Filed under: Blaming the Victim, Connecting Across Borders, Iraq, Politics of Empire
Where I grew up we read the story of Herod’s project of killing innocent children under two years of age but we never connected it to warfare, national security or the often bloody and perpetual struggle of people in power to stay in power. We just thought this was part of God’s plan removed from real life.
Herod the Great, King of Jews was actually answerable to the Roman Emperor since he’d secured that position through crafty lobbying in Rome. Early in his political career Jewish leaders took note of Herod’s brutality although he represented himself to be a Jew. Herod extended his power through treachery, including the killing of at least one wife and brothers but because he maintained good connections in Rome he kept the support of the local Roman garrisons. His extensive building projects including refurbishing the Second Temple in Jerusalem contributed immeasurably to the impoverishment and indebtedness of the countryside, right at the time when Jesus appeared.
By the time of the Magi’s visit, Herod ruled the entire region from Jerusalem. In their meeting King Herod and the Magi discussed a new baby who was rumoured to be a future Jewish political leader, specifically King of the Jews, exactly his own title which had been awarded years earlier by the Roman Senate.
The arrival of the Magi recorded in Matthew reminds us of the international significance of the rumoured new King of the Jews. No one is really sure where the Magi came from, Babylon of modern day Iraq, or its competing culture Persia, further east in modern day Iran. Some Chinese Christians believe that one of the Magi came from China because Liu Shang the chief astronomer of the Han dynasty at that time discovered a new star and according to tradition Liu Shang, disappeared for two years after its discovery.
Apparently, the Magi were respected because they understood new age like astrology as an important ingredient of wisdom in that time, and Magi were believed to have deep insight into the signs of the times. During their visit sometime after Jesus birth, they probably absorbed some of the intrigue, danger and political culture of the Jerusalem and Bethlehem region. Their dreams turned ominous and warned them of danger. Unlike so many of us, however, they listened to the warnings in their dreams and altered their travel plans for the journey home in order to avoid the net of informers as always on the lookout for threats to Herod’s rule.
The escape of the Magi after presenting gifts occurred simultaneously to the flight of Jesus’ parents to Egypt to protect their new child and avoid the genocide of infant males in Bethlehem unleashed by Herod’s regime. Genocidal programs were a part of the crafts of warfare and state security policies used to make things come out right, going back as long as people could remember. Only in modern times when arms length push button technology of warfare has become available, has narrowly defined genocide fallen out of favour, although the “kill numbers” have increased.
Churches around the world remember this event on various days following Christmas as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The murdered Bethlehem infants may be the first martyrs although I hesitate to call them Christian martyrs because there were not yet Christians. Their death reminds us that most of the victims of state security policies are innocent, a problem that modern jurisprudence and governance has not yet fully solved. Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt reminds us that refugees, job seekers and others who illegally cross international borders in search of security for themselves and their loved ones include among their numbers, people of all ages who are carriers of transcendent truth if we have the eyes to read the signs.
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