Running head: SHEEP AND SHEPHERD

New Testament Background: Sheep and Shepherd
Elizabeth M. Cole
Big Sandy Community and T...
Sheep and Shepherd

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Introduction
In the United States, very few people have experienced or witnessed live sheep and lam...
Sheep and Shepherd

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day (McKenzie, 1995), and perhaps twice a day in morning and evening in the heat of the
summer (Bor...
Sheep and Shepherd

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Biblical Imagery
The first shepherd mentioned in the Bible was Abel, and other important shepherds ...
Sheep and Shepherd

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References

Borowski, O. (2000). Herding. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerd...
Sheep and Shepherd

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Figure Captions

Figure 1. Christ as the Good Shepherd, from the Catacomb of Priscilla, mid-second ...
Sheep and Shepherd

Figure 3. Good Shepherd icon, from Eastern Christianity

Figure 4. L’Innocence, by 19th century French...
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New Testament Cultural Background: Sheep and Shepherd

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This paper is a description of sheep and shepherd as a cultural background to the Bible/New Testament. I hope it helps you comprehend the literal and metaphorical references to these things in the Bible. For REL 121 Intro to the New Testament, Spring 2014, KCTCS.

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New Testament Cultural Background: Sheep and Shepherd

  1. 1. Running head: SHEEP AND SHEPHERD New Testament Background: Sheep and Shepherd Elizabeth M. Cole Big Sandy Community and Technical College
  2. 2. Sheep and Shepherd 2 Introduction In the United States, very few people have experienced or witnessed live sheep and lambs, a shepherd, or know anything about shepherding. I chose this topic to learn more about it myself and to share this information with others, to help them comprehend and appreciate the meaning in the New Testament. Sheep Sheep were one of the most common domesticated farm animals during Bible times. There are over five hundred mentions of sheep in the Bible; most of the Old Testament references are literal, and almost all the New Testament references are metaphorical, with Christ as the shepherd and his followers as the flock (Kohler-Rollefson, 2011). The earliest evidence for domestication of sheep dates back to 9000 BCE. Wild sheep do not have significant wool, so sheep were not utilized for wool production until 4000 BCE (Kohler-Rollefson, 2011). They were raised not only for their meat, but also wool, milk and dairy products (yogurt, butter, cheese), skins (fleeces), bones, and horns, and dung (Borowski, Sheep, 2000). Horns were used as containers for oil and as musical instruments (KohlerRollefson, 2011). In fact, we call some modern wind instruments “horns” because of this ancient origin from the sheep’s horn. Sheep prefer flat or slightly hilly, rolling grassy land, and they graze on grasses and plants down to the root (Kohler-Rollefson, 2011). They can graze on the barley and wheat fields of stubble after harvest time (Kohler-Rollefson, 2011). Much of the land in Israel and surrounding areas has adequate grass cover to support sheep grazing; even the desert can become pasture land after the rainy season, when it blooms (McKenzie, 1995). Sheep need to be watered only once a
  3. 3. Sheep and Shepherd 3 day (McKenzie, 1995), and perhaps twice a day in morning and evening in the heat of the summer (Borowski, Herding, 2000). The ordinary Israelite or Jew would only eat mutton at a festival (McKenzie, 1995), not on a daily basis (Borowski, Sheep, 2000). The male sheep or ram was the sacrificial animal, and the fat was esteemed as nutritious and a delicacy (McKenzie, 1995). Today, we look to reduce fat in our diets, but in biblical times, it was a challenge for people to eat enough calories. Milk was a major form of nutrition and often mentioned with another whole and complete food, honey, and together these were offered in sacrifice in many ancient societies—hence the Promised Land being referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey as in Exodus 3:8 (Borowski, Sheep, 2000). Shepherd The shepherd dedicated himself to tending the sheep in his flock, either as a nomad or in a designated property (Borowski, Herding, 2000). Nomads would shelter their sheep in pens built of thorny plants, and fixed-property shepherds would have built pens of stone, or even in the animal pen portion of the ground floor of the house (Borowski, Herding, 2000). Sheltering could take place in caves. The shepherd would have a heavy cloak to protect against the elements, a rod or staff, a food bag, and a sling to fend of wild animals such as lions, bears, and wolves (Mattingly, 2000). Sometimes they use dogs to help herd the sheep (Mattingly, 2000). Sheep are meek animals and require constant care and supervision; they learn the voice of the shepherd and follow only that shepherd and not a stranger (Mattingly, 2000). The shepherd would have to count the sheep and make sure they were all there, and if any had wandered off, they would go seek them out and bring them back to the flock (Mattingly, 2000). Special attention was given to ewes about to deliver, lambs, and sick or injured animals (Mattingly, 2000).
  4. 4. Sheep and Shepherd 4 Biblical Imagery The first shepherd mentioned in the Bible was Abel, and other important shepherds were Abraham, Jacob, and David (Hahn, 2009). In the ancient world, the shepherd was often a metaphor for a ruler, and this was clearly used in reference to David (Kaiser, Garrett, & Wanner, 2005). The metaphor was also applied to gods, such as Shamash and in Genesis and the Psalms, to Israel’s god Yahweh (McKenzie, 1995). It is also used for royal officers, elders, religious leaders, and all who have authority over the people (McKenzie, 1995). Psalm 23 is a notable example of the trustful relationship Israel has in Yahweh as the shepherd (Hahn, 2009). When leadership is poor or absent, Israel is likened to sheep without a shepherd; Ezekiel 34 is an important prophecy of the one shepherd God will provide, a messianic descendent of David who will feed them and be their shepherd (Hahn, 2009). In Matthew 9, Jesus has compassion on the people as sheep without a shepherd (Kohler-Rollefson, 2011). In John 10, Jesus talks about himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep; this theme is echoed in the other three Gospels, in Matthew 18, Mark 6, and Luke 15 (Hahn, 2009). Jesus entrusts his flock to Peter in John 21, and his ministers are to be shepherds (Acts 20, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 5) (Hahn, 2009). Indeed, the word pastor is Latin for shepherd (McKenzie, 1995). Jesus discusses the Last Judgment as sorting the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25 (McKenzie, 1995). Conclusion This paper was intended to describe sheep and shepherds to students of the Bible who are not familiar with these things, to aid their comprehension of what they read and hear in the Old and New Testaments—whether the passage intends a literal or metaphorical meaning.
  5. 5. Sheep and Shepherd 5 References Borowski, O. (2000). Herding. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (pp. 576-577). Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans. Borowski, O. (2000). Sheep. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (p. 1203). Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans. Hahn, S. (2009). Catholic Bible dictionary. New York: Doubleday. Kaiser, W. C., Garrett, D. A., & Wanner, J. D. (Eds.). (2005). Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Kohler-Rollefson, I. U. (2011). Sheep. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated). New York: HarperCollins. Mattingly, G. L. (2000). Shepherd. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (p. 1208). Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans. McKenzie, J. L. (1995). Dictionary of the Bible. New York: Touchstone.
  6. 6. Sheep and Shepherd 6 Figure Captions Figure 1. Christ as the Good Shepherd, from the Catacomb of Priscilla, mid-second to mid-third century AD. Figure 2. Christ as the Good Shepherd, marble, 92 cm high, ca. 300 AD, from Vatican Museum
  7. 7. Sheep and Shepherd Figure 3. Good Shepherd icon, from Eastern Christianity Figure 4. L’Innocence, by 19th century French Academy painter William Bouguereau, depicting the young Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus and a lamb. 7

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