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. . . I have not found, nor has anyone been able to quote me, the sources where they have found this information. . . [Answers, 19 January]
In Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes, Kenneth E. Bailey describes shepherds in first-century Palestine as poor, and labelled “unclean” in rabbinic traditions. “Five lists of ‘proscribed trades’ are recorded in rabbinic literature, and shepherds appear in three out of the five. These lists hail from post-New Testament times, but could reflect developing ideas alive at the time of Jesus” (op.cit. page 35).
In support of this he cites Joachim Jeremias’s “Despised Trades and Jewish Slaves” in Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus.
Frank Conley (Reader)
The reference I found was in Raymond Brown’s Birth of the Messiah (Doubleday, 1993 edition, page 420), which refers to Murphy, R.T. A., The Bible Today 15: (Dec 1964) 986-91, which I have read. Brown says: “In Jesus’ time shepherds were often considered dishonest, outside the Law.” The Murphy reference supports this statement.
(Dr) J. F. Richardson
Why is it that the children of Israel have to settle in Goshen because “shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46.34), and yet Egyptian Pharaohs are portrayed with a baton-sized shepherd’s crook?
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