Arts > Investigating a massacre

04 January 2017 | by D.J. Taylor

Investigating a massacre


The panel of talking heads convened in Times columnist Tim Montgomerie’s absorbing documentary (28 December) had grave doubts over the authenticity of King Herod’s massacre of male newborns in the Bethlehem area. Given the size of the locale, some experts alleged that the number of casualties would barely have reached double figures. The historian Tom Holland, brushing aside the evidence of Matthew’s Gospel, doubted that the event took place at all.

Happily such scepticism was pretty much immaterial: symbolism, it transpired, was all. For what Montgomerie’s “three wise men” – the theologian Martin Palmer, former Catholic priest and Forward Thinking director Oliver McTernan and The Tablet’s own Paul Vallely – were bent on establishing was the importance of Holy Innocents’ Day, which commemorates Herod’s pogrom, to the medieval church. For nearly a thousand years after the feast day came into being late in the fifth century, it was, as Vallely put it, central to conceptions of Christianity.


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