Shepherds' Field Bethlehem

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Shepherds’ Field Bethlehem

 

Location

 

1. There are two main sites that have their own Shepherds’ Field, where the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing Christ’s birth. Less than a half mile (1 km.) separates them from one another. 

 

  • Franciscan Shepherds’ Field (the most visited as it’s more easily accessed and is set up for tourists).

 

  • The Greek Orthodox Shepherds’ Field.

 

2. Both sites have substantial archaeological evidence and tradition supporting them. However, the Greek Orthodox site has more ruins and longer continuous usage.

 

3. Both places are located about a mile (2 km.) east of Bethlehem in the Beit Sahour village. The Church of the Nativity can be seen from each site.

 

4. Because the sites are so close to one another, it’s very possible that the angels’ appearance was seen from both places as there could have easily been numerous shepherds in close proximity. There are also various other ruins, churches, and monasteries in the area which testifies to the fact that this event happened here.

 

Historical Background

 

General Evidence

 

1. At the end of the 4th century, Jerome, who was translating the Hebrew and Greek Bible manuscripts into Latin at the Church of the Nativity, mentioned that the church in Jerusalem celebrated a feast-day at the Church of the Shepherds’ in this area on Christmas Eve.

 

2. In 384 AD, the pilgrim Egeria was shown the church called "At the Shepherds" in a valley near Bethlehem. She reported, "A big garden is there now, protected by a neat wall all around, and also there is a very splendid cave with an altar." 

 

3. In the 7th century, Bishop Archulph spoke of a burial place of three shepherds in the church at the Shepherds' Field.

 

4. In the 12th century, Peter the Deacon, a Benedictine monk, quoted an anonymous pilgrim who said, "Not far from there, there is a church called of the Shepherds, where a large garden is fully enclosed by a wall, and there, there is a very luminous grotto which has an altar where an angel, appearing to the shepherds in a vigil, announced the birth of Christ."

 

Franciscan Shepherds’ Field

 

1. It has a cave with a soot-blackened roof that has been partly enclosed to make a modern chapel.

 

2. A church built in the 4th century was erected by the cave. 

 

3. The church was destroyed by the time the Crusaders arrived, but pilgrims continued to visit and commemorate this site.

 

4. It has ruins of a monastery dating from the 4th century to the 7th century.

 

5. A large complex of caves containing Mikvahs, tunnels, and rooms can be found here.

 

6. Today, above the cave is a modern church shaped like a tent and decorated with a bronze angel that was built near the ruins of an ancient monastery in 1953.

 

Greek Orthodox Shepherds’ Field

 

1. The original church was in a cave located on the site.

 

2. Helena, the mother of Constantine, modified the cave into a church in 325 AD. It is the only original church Helena built that has survived to this day. 

 

3. In the 5th century, a barrel-vaulted roof was built on the cave-church, and a monastery was built on the site later.

 

4. Above the 5th century cave-church, a Byzantine chapel was built that was replaced by a larger church, which was destroyed in 614. The Byzantine church and monastery were rebuilt in the 7th century and survived until the 10th century.

 

5. In 1972, in order to build a new church above the cave-church, excavations verified the remains of three different churches dating to the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries.

 

6. The cave-church Helena built served the Orthodox community from the 4th century to 1955. 

 

7. Today, a new large church has been built, the 4th-century cave-church has been restored, and the remains of the upper church and monastery have been preserved.

 

8. According to tradition dating from the 4th century, this site was associated with the place where Jacob pastured his flock and built Mignal Eder (Tower of the Flocks) referred to in Genesis 35:16. The remains of the base of this tower are still visible today.

 

9. If Mignal Eder is the site where Jacob erected a tower in Rachel’s memory, this would also be the biblical location of Rachel’s Tomb, and Jacob would have lived in this area for some time.

 

Places of Interest

 

1. Location of Rachel’s Tomb today

 

2. Church of the Nativity

 

3. Franciscan Shepherds’ Field

 

4. Greek Orthodox Shepherds’ Field

  • Mignal Eder Tower

 

5. Fields of Boaz

Shepherds’ Fields in the Bible

 

1. The Greek Orthodox Church site is associated with Mignal Eder, the place Jacob erected a tower of memorial to Rachel after her death.
Genesis 35:16–21: Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath [Bethlehem], Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. 17 And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, "Do not fear, for you have another son." 18 And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20 and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel's tomb, which is there to this day. 21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

 

2. Ruth gleaned in the grain fields of Boaz and then married him (Boaz was the Great Grandfather of King David).
Ruth 2:1–2: Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

 

3. Angels appeared to shepherds out in the field watching their flocks by night.
Luke 2:8–14: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

 

4. The shepherds went in haste to see Jesus.
Luke 2:15–16: When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

 

5. The shepherds spread the good news of Jesus’ birth and returned glorifying and praising God.
Luke 2:17–20: And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

Faith Lesson from the Shepherds’ Fields

 

1. The shepherds were the first to hear the announcement of Jesus’ birth. 

 

2. Shepherds were considered among the lowliest people. To be a shepherd was to be a nobody. It was a boring, lonely, despised job no one wanted. 

 

3. Because Christ came to save all people, and to show his humility, the angels appeared to the shepherds as a sign that the “Good News” was available for all, from the lowliest shepherds to the noblest kings (the Magi).

 

4. Do we believe salvation is for everyone?

 

5. Are we humble like the shepherds were?

 

6. The shepherds went in haste to see Jesus. Do we show zeal and fervor in our desire to be with Jesus?

 

7. The shepherds spread the good news about Jesus. Do we share the good news (gospel) with others as well? 

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