Did the slaughter of innocent children by King Herod ever happen? There is no mention of it in Josephus, but on the other hand, he mentions that Herod perpetrated numerous killings. Would those particularly stand out in an age when tyrants committed many atrocities, or simply left unsaid.
But when Matthew uses it in his gospel, it is to show who fearful Herod is of any challenge to his rule, and how much he would fear a Messiah. It also means Jesus can be taken to Egypt, and this ties up with another of the allusions to the Old Testament – “out of Egypt” that Matthew uses as prophecy. So is it simply prophecy historicised, as some scholars suggest?
"Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
But historical credibility is not just pertinent in the ancient world. The photo above shows the murder of 375 Christians murdered by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria.
That is one of the stories featured in the retrospective edition of “More or Less”, the BBC Radio 4 programme looking at numbers.
Now there is no doubt that Boko Haram has killed countless people, and taken women and children into captivity. But this photo is a fake.
The photo has been blurred over the bodies because it is extremely distressing, nonetheless.
Africa Check looked into this, and noted the following:
“This report was published in July 2014. It investigated claims that an image circulating on social media networks showed the burnt corpses of 375 Christians massacred by Boko Haram militants. In fact, the image showed the aftermath of a fuel tanker explosion in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“The tragedy, which occurred exactly four years ago today, killed at least 230 people and injured 190. The fuel tanker apparently overturned while trying to overtake a bus. By-standers were attempting to collect leaking fuel from the truck when the fuel ignited, possibly as the result of a lit cigarette. Many of the dead had gathered nearby to watch a World Cup soccer match.”
“In January 2015 the image went viral once again amid reports that dozens, hundreds or possibly as many as 2,000 people had been massacred in Boko Haram attacks centred on the northern Nigerian town of Baga and surrounding villages. “
“While the image - as evidence of a massacre - was false, the killings around Baga were all too real. Amnesty International described the slaughter as the "deadliest massacre" in the history of Boko Haram and there were disturbing reports of bodies strewn among bushes and in village streets nine days later. “
It comments that
“Faked images and pictures of purported atrocities make for powerful propaganda tools on social media sites. Often they go ghoulishly viral.”
Falsifying news stories to gain support is in the long run, self-defeating. No one will believe anything, and cynicism will rule. That is why it is important to check facts before repeating stories.