Are you still with me on this closer look at the Christmas story through the lens of Middle Eastern culture? Kenneth Bailey, after a lifetime of studying that way of life, saw details in the Scriptural account of Jesus’ birth that had been misunderstood or turned into myth.
Last time, we looked at the actual birth of Jesus. Did Bailey’s take on that make sense to you? If you need to catch up, click on the next blog down, to read and ponder.
Today, we’ll look at the shepherds who in Jesus’ day were a sad and despised lot—not much better than our homeless.
In King David’s day, shepherds were valued. Have you ever wondered how David managed to drop Goliath with his first sling shot? I’m guessing shepherd boys used their downtime to hone warrior skills. Had contests, maybe. David was no slouch with bow and arrow, either, and was among the few with strength enough to bend a bronze bow. Consider that: a metal rod—the ultimate, distance weapon. No, David was not wasting time out there with the sheep.
In Jesus’ day, though, shepherds were riff-raff, but within their own peasant culture, they understood the social rules. When the Big-Guy angel told them to go visit a child who’d been born in town, they were horrified. WHAT? Dirty shepherds visit the highborn? No WAY!
The angel, seeing their terror, gave a word—a sign—to calm them. “Go. This baby will be lying in a manger and carefully wrapped in cloths.” One interesting discussion suggests that Temple lambs for sacrifice were swaddled and placed in a manger to keep them from injury. If that were true, the “sign” would have made perfect sense to the shepherds.
They went and found the child in an upper-floor manger. Had he been in the smelly stable below with his distraught parents, they’d have been outraged. “Come home with us! Our women will take care of you!” Instead, they left, perfectly satisfied with the family’s adequate accommodations, and told their story to everyone they met.
This child was born for the likes of us!
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Hmmm. Makes me appreciate the fact that the word somehow made it to the Romans in authority…It was a roundabout way, for sure, but they still did hear and were upset enough to take drastic action. Re; the shepherds – we lived in Senegal, W. Africa, out in the Sahel for a time, with nomadic shepherds. I can still see their tough skin and grimy fingers. SO interesting the KING would be visited by them.
A King for all people.
Thank you for digging out these little-known facts for us. The Bible continually comes to life for us, doesn’t it! I feel blessed just reading that temple lambs may have been “swaddled” and kept in a manger.
Interestingly, stories of Jesus’ miraculous birth don’t seem to have surfaced until after Paul developed a religion about him. Don’t you find anything strange about that?
Thank you, Denis, for your comment. The “strange” part of the story is the prophecies of Jesus’ birth some 600 years before he actually appeared. He would be born of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10, born of a descendant of David (Jeremiah 23:5; Isaiah 11:1-5)), he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-2), he would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), That was established belief long before Paul arrived on the scene. One can also point to prophecies of Jesus’ death and resurrection that proved remarkably accurate. Paul’s letters were indeed written before the biographies/Gospels, but his communications were on-the-go missives that dealt with issues and problems in the burgeoning church. The Gospels were more studied compilations of eye-witness reports. Paul did not “develop” a religion; he had a direct encounter with the risen Jesus, and that set the course of the remainder of his life.