Thursday, December 26, 2019

Matthew 2.1-12: Emperor, King, Murderer

No one names their child "Herod" anymore. And not just "anymore." Who would want their child associated with Herod? Herod's character is not one that most parents would want their child to emulate. The Epiphany text (Matthew 2:1-12) here shows Herod as a paranoid, power-hungry...scared...king who will stop at nothing to retain his power and position. He is more than willing to commit murder. The gospel tells of the massacre of the innocents at Bethlehem, but Herod the Great also murdered his second wife, her two sons, her brother, her grandfather, and her mother. If Herod was willing to kill so many of his own family, we have no doubt he could have killed children he never knew or saw.

Does that evil, cruel part of his personality show on his face as artists depicted him? Which of the faces below is the face of Herod the Great?
Did the artist give you a clue? Is there something in one or more of these faces that is an external clue to the internal corruption and immorality of the person seated on that throne?

Modern depictions of the visit of the Magi to Herod's court may be more likely to show Herod in some kind of aggressive body posture with an angry expression on his face. Scripture describes him as sneaky and manipulative, trying to deceive the magi with promises of plans to worship the newborn king. It was only the warning of the angel that sent the magi home by another way. They seemingly would have had no clue otherwise.

That's often the way it is, I think. The external appearance is pleasing, reliable, amiable, and sympathetic when the truth of the person is unethical, self-centered, even evil. Herod is definitely the villain of this story, but his ability to present a deceitful appearance to the world is much more common and close to home than we'd like to admit. There may be a little Herod in us.

Above far left:  Edward II Receives the Crown (detail). c. 1307-1327. British Library: Royal MS 20 A II, fol 10. Above center left: Magi Questioned by Herod (detail). 14th century. Venice: San Marco. Above center right: Three Kings Before Herod (detail). St. Alban's Psalter. 1121-1146. Hildesheim: Dombibliothek. Above far right: Portrait of Charles the Bald (detail). Bible of San Paolo fuori le Mura. c. 870. Rome: San Paolo fuori le Mura.

For additional thoughts on Epiphany, click here.

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