Matthew’s Account of the Massacre of the Innocents in Light of its Reception History

Bibliographic information:

Cho, Sung J. Matthew’s Account of the Massacre of the Innocents in Light of its Reception History. Scriptural Traces: Critical Perspectives on the Reception and Influence of the Bible. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2021.


Matt 2:16-18 is a passage with much potential for interesting and provocative readings. Many different methods have been applied with variegated results. As both a historical and a reader-oriented approach, reception history can be useful in navigating critically through centuries of data. Scholars such as Ulrich Luz and Rachel Nicholls have applied Hans Gadamer’s Wirkungsgeschichte to discover fresh and forgotten readings. A reception-historical study of Matt 2:16-18 would benefit from Gadamarian principles that encompass non-textual interpretations (e.g., art) and show no partiality to most recent readings.

Chapter 2 is the author’s Christological and theodical reading of Matt 2:16-18, heavily influenced by recent scholarship, in an attempt to outline the text’s potential. Subsequent chapters (Chapters 3–5) present the major ways in which interpreters have reckoned with the interpretative space in the text, organized chronologically. Important readings from the second to the fifth century include the victims as martyrs and Herod as a symbol of evil rule, inviting actualization. The increasingly complex nature of reception history of the massacre is evident between the sixth century to 1516, as Herod, infants, and mothers are recontextualized in Apocalypse commentaries, liturgical prayers, and play scripts. The period from 1517 onward presents formal, theodical, and hermeneutical challenges for current Matthean scholarship, as the massacre appears in lullabies, philosophical novels, and polemical works. Visual receptions of the massacre are treated separately in Chapter 6, exploiting the potential of art to collapse events, intensify piety, and subtly promote controversy.

Chapter 7 is a summary of results and a prospectus. Often modern readings of Matt 2:16-18 have been anticipated in the past or do not include interesting interpretations outside of one’s own tradition. In addition, major reading strategies of Matt 2:16-18, such as juxtaposition, recontextualization, and actualization deserve more recognition. This reception-historical study reveals potential to contribute to the philosophy of suffering and broaden the scope of twenty-first-century Matthean studies through inclusion of most recent actualizations.


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