If, as the late Raymond Brown was fond of saying, the infancy accounts in Matthew and Luke are “the gospel in miniature,” then this Sunday’s gospel may be read as Matthew’s preview of the passion and resurrection. As with the passion accounts, we go astray if we read ourselves into this story in ways that are too easy, too comforting. If we don’t find something of ourselves in the person of Herod the Great, we’re cutting ourselves far too much slack.
Historical accounts of Herod the Great suggest a ruler wily enough to switch allegiances just in time and pragmatic enough to execute his own children when politics demanded. An Idumaean rather than ethnically Jewish, he was nonetheless named “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate while in exile.