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Shepherd

shepherds sheep testament birth

Shepherds and sheep feature frequently in early Christian and medieval art in a variety of contexts, both narrative and symbolic. Sheep are often mentioned in the Bible, and their importance (for sacrifice, food, and wool) is emphasized throughout the Old Testament. Among the many figures associated with sheep in the Old Testament (and who may be recognizable in their portrayals as shepherds) are Abel , the youthful *David, and *Jacob. In a more symbolic context, *God is also referred to as a shepherd (e.g., Psalm 23:1), and leaders such as *Moses are likened to shepherds who guide their flocks. *Ezekiel 34 also contains a description of poor leaders, bad shepherds, who misuse their office and neglect their responsibilities.


The duties and responsibilities of shepherds are themes further developed in the New Testament and Jesus’ reference to himself as the *Good Shepherd (e.g., *John 10:11) gave rise to the early established prevalence of sheep and shepherd symbolism in Christian art


. Shepherds also feature in the New Testament as having been early alerted of the birth of Jesus and among the first to visit the *Holy Family. Apocryphal sources also describe the annunciation (of *Mary’s birth) to *Joachim while he was sojourning with shepherds; hence this annunciation scene may also be shown in a landscape containing shepherds and sheep.


Several saints may also be represented with sheep (or lambs), e.g., *Agnes, *Francis, *Geneviève, *John the Baptist, and *Margaret. The chaste *Susanna (Old Testament) may also be shown with, or as, a lamb.

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