Historical conundrum…

While not exactly a strict history buff, I am not amiss to settling down on the sofa with a good book replete with detailed descriptions of humanity’s past.

So it was that when my daughter Rachel purchased three books last weekend, two of them invariably linked to Malta’s historical past and another one on legend-creating leaders, I was more than a bit intrigued, and of course, eager to ‘steal’ them for my own perusal.

Despite our size, Malta has an incredibly rich political history, and both local books provide an enriching experience of ideals and struggles…first to create our political parties, then to fight for independence , freedom and integration into the European Union.

The first book, ‘Biparty politics on a fortress island’ is a darn good read from first glance, and I will be taking a close look at it in the summer. A first browse shows promise. The second book is arguably about one of the greatest leaders of all time in Malta. The biography of Dom Mintoff is a well-researched heavy tome, rich in words and images. More useful as a reference for history students, nonetheless this is an amazing book to see what made Mintoff tick. Love him or hate him, one cannot but admire the ideals of a man who loved his country… perhaps a bit too much. But this is a book everyone should have in his collection.

And now I come to the third book, which is perhaps the whole subject and point of this post. ‘Leaders in history’ is a brilliant soft-cover publication, chronicling the (sometimes dastardly) deeds of kings and leaders that have made a name for themselves around the world.

This publication covers a lot of ground, as is only natural. From Cleopatra, to Churchill and Hitler, the many facts and stories on this book is nothing short of breath-taking.

But perhaps none as much as what I learned of Herod I, King of Judea. Now every practising Christian has to have heard of King Herod, he of the ‘baby murdering spree’. Yes, this is the same Herod, who, upon hearing of the birth of Jesus in Judea, ordered the killing of every new-born male at that time. Most recall that the Holy Family actually had to leave Judea to avoid this fate.

But then something disturbed me… right there on the timeline, were Herod’s birth and death dates. I looked closely and once again read the dates. It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be…

Herod had actually died four years before Jesus was born.

Now I admit that I was at a loss here. So I reasoned that the book was incorrect. So I asked my history-mad daughter (offhand) when had Herod died. And she answered that ‘Yes, Herod had died of kidney failure and gangrene in 4BC.’

Now, since St.Thomas is a virgin compared to me, I simply had to look this up. And all the records around the world point out that Herod DID indeed die in 4Bc, and that practically all history books left out the wee bit where he is supposed to have slaughtered thousands of babies in the year 0. IT SIMPLY DID NOT HAPPEN. Herod was a cruel king indeed (after all, he did kill his wife and two of his sons), but it seems that the Massacre of the Innocents never happened. No other source from the period refers to this killing. At that time Bethlehem was a very small village, and in any year, the number of male births never exceeded 20. Modern biographers, I read, tend to doubt the event actually took place.

And my question is this… To whom did Pilate consign Jesus when he washed his hands of the whole affair? Was it not Herod? Had Herod not died thirty-seven years prior to the crucifixion? And if this has been proven to be historically and factually true, why does an invented story continue to hold such a fascination in biblical studies? Was it all made up?

As usual, I have no answer to this…

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