When I visited the Vatican fifteen years ago, while walking down a broad, high-ceilinged hallway near the Sistine Chapel, I noticed that the structure was literally wall-to-wall old masters’ paintings for the length of the hall. I can only guess there might have been a thousand of them. I recognized a few of them. One of them was of the Pope in the early fifth century warning Attila the Hun not to advance upon Rome. (Attila did as the Pope advised. Some people see this as divine intervention. Others suspect Attila was wary of leading his army into a city that was suffering from an epidemic at the time.)
Another painting depicted the Massacre of the Innocents from the Book of Matthew. Herod had (allegedly) ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two in Bethlehem. I found that painting very disturbing. Happily, there is no non-biblical source for such a deed. Furthermore, while King Herod could be a thoroughly unsavory character, the Roman occupation authorities were extremely jealous of their power and did not look kindly on anyone else exercising it. What I found disturbing about that painting was that (allegedly) God warned Joseph in a dream of Herod’s plan and, the Good Book tells us, Joseph, Mary and the Christ child made a rapid exit to Egypt for two years. This raises a very disturbing question if you accept that story as being historically valid. (I certainly do not.) How could an all-loving, all-merciful god only warn Joseph, ignoring all of the other families of Bethlehem? Or, did the Angel warn Joseph, but screwed up big time by not ordering Joseph to spread the warning. (Or maybe Joseph made a flawed moral decision by not letting others know?)
It also disturbs me that I’m the only person who seems to have noticed this.