Jesus - The Reason for The Season

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HISTORICAL RECORD: Shepherds were in the field


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HISTORICAL RECORD: Shepherds were in the field - in December

Luke 2:8

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

The following is extracted from the obituary of Cannon H. B. Tristram:

Canon H. B. Tristram, F.R.S.

This well-known traveller, whose writings have done much to H. B. Tristrampopularize a knowledge of Palestine and other countries of the Nearer East, died at Durham on March 8 1906, at the ripe age of eighty-three years.

In 1856, being compelled by ill health to winter in a more southern climate, he went to Algeria, and there undertook the first of the many journeys which made him known to the public as a traveller. Quickly benefiting by the change of climate, he made many excursions into the interior, where full scope was given to his fondness for natural history and love of adventure, his wanderings leading him beyond the mountains to the northern borders of the Sahara. To this region, where French influence was then only beginning its forward advance, he devoted the whole of a second winter in the south, traversing districts hardly known to Europeans, and never before visited by an Englishman. In particular, he made the acquaintance of that interesting people the Beni Mzab, of whom he gave a striking account in the narrative of his journeys published in 1860. In this year he became Master of Greatham Hospital and Vicar of Greatham, which he continued to be until he removed to Durham in 1873. It was during this interval that he carried out his most extended journeys in Palestine and neighbouring countries, their outcome being his well-known works entitled 'The Land of Israel,' in which he gave an interesting account of the physical aspects of the Bible lauds, and 'The Land of Moab,' which described the discovery and identification of several important historical sites in the lands east of the Jordan.

Years ago, in large volumes entitled Picturesque Palestine, the much-traveled Canon H. B. Tristram, who had made frequent visits to Palestine, wrote as follows (Vol. I, page 124):

"A little knoll of olive trees surrounding a group of ruins marks the traditional site of the angels' appearance to the shepherds, Migdol Eder, 'the tower of the flock'. But the place where the first 'Gloria in excelsis' was sung was probably further east, where the bare hills of the wilderness begin, and a large tract is claimed by the Bethlehemites as a common pasturage. Here the sheep would be too far off to be led into the town at night; and exposed to the attacks of wild beasts from the eastern ravines, where the wolf and the jackal still prowl, and where of old the yet more formidable lion and bear had their covert, they needed the shepherds' watchful care during the winter and spring months, when alone pasturage is to be found on these bleak uplands". (Italics supplied).

Here an authority of no mean standing tells us that in the dry summer season the hills are well-nigh bare, affording insufficient pasture, so the shepherds then normally keep their sheep near the town and enfold them at night. But when the winter rains fall, the hills become clothed with grass, and the shepherds, knowing this, take their sheep further a field. Then, because it would make the sheep walk too far to reach the folds every evening, expending energy needlessly, they simply watch their flocks in the fields all night. This seems to be precisely what the evangelist Luke describes:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8).

The shepherds were not in the town; the flock was not in a fold in or near the town. They were afar in 'the field' or common pasturage. The sheep were taken there only in the winter, when the winter rains brought forth grass on the hills."

Once again, the claim that it was too cold for shepherds to be abiding in the fields in December is shown have no basis. In fact the historical record shows exactly the opposite: the shepherds would have been abiding in the fields in December with their flocks.

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