National Geographic : 2009 Apr
• LETTERS Email firstname.lastname@example.org Write National Geographic Magazine, PO Box 98199, Washington, DC 20090-8199. Include name, address, and daytime telephone. Letters may be edited for clarity and length. Contact Us Herod: The Holy Land's Visionary Builder The article on King Herod was most informative. But author Tom Mueller's statement that "Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime" of slaughtering every male infant in Bethlehem in order to kill the newborn Jesus (offering no proof to back up this statement) makes me wonder whom I should believe: your author or Matthew in the Bible. I think I'll stick with Matthew. SIEGFRIED KLAMMER Mahopac, New York You can't have it both ways. Herod's chroniclers, who were eyewitnesses of the generation immediately after the fact, say he ordered the deaths of males born when Christ was born because he perceived them as a threat to his reign. We weren't sure Herod existed until Israeli archaeologists found his name on an artifact at Masada. Tom Mueller says Matthew's account didn't happen, and yet Mueller reports Herod---cruel, brilliant, and probably insane--- killed three of his own sons and his second wife for similar reasons. So, Herod was a great, visionary, murderous, infanticidal monarch kowtowing to Rome on behalf of what? His own fatal vision? The greater good of his people? What is so hard to believe in Matthew's Gospel? FRANK AND AUDREY CARROLL Custer, South Dakota The fact that the accusation against Herod appears only in Matthew's Gospel does not make him "almost certainly innocent." The lack of other ancient documents corroborat- ing the Gospel account is not evidence of innocence. The act of slaughtering infants was, and unfortunately still is, common. It would not have been an act so sensational that it would result in documentation. Look at the Holocaust or the more recent tribal genocides in Africa. People with Herod's disregard for the value of human life still are among us. GERALD M. PAULY Sacramento, California While modern scholars and revisionists may argue that Herod did not order the execution of the innocents as described by Matthew, it is still completely in keeping with his character. What cannot be argued is that his kingdom and all its "cloud-capped towers" were built upon a foundation of bloodshed, murder, and fear. The world can well do without such "visionary builders." MARK NIELSEN St. George, Utah We received a great number of letters protesting the article's statement that Herod was "almost certainly innocent" of the infanticide described in the Gospel of Matthew. In the sense that the accused is "innocent until proven guilty," we stand by the phrase. Josephus, Herod's first-century biographer, makes no mention of such a crime, nor do any of the contributors to other Gospels of the Bible. The scholars consulted for our story indeed maintain that there is no archaeological or historical evidence that the killings ever occurred, beyond the account in Matthew, which was most likely written a century after the event was alleged to have taken place. That said, as the article points out, given the level of cruelty attributed to Herod, the killing of young boys in Bethlehem---or anyone else who posed a threat to him---would certainly have been consistent with his character. Not only was it a pleasant surprise to finally see the much vilified King Herod given long-overdue credit for his incredible feats of engineering and construction, as well as his skillful diplomacy, but your article also fulfilled my long- standing need to have him exonerated for the so-called Massacre of the Innocents, one of the cruelest and most unlikely fables in the Bible and one that was obviously concocted to fulfill prophecy. While Herod was no saint, few kings before or since have been. HARRY KATZ Southold, New York December 2008 "MIND GAMES" ANSWER: THE JAR CONTAINS 4,466 JELLY BEANS.