The 16th-century Coventry Carol, a mother's lament for her lost son, is the only song of the season about the other children of Christmas – the first-born of Bethlehem, slaughtered on Herod's orders after the Magi brought him the not-so-glad tidings that an infant of that city would grow up to be King of the Jews. As Matthew tells it, even in a story of miraculous birth, in the midst of life is death. The Massacre of the Innocents loomed large over the Christian imagination: in Rubens' two renderings, he fills the canvas with spear-wielding killers, wailing mothers and dead babies, a snapshot, one assumes, of the vaster, bloodier body count beyond the frame. Then a century ago the Catholic Encyclopedia started digging into the numbers. The estimated population of Bethlehem at that time was around a thousand, which would put the toll of first-born sons under the age of 2 murdered by King Herod at approximately 20 – or about the same number of dead children as one school shooting on a December morning in Connecticut. "Every man a king," promised Huey Long. And, if it doesn't quite work out like that, well, every man his own Herod.
I think the best political essay writing is on the right these days. The writer is much freer and dispense with much of the usual cant. He can profess or hint at religious sentiments, but does not have to pay homage to the usual and implausible pieties of our times. In any event, the events of Newtown also made me think of the Holy Innocents, an element of the story usually left out amongst the holly and jolly, but then increasingly so is the rest of it. --ts