DESCRIPTION: A tale of the birth of Jesus. In the time of Octavian and Herod, Isaiah's prophesy comes true and the King of the Jews is born. Brutal Herod orders the children of Bethlehem slain. Jesus escapes, but there is great mourning in Bethlehem
EARLIEST DATE: 1920 (Oxford Book of Ballads)
KEYWORDS: Jesus religious Bible execution death Jew
44 B.C.E. - Death of Julius Caesar brings Octavian to the front of Roman politics
37-4 B.C.E. - Reign of Herod the Great in Palestine
31 B.C.E. - Battle of Actium. Octavian gains sole control of Roman world
27 B.C.E. - Octavian named "Augustus" and declared "Princeps" by the Senate
6 B.C.E - Approximate date of the birth of Jesus
14 C.E. - Death of Octavian/Augustus
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 108, "The Innocents" (1 text)
ST OBB108 (Partial)
cf. "The Coventry Carol" (subject of the Massacre of the Innocents) and references there
NOTES [247 words]: Loosely based on the story of Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents in Matt. 2:1-18. For more on the Massacre, see the notes to "The Coventry Carol."
However, this is very obviously a literary production. It shows an apparent knowledge of Josephus (at least indirectly), since it refers to Herod as a "Paynim born" -- which is technically true (Herod was of Idumean/Edomite ancestry, and his grandfather had been converted, possibly forcibly, by the Maccabees) but rather unfair; Herod regarded himself as Jewish (see Peter Richardson, Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 54-55, summing up information from Josephus, Strabo, and others).
Even more interesting is the reference to Octavian as Roman Emperor. It is true that Octavian was Roman Emperor when Jesus was born (so explicitly Luke 2:1, but we would have known it even without that reference). But the Bible refers only to "Caesar Augustus" (Καισαρος Αυγουστου, Kaisaros Augoustou; the Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian versions read "Augustus Caesar" instead). The name "Octavian" never occurs in the Bible. So the author either got the name from Josephus (though this is unlikely; Josephus usually says "Augustus" or "(Young) Caesar") or more likely from a Roman history. This effectively precludes the possibility of folk composition.
Overall, the language of the whole rather over-stylized business strikes me as probably being of the seventeenth century. - RBW
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