Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology

 

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"SAMUEL SAID TO JESSE, 'ARE ALL THE YOUNG MEN HERE?'  THEN
JESSE SAID, 'THERE REMAINS YET THE YOUNGEST AND THERE HE IS,
KEEPING THE SHEEP.'  SAMUEL SAID TO JESSE, 'SEND AND BRING HIM,
FOR WE WILL NOT SIT DOWN TILL HE COMES HERE'."
FIRST SAMUEL 16 
              
                        

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's sing your favorite carol in Shepherds Fields

As the youngest of eight brothers, David was assigned the job of tending his family's flocks.  It's an outdoors job – in the scorching sun or in the pelting rain with many hours idling in the same place.  Yet it came with the responsibility for protecting his family's property from hungry predators.

Shepherds Fields in springtime

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Shepherds' fields in springtime

As David declared to Saul, the first king of Israel, whenever a lion or a bear came to take a lamb out of the flock, he was ready.  He struck it and delivered the lamb from its mouth.  Of course, he added, it was the Lord who delivered him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear.  David's rigorous practice and prowess as a shepherd led him to strike the Philistine giant with his first fatal "shot."

Sheep and goats grazing outside Bethlehem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Sheep and goats in springtime outside Bethlehem

In psalms, the shepherd is the protector and the provider and the director.  The prophet Zechariah sees the shepherd as a feeder and healer.  Jesus builds upon the metaphor as he describes himself as the good shepherd.  "I know my sheep and am known by my own. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father, and lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10)

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Yet, in Jesus' day, the real nitty gritty shepherds (as opposed to virtual shepherds of nostalgic memory) were denigrated.  They led their flocks to graze on other people's property and pilfered the produce of the animals in their care.  They were considered so untrustworthy that their testimony in a Jewish court was rejected.  They were even lumped together with tax-collectors and publicans (toll-collectors).  Yuk!
So when the good news of Jesus' birth was twittered (in person!) by an angel first to the shepherds, we sit up and take notice.
And there's no better place than Shepherds Fields to the east of Bethlehem, on the periphery of the Judean wilderness.  As you listen to that oh so familiar narrative in Luke 2, you may even be watching a shepherd tending his flock, as I did last July.

Bethlehem as seen from the east from shepherds fields

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Bethlehem as viewed from the east

As we look out from the area of caves no doubt used for shelter by shepherds over the centuries, as evidenced by their blackened limestone ceilings, we observe the sheep plodding through the fields just reaped of wheat, eating the lower parts of the stalks.  And we chuckle as we see the added benefit for the farmer – the sheep are fertilizing the soil at the same time!
Chapter 2, verse 8 of Luke's Gospel gives us a clue about the time of year Jesus was born. "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night."
During the winter, the shepherds would keep their animals inside caves such as the ones we see at Shepherds Fields.  There they would stay by the "door" of the cave (see John 10:7) to keep out the wolves, bears, hyenas, jackals, leopards or lions.  In the spring when the wheat is sprouting, the shepherds would be on the slopes.
But it's in summer after the wheat harvest, and in autumn before the winter wheat crop, that the shepherds were allowed to graze their flocks in the fields. That the shepherds were out in the fields at night suggests that we are talking about late summer or early fall.

Ruins of fifth century Monastery of the Flock in Shepherds Fields

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ruins of fifth century Monastery of the Flock by Shepherds Fields

Opposite the cave we see fifth century ruins of the Monastery of the Flock.  During the Crusader period, the site was called The Holy Pasture.  (Sounds British, doesn't it?)  The modern church, built in the 1950s and dedicated on Christmas Eve is in the shape of a shepherd's tent with five straight sides and five projecting sides.  It is filled with light, shining in from the dome.

Church at Shepherds Fields is shaped like a shepherd's tent

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Church at Shepherds Fields is shaped like a shepherd's tent

Come and sing your favorite carol in Shepherds Fields. Your Christmas's forever after will be flavored by scenes and sounds of your holy land pilgrimage.

Copyright 2013 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin, is a Connecticut-born Yankee guiding in and around Bethlehem for over three decades.  Over this past year she has spent quality quiet time in Shepherds' Fields with all her groups.  Gila loves working with groups thirsty for biblical insight, archeological adventures and old-fashioned fun.
The Gospel of Matthew places the birth of Jesus in the days of King Herod who built the largest palace of his world complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool and luxuriant pleasure gardens just a few miles from Bethlehem.  Read about the discovery of Herod's Tomb after a 150-year search
If you are a solo traveler heading for the holy land, you may want to book Gila for a fascinating day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, according to your own particular interests and pace. She will also guide you to understand the multi-cultural dynamics of the holy city.
 

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"Let's sing your favorite carol in Shepherds' Fields" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was "Let's rejoice in Jerusalem where Jesus wept."  This month's highlight is "Let's follow the spies into and out of Jericho."  Next month's highlight will be "Let's ascend the cliff of the scapegoat."

 

More on the life of Jesus
 

Let's focus on Jesus' Ministry from Mount Arbel

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Let's orient ourselves to Jesus' Jerusalem

Mt Arbel / Galilean ministry

Walk 1st C AD Bethsaida

Model of Jesus' Jerusalem

 

Let's attend Capernaum's synagogue

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Let's consider whether Jesus ever visited Sepphoris

The HQ:  Capernaum  

Hippos / Decapolis city

Sepphoris / hypocrites   

 


GILA YUDKIN • TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A • JERUSALEM • ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin