Third, any more "important" things happening in the Roman Empire which would occupy the details of historical writers. Take a look at the chart below and notice that at the time of Christ, some major events were taking place. Undoubtedly, Roman historians would have focused on issues more appropriate to the Empire.
Year Event Roman Empire Israel 20 B.C. --Herod begins remodeling of the
12 B.C. --Beginning of war between the
Pannonians and the Romans.
9 B.C. --Pannonians are defeated. 7 B.C. --Rome is divided into 14 regions.
--Herod executes his son.
4 B.C. --Herod dies. --Herod burns alive 40 Jews who
destroyed a golden eagle.
--Possible date of the slaughter of the babies.
3 B.C. --Archelaus (Herod's son) kills 3,000.
Jews in the Temple.
(Note that the chronology of Jesus' birth is probably 4 years too late.
Therefore, Jesus was probably born around 4 B.C.)
A.D. 1. --War in Germany. A.D. 2. --Peace made with Persia. A.D. 3. --Roman decree permitting Jews to
follow their religious customs.
A.D. 4. --Herod dies.
--Tiberius subdues Germany.
A.D. 6. --Pannonians revolt.
--Herod Archelaus deposed by Augustus.
--Judea is absorbed into the Roman
We must remember that the Bible has demonstrated itself to be reliable and accurate countless times. It may very well be that some inscription is waiting to be uncovered which will, like many inscriptions in the past, validate yet another Biblical event. In the meantime, we can trust the Bible to be the accurate document of historical record that it is.
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- 1. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.