Herod assumed the title 'the Great'. Yet he was fanatically determined to stamp out any messianic threat to his throne. When he learned from the three Magi who had come to worship the infant Jesus that 'a ruler shall come from Bethlehem who will govern my people Israel', he decided to kill the child. The magi, warned in a dream not to tell Herod where to find Jesus, returned to the East by a way which avoided Jerusalem. In his rage King Herod decreed that every male child under two years old in Bethlehem and that region should be killed.
Only because Mary's husband Joseph had been warned in a dream by God that this would happen and accordingly fled with his wife and Jesus to Egypt was the Saviour spared. The other innocent children were put to the sword.
The number killed under Herod's order has often been exaggerated. Perhaps two dozen male children under the age of two would have been found around Bethlehem at that time. Yet Herod's savagery has become a deep historical memory. He later had his own son murdered, so that Augustus Caesar allegedly said, 'Better to be Herod's pig than Herod's son.'
- From A Calendar of Saints,
the Lives of the Principal Saints of the Christian Year
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