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The status of the shepherds

19 January 2018

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or to add to the answers given below


Your answers


Over the Christmas period, I have heard a number of sermons and talks confidently saying that in Jesus’s day in Israel shepherds were a despised and rejected underclass in the land. This may be a useful illustration for affirming God’s concern for the rejected people in our society today, but I have not found, nor has anyone been able to quote me, the sources where they have found this information. I look forward to any responses to this.


I have heard Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, talk about the status of shepherds in positive terms. The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2011), to which she is a contributor, says (page 101): “Contrary to some Christian teaching, Jews of the time did not view shepherds as outcasts or unclean, as numerous positive images of shepherds in Israel’s Scriptures, the association of Moses and David with shepherding, and the connection of sheep with the sacrificial system indicate.”
Jenny Monds (Director of Learning Resources, Sarum College)



Travelling in rural Albania during the Communist regime was almost like revisiting the New Testament. Flocks of sheep and goats were usually in Village Collectives, whereas larger animals and arable crops were part of State Farms.

It was considered an honour to be appointed a shepherd — usually as part of a small group. They were issued with floor-length heavy black cloaks, a specific type of staff, which could also be used to throw stones, and a brimmed hat or occasionally an umbrella. The sheep/goats were free-range by day in specific areas but usually folded at night, protected by stone walls. Wolves were a potential problem, notably in the north, where goats outnumbered sheep. The shepherds closed the fold entrance, and often had a roofed shelter in which to sleep and/or make cheese. There was probably a sleep rota, but questions then had to be specific and carefully worded.

No pregnant woman would have been (or is) allowed into an inn (han). Shepherds would not abandon their “flocks by night” even to visit an important baby; neither would they sit on the ground.

Primrose Peacock, Truro


Your questions

I am an elderly and lifelong member of the Church of England, but no longer know who runs it: the Archbishops or the General Synod? In a serious difference of opinion over a decision, which would prevail?

J. Y.


Some Christians use (parts of) the Bible to dictate their thinking and opinions. Isn’t that idolatry?

A. H.


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