The account of the shepherds in Luke’s nativity passage (Luke 2:8-20) continues to fascinate modern readers. Receiving an angelic message that the Messiah was born in nearby Bethlehem, these shepherds left their closely guarded flocks of sheep to seek the good news themselves.

Theologians tell us that the angel’s message represented God’s annunciation of his Son’s birth to the common people of Israel, but who were these shepherds?

The shepherds of Bethlehem persisted in an honorable occupation that also claimed various Old Testament figures, including Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Moses, David, Job and Amos — just to name a few.

They largely kept flocks of the broad-tailed sheep (ovis laticaudata) that can still be found in the Holy Land today. Allusions to the highly prized “fat tail” of these sheep can be found in Exodus 29:22 and Leviticus 3:9.

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