Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, died in childbirth and was buried just north of Jerusalem. When the people of Israel, during the time of the prophet Jeremiah, were taken into captivity in Babylon (587 BC), the prophet wrote of Rachel weeping in her grave as her descendants were carried off.
Matthew quotes Jeremiah as he seeks to portray the suffering caused by Herod’s slaughter of the infant boys in Bethlehem.
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
In the fifth century after the birth of Christ, Prudentius wrote the following.
The tyrant broods uneasily:
A prince is born who shall be king
And rule the house of Israel
And occupy great David’s throne.
Witless, he raves, “We are deposed:
He that shall oust us is at hand.
Go, guard, and draw your skillful sword,
And foul his little nest with blood.”
So fell those flowers of martyrdom
When life was at its dawn for them:
To pluck Christ up he dashed them down,
as wild winds dash the new-born roses.
Are these the first blood-offerings
To come before the Christ-a band
Of babies playing on the altar steps
With palms and coronets?
What use this rash enormity?
What profit in this wasteful wrong?
So many deaths, and Christ alone
Escapes from Herod’s questing hand.