H is for Herod

h letter design creepyDec 8, 2019 Second Week of Advent – Day 8 of the Advent Alphabet

H is for Herod, the evil King of the Jews who urged the Magi to reveal the location of the Christ-child.

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi…. After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel…  So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.””(Matthew 2:16-23, excerpted)

Herod’s name is a short-hand way of pointing to a villain. I remember the lyrics of a James Taylor song which used the images of the Magi and Herod as archetypes for heroes, and the evil they face.

“But Herod’s always out there
He’s got our cards on file
Its a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch
Old Herod likes to take a mile”
(James Taylor, Home by another way)

Here is a link to the song!

For the last few years I’ve studied the craft of writing a murder mystery. My first effort, The Book of Answers, was short-listed last year for an Arthur Ellis Award for unpublished manuscripts co-sponsored by Dundurn Press and Crime Writers of Canada. I have much to learn, and I am grateful for good teachers and mentors.

Stories need a villain to give the hero someone to oppose, and to further the plot. (Can you imagine watching a detective show where there was no crime, and no “bad guy” to catch? The villain provides needed conflict.)

Matthew says Herod ordered the death of all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two, in the same way Pharaoh ordered the death of all Hebrew males born in the time of Moses. Moses escaped death when he was discovered hidden in a basket, floating amongst the rushes. He was adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised as a Prince of Egypt. Moses grew up to be a leader of the Hebrew people in their struggle against slavery.

Matthew’s Gospel draws parallels between Jesus, and important figures in the religious history of the Jewish people. It suits his aim, which is to identify Jesus as the culmination of thousands of years of “salvation history”. (Being like Moses is poetic short-hand for saying Jesus was sent to save his people.) Jesus is another miracle child who narrowly escapes death.

Herod, the Roman-appointed “King of Judea” was a genuine villain. Sources outside the Bible document his abuse of power and mental instability. There is no evidence, however, that the “slaughter of the innocents” ever happened. It is possible Matthew crafted the story to suit his theological purposes. Matthew may have also needed this story element to help resolve another plot issue, which I will address when we get to N is for Nazareth. (Mystery writers often scenes with a cliff-hanger to encourage the reader to stick with them.)

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, pastor at the United Church in Harrow, Ontario. Each day in Advent, a different letter of the English Alphabet will be a jumping off place for a reflection. These reflections will be sent out via email to those who have asked to be on the mailing list, and will also be posted to Rev. Darrow’s Facebook page.

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