Continuing along with the “Matthewetic” prophecies, in which we last left on in Bethlehem here, we are again in Bethlehem. The writer of Matthew is really packing in these prophecies and they so far have been failing so miserably that it is left to wonder why he keeps going. In fact, they’ve been so trivial to dismiss that it is a wonder how anybody still takes them seriously. But, seriously some people do take them, and so trudge on we will.
Not too much background to fill in on this. We’re back with Herod who has decided to whack the competition by killing all babies in Bethlehem. Which brings us to the verse in question in Matthew 2:17-18.
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.”
(Revised Standard Version)
Finally, the writer of Matthew (what the heck, let’s call him Matthew even though we know better) has helpfully provided something resembling a reference. We know the prophet in question is Jeremiah. Specifically Jeremiah 31: 15
Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are not.”
Thus says the Lord:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord;
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future, says the Lord,
and your children shall come back to their own country.”
I tacked on verse 16 to add a little more context. This is referring to the exile of Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon under King Nebuchadrezzar (spelling in my RSV). Two chapters previous, Jeremiah was talking about how he delivered them to Babylon because, well, essentially they made God upset again. Then in chapter 30, he starts in with how he’s heard their cries and will bring them back from captivity. Chapter 31 is a continuation of this theme. In subsequent chapters, the story has them returning.
So, the context in which this little verse is embedded, concerns the Hebrews, and their children, being carried off into captivity and then returning. It has absolutely nothing to do with the murder of children. There’s not even a legitimate parallel with Matthew’s story to even make this a so-called far fulfillment. We don’t even need to get into Ramah not being Bethlehem. That may be the only thing that almost works since there does seem to have been a Ramah in the vicinity of the Bethlehem Matthew may have had in mind. But the geography is such that if all children in the vicinity of Bethlehem were murdered up to and including Ramah, that would have also included Jerusalem. This is discussed here. The argument made at that link is an attempt to justify why Matthew would pick this particular prophecy but ends up just showing that Matthew may have been trying to draw a literary parallel. That he was trying to evoke symbols of hope in time of suffering. Fine, but it still doesn’t work as prophecy. It is thus not valid to argue that this was a prediction made in the Old Testament that confirms Jesus as a savior. Matthew just can’t stop failing.
To make matters worse for Matthew, there’s no historical record for the massacre he describes, and he is the only gospel writer to mention it. Flavius Josephus documented several of Herod’s atrocities in his Antiquities of the Jews. Among the acts attributed to Herod: He executed three of his sons for conspiracy. He executed his brother-in-law, Joseph. He murdered his own wife, Mariamme. He murdered the Jewish High Priest, Aristobolus III along forty five members of the Sanhedrin for their support of the Hasmoneans. This is consistent with the character Matthew describes, but somehow nobody other than Matthew seems to know about the children massacre.