Topics Manners & Customs
Excerpts from Manners and Customs of Bible Lands
By Fred H. Wight
Shepherd life; the care of sheep and goats
Sheep in the land of israel
LARGE NUMBER OF SHEEP IN PALESTINE. From the days of Abraham down to modern times, sheep have abounded in the Holy Land. The Arabs of Bible lands have largely been dependent through the centuries upon sheep for their living. The Jews of Bible times were first shepherds and then farmers, but they never abandoned entirely their shepherd life. The large number of sheep in the land can be understood when it is realized that Job had fourteen thousand sheep (Job. 42:12), and that King Solomon at the Temple's dedication, sacrificed one hundred and twenty thousand sheep (1Kings 8:63).
Fat-tailed sheep the variety mostly in use
The fat tail provides reserve strength for the sheep, much like the hump does on a camel. There is energy in the tail. When the sheep is butchered, this fatty tail is quite valuable. People will buy the tail, or part of it, and use it for frying. That this variety of sheep was in use in ancient times is seen by references in the Pentateuch to the fat tail of the sheep. "Also thou shalt take of the ram the fat, and the fat tail, and the fat that covereth the inwards" (Exod. 29:22, A. R. V.). "The fat tail entire, he shall take away hard by the backbone" (Lev. 3:9, A. R. V.).
Youngest boy often the shepherd
The youngest boy in the family becomes shepherd of the sheep, especially when the Arab peasant is a shepherd as well as being a farmer of grain. As the older son grows up he transfers his energies from sheep raising to helping the father with sowing, plowing, and harvesting the crops, and passes on the shepherd's task to the next younger boy. And so the job is passed from older to younger until the youngest of all becomes the family shepherd. Such must have been the custom when Jesse raised his family of eight sons. "And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold, he keepeth the sheep" (1Sam. 16:11). David, being the youngest of eight sons, became the family shepherd. His experiences as a shepherd lad were often used to illustrate his beautiful psalms. His Shepherd Psalm has become the classic of the ages.
The shepherd's garb
The dress of an Arab shepherd lad is a simple tunic of cotton that is girded around his body by a leathern girdle, and his outer garment, called aba , is often of camel's hair, like that of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:4). The aba keeps the boy warm, is able to shed the rain, and at night is used as a blanket in which to wrap himself.
The shepherds scrip
This is a bag made of dried skin. When he leaves home to go and tend the sheep, his mother will put into it some bread, cheese, dried fruit, and probably some olives . It was into this bag that David placed the five smooth stones when he went to battle with the giant Goliath (1Sam. 17:40).
The shepherd's rod
It is like a policeman's club. It is often made of oak wood and has a knob on the end of it. Into this knob nails are sometimes driven so as to make a better weapon. It is very useful for protection, and no shepherd would be without it. It was no doubt the rod that David used in protecting his sheep from wild animals (1Sam. 17:34-36). He mentions both the rod and the staff in his Shepherd Psalm (Psa. 23:4).
The prophet Ezekiel refers to the custom of the sheep passing under the shepherd's rod for the purpose of counting or inspecting them. "I will cause you to pass under the rod" (Ezek. 20:37). The law of Moses speaks of tithing the flock for a specific purpose at such a time. "And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord" (Lev. 27:32). To do this Jewish writers tell us that the shepherd allowed the animals to come by him as they would under the rod at a narrow entrance. The head of the rod was dipped into some coloring fluid and was allowed to come down upon every tenth one that passed by, thus marking him as the one to be given to the Lord for sacrificial purposes.
The scepter , which the ancient kings of the East usually had with them, had its origin in the shepherds rod . Kings were considered to be shepherds of their people. Thus the scepter, or rod, of the king became a symbol of protection, power, and authority. Young translates Micah 7:14: "Rule thou thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine inheritance."
The shepherd's staff
David mentions the staff along with the rod in his Shepherd Psalm (Psa. 23:4.). It is a stick five or six feet long and sometimes but not always has a crook at the end of it. It is used like Western men would use a cane or walking stick. It is useful in handling the sheep, and also for protection.
The shepherd's sling
It was a simple affair, being composed of two strings of sinew, rope, or leather, and a receptacle of leather to receive the stone. It was swung a time or two around the head and then was discharged by letting go one of the strings. The shepherd, in addition to using his sling against wild animals or robbers, found it very handy in directing the sheep. A stone could be dropped close to a sheep that was lagging behind and startle it into coming along with the rest of the flock. Or if one would get away in another direction, then a stone would be slung so as to drop just beyond the straying sheep, and thus bring him back. It was the shepherd's sling that young David used in slaying the giant Goliath (1Sam. 17:40-49). In her plea to David, Abigail was no doubt contrasting two items of his shepherd's equipment when she said, "The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling" (1Sam. 25:29). The "bundle of life" could be translated either "the pouch of life," or "the bag of life," and most probably refers to the shepherd's scrip. David's enemies were to be like the stones in his sling, being that which was to be thrown away; whereas David's soul would be like the provisions in his scrip, which were to be kept and guarded by the Lord himself.
The shepherd's flute
A dual-piped flute of reed is generally carried by the Arab shepherd. It is true that minor strains of music come from this flute, but the heart of the shepherd is stirred, and the sheep of the flock are refreshed by the invigorating music that comes from this simple instrument. There can be little question but that David used such an instrument when he was with his flock, in the same way the shepherd lads have done for centuries around Bethlehem. It is of interest to know that the word in the Arabic language which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for "Psalm" is mazmoor , which means "played on a pipe or flute."
Food planned for the flock
One of the principal duties at all seasons of the year is for the shepherd to plan food for his flock. In the springtime there is an abundance of green pasture, and usually the sheep are allowed to graze near to the village where the shepherd's home is located. After the grain is reaped, and the poor have had an opportunity to glean what is left for them, then the shepherd brings in his flock, and the sheep feed on certain fresh growths, or dried blades, or an occasional ear of grain that the reapers may have left, or was overlooked by the gleaners. When this source of food is exhausted then the pasture is sought in other places. The wilderness of Judea which is located along the western side of the Jordan Valley is carpeted in the spring with a certain amount of grass and this turns into standing hay as the hot weather comes, and this becomes food for the sheep during part of the summer.
Scripture often refers to shepherds looking for pasture for their flocks. "And they went to the entrance of Gedor, even unto the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks" (1Chron. 4:39). The Psalmist thanks God for the pasturage which the Lord as Shepherd provides for His people: "So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever" (Psa. 79:13).
In the late autumn or winter months, there are times when the shepherd can find no pasturage that is available for his flock, and then he must become responsible for feeding the animals himself. If the flock is small there may be times when it is stabled within the peasant house, and the family lives on a sort of mezzanine floor above it. At, such seasons of the year the shepherd must provide the food. This is what Isaiah meant when he said: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd" (Isa. 40:11). In some sections of Syria, flocks are taken at this season to places in the mountain country, where the shepherd busies himself with the bushy trees, cutting down branches that have green leaves or tender twigs, that the sheep and goats can eat. Micah was probably speaking of this custom of providing food for the sheep, when he said: "Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage" (Micah 7:14).
Water provided for the flock
In selecting pasturage for the flock, it is an absolute necessity that water be provided, and that it be easy of access. Often flocks are stationed near to a stream of running water. But the sheep are apt to be afraid of drinking water that moves quickly, or that is agitated. Therefore the shepherd looks for pools of water, or provides some quiet place where they may quench their thirst. How appropriate then are the words concerning the divine Shepherd: "He leadeth me beside the still waters" (Psa. 23:2). But when all such watering places are dried up in the heat of summer, as is often the case in Palestine, then wells are used. Usually a large rock is placed over the mouth of the well and this must be removed, as Jacob did, before the sheep can be watered (Gen. 29:8-10). Noontide is usually the time for watering the sheep. When Jacob was at the well, he said, "Lo, it is yet high day ... water ye the sheep" (Gen. 29:7). The matter of water supply plays an important part in locating the flock for pasturage.
A simple improvised sheepfold
Such is sometimes made by the shepherd when he is a distance from his home, or especially when he may be in the territory of mountains. It is a temporary affair that can be taken down easily when it comes time to move on to another location. A fence is built of tangled thorn bushes or rude bowers. This is all the protection that is needed, as the shepherds often sleep with their flocks when the weather permits. Ezekiel mentions such a sheepfold when he predicts the future of Israel: "I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be" (Ezek. 34:14) .
Sheep in Palestine and vicinity have always been valuable because of the important products that are derived from them.
Wool has been a valuable product in Bible lands. In ancient times most of the clothing which the Israelites wore was made of wool. The large outer garment or mantle was usually woolen. The shearing months in Palestine are May and June. The sheep are washed before they are sheared. Solomon's Song speaks of "a flock of ewes that are newly shorn, which are come up from the washing" (Cant. 4:2, A. R. V.). The color of the wool varies somewhat according to the color of the animal shorn, but white wool is considered to be most valuable. The prophet compares sins forgiven with the whiteness of wool (Isa. 1:18).
From ancient times to modern days it has often been customary for pastoral people to make for themselves coats out of the skins of the sheep with wool still adhering to the skins. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells of the persecuted heroes of faith, saying of some of them that they "wandered about in sheepskins" (Heb. 11:37). The skin of sheep was at times tanned and then used as leather, but the skin of the goats was superior to that of sheep for this purpose.
Sheep for meat or sacrificial purposes
Sheep were often eaten when meat was desired. For the ordinary person, meat was not on the daily menu, but was only used on special occasions of rejoicing, as when a feast was prepared, a wedding supper, or when a guest of honor was being entertained. The animal was usually cooked as soon as it was killed, and then was often boiled, although sometimes it was roasted.
The sheep was used in Bible times more than any other animal for sacrificial purposes. A young male lamb was used in most cases as a thanksgiving offering, as atonement for transgression, or as redemption of a more valuable animal. The offering of the Passover Lamb was the most important religious act of the year. This lamb had to be a male, which was selected after minute examination, in order that it be free from any blemish, and it was to be a first year lamb. It was killed on the fourteenth of the month Abib (after the Babylonian captivity Nisan, about the equivalent of our April), and the blood was sprinkled with hyssop. In Egypt the blood was sprinkled on the lintels and doorposts of the houses, but in Canaan it was sprinkled on the altar. The meat was roasted with fire, rather than boiled, and not a bone was broken, as was customary when it was boiled. It was eaten by the entire household in the spirit of haste, as if a journey was being started. Anything left of it was burned with fire, and not left over for the next day. The Feast of the Passover was the most important of all the Jewish annual feasts, and formed the background for the Christian ordinance of the Lord's Supper (cf. Exod. 12; Lev. 23:5 f.; Matt. 26:17-29).
Milk from the sheep is especially rich, and in the Orient is considered to be of more value than that of the cattle. Milk is seldom drunk in its fresh condition, but rather is made into "leben," or into cheese. Buttermilk is also much used.
The horns of the rams are considered to be of great value. In many Western lands, growers of sheep have endeavored to develop a hornless breed, but in the East the horns are thought of as an important part of the animal. The ram's horn has been used chiefly as a vessel in which liquids have been carried. For carrying purposes a wooden plug is driven into the large end of the horn so as to close it, and sometimes it is covered with raw hide to hold it in place. The small part of the pointed end of the horn is cut off, and the opening closed with a stopper. The ram's horn was used in Bible times to carry oil. Samuel was told to take his horn of oil and anoint David to be the future king (1Sam. 16:1). Solomon was anointed king by the oil in the horn of Zadok the priest (1Kings 1:39). Reference has already been made to the shepherd's use of oil with his sheep, and this was carried in a ram's horn.
The ram's horn was also made into a trumpet and has been called by the Jews, Shofar . The Mosaic Law called for the sounding of rams' horns at certain times. Each year of Jubilee was ushered in by the blowing of these horns. "Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land" (Lev. 25:9). In connection with the Feast of Trumpets there was to be "a day of blowing the trumpets" (Num. 29:1). The most famous use of the rams' horns was in connection with the encircling and destruction of the city of Jericho by Joshua's army. "And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns; and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets" (Josh. 6:4). The trumpets were also used as signals to gather the people (Jer. 4:5).
The ram's horn trumpet measures about eighteen inches long and is in one piece. It is made from the left horn of the fat-tailed sheep, which is "not spiral but flattish, curved backwards, and forming nearly a circle, the point passing under the ear. This structure, added to the large size of the horn, adapts it well for its purpose. In order to bring it to the proper shape, the horn is softened by heat (i.e. hot water) and then modeled into the very form which was used by the Jewish priests."
Care Of Goats-leadership Ability
There are many goats being cared for by Bible land shepherds. A shepherd looks after them much as he would care for a flock of sheep. Sometimes the goats belong to one flock along with the sheep, and in this case:
It is usually a he-goat that is the special leader of the whole (Jer. 50:8; Prov. 30:31), walking before it as gravely as a sexton before the white flock of a church choir. It is from this custom that Isaiah speaks of kings as "the he-goats of the earth" (Isa. 14:9, A. R. V., M.), a name applied to them by Zechariah also (Zech. 10:3), and to Alexander the Great by Daniel, who describes him as a he-goat from the west, with a notable horn between his eyes (Dan. 8:5): a fitting symbol of his irresistible power at the head of the Macedonian army.
How goats differ from sheep
Most of the Palestinian and Syrian sheep are white, whereas most of the goats are black. The goats like the slopes of the rocky mountains, whereas the sheep prefer the plains or mountain valleys. The goats are especially fond of young leaves of trees, but the sheep would rather have grass. Goats will feed during all the day without the heat of summer affecting them; but when the sunshine is hot, the sheep will lie down under a tree, or in the shade of a rock, or in a rude shelter prepared by the shepherd for that purpose. Song of Solomon makes mention of this rest time for the sheep: "Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon" (Cant. 1:7). The goats are bolder, more venturesome, more playful, more apt to clamber to dangerous places, more apt to break into the grainfields, more headstrong, more vigorous, and more difficult to control than are the sheep.
Use of goat's milk
The milk derived from goats is especially excellent and rich. Most of the "leben" used today and in Bible times is made from goat's milk. Buttermilk and cheese are also utilized as milk products. The book of Proverbs speaks of the importance of goat's milk to the Hebrew people: "Thou shalt have goat's milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance of thy maidens" (Prov. 27:27).
Use of the meat of kids
The meat of an adult male goat is of course rather tough, and so not ordinarily used. The female goats are seldom killed because they are needed to increase the flock. Thus it is the meat of the young male kid that is largely used in Bible lands. In Old Testament times, when visitors were entertained, often a kid was made ready for the meal (cf. Judges 6:19). The prevalence of the flesh of kids in Christ's day is brought out by the reference of the Prodigal's brother. "And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends" (Luke 15:29). There is sarcasm in this reproval, for the kid was of less value at a banquet than would have been a lamb, and considerably inferior to the fatted calf , which was killed and served on only special occasions to do honor to a very special guest. The brother was objecting to the father serving the fatted calf at the banquet honoring the return of the Prodigal, whereas he as the elder brother had not been given even a kid to make merry with his friends.
Use of goats' hair and goats' skin
The hair of the goat was considered to be of great value to the Hebrew people. When the materials were brought for the construction of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, only the finest and the costliest that could be obtained were accepted; and goats' hair was included in the list of materials the children of Israel offered unto the Lord. See (Exod. 35:23). Tabernacle curtains were made of goats' hair (Exod. 26:7). The tents of the Bedouin Arabs are made of goats' hair, just as were similar dwellings in Old and New Testament times. Goats' skins have been used widely in Bible lands for leather, and are considered to be better for this purpose than the skin of sheep. This leather is used in making the Oriental "bottle" for carrying or storing water or other liquids.
Use of goats for sacrifices
The Levitical Code often allowed the Hebrews a choice of a sheep or of a goat for the offering. "If his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice" (Lev. 1:10). On the Day of Atonement, it was required that a goat be sacrificed by the high priest, and that another goat should be "the scapegoat." "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness" (Lev. 16:22). Moses had ordered that the scapegoat should be taken out into the wilderness and turned loose. But in order to prevent its return to Jerusalem, it became customary to lead the creature to the height of a mountain, where it was pushed over and would be certainly killed. This was the symbol of the forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Christ. Although John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, he may have had in mind also the picture of the scapegoat when he said: "Behold, that is God's Lamb, who takes and bears away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, Centenary, Montgomery).
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