“The Lord is my shepherd.” —Psalm 23.
Malinda Elizabeth Berry reminds us in a recent article, “Who Is My Shepherd?” in ChristianCentury.org (7/19/2018) of a frequent misconception about the gender of shepherds. In biblical times, shepherding was often performed by young girls as well as boys and men. Berry reminds us that beautiful Rachel was tending her father Laban’s sheep when Jacob first saw her and fell in love with her (Genesis 29:9-10). Zipporah and her sisters were trying to water their father’s sheep when Moses drove away some other shepherds who were bothering them (Exodus 2:16-17).
We may also infer from this that these young and fair maidens were just as masterful with a slingshot as young David!
Berry asks us if we have ever seen any Bible story pictures or paintings with girls as shepherds. Indeed, I could only find a few, including one by Hungarian painter Marko Andrea (1887) called Shepherd Girl. Berry then challenges us to consider having girls as well as boys dress up as shepherds in this year’s Christmas pageant! (At our staff meeting, Luke, our Family Ministries Coordinator at St. Mark’s, reminded me that, unknown to me, St. Mark’s has been including girl shepherds for years!)
For myself, this is one more example of a tradition that doesn’t ring true with the historical facts: that shepherds should be only boys or men. It makes me wonder why I didn’t think of girls as shepherds even after having read the stories of Rachel and Zipporah more times than I can remember. Now it is so obvious.
I hope you can share my excitement with Berry’s new information about stories we thought we knew so well. It reminds us not to gloss over old Bible stories, but rather to hope to see new insights each time we read them. This also encourages us to keep researching what others are discovering in their study of the Bible. It is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and continually teaching us new insights from old stories.
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A Spiritual Rx for Advent Christmas, and Epiphany
The Sequel to A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter
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