King-sized failings: Mark Russ considers Herod

‘For Herod’s victims, the good news is bittersweet. The difficult times are not over yet.’

'But God’s light is in the world, revealing that which Herod wishes to remain hidden.' | Photo: Herod ordering the massacre of the innocents, Pistoia Cathedral.

Christmas isn’t good news for everyone. For the Herods of the world, it’s very bad news. We meet Herod in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Here, Jesus is presented as a second Moses. This makes Herod another Pharaoh. He represents tyrants and oppressive political powers. Just as Pharaoh can’t bear to free the enslaved Hebrews, Herod can’t bear to acknowledge a rule other than his own. The message of the magi about a new king can only mean Herod’s downfall. He can’t give up his power – who would he be without it? So Herod schemes and lies, and manipulates the magi with false piety. But he’s unable to eradicate the threat to his reign, and when his schemes don’t work, he rages, destroys and murders. Where Pharaoh failed to kill the boy-children of the Hebrews (his plans foiled by the resourceful midwives Shiphrah and Puah), Herod succeeds.

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.