Christmas Story - Shepherds Visit Jesus

In the Bible we see there are a limited number of people who are present or who are called to be present at the birth of Jesus. One of the best-known groups are the shepherds who were tending their flocks nearby.  These people, most probably men, were not there by chance, but as a very special part of the Christmas Story. Below is an excerpt from my book "Bible Archaeology and The Christmas Story". As with many elements of the stories within the Bible, there is very often more to the story.

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

Luke 2:8-10

Another interesting element of the Christmas story to examine are the Shepherds who were tending
their flocks in a nearby field. When most of us think of this passage we think of just the random shepherds who just happened to be nearby, nothing really special about them. If we think about it at all we may try to make some reference between the shepherds coming to see Jesus and later Jesus being referred to as the Good Shepherd. In fact, this may be exactly what happened, and the exact reference Luke intended for us to make. There is however another possibility, one which offers a far deeper meaning to these shepherds and a very special significance they had to the story of Jesus’ birth.

The location of Jesus’ birth was told in Micah 5:8. In Micah 4:8 we find a mention of shepherds. “As for you, watchtower of the flock”. Very close to Bethlehem was a place called Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock. This seems to be a perfect match to the line from Micah 4:8. But just what was “the tower of the flock”?

The tower of the flock was a special hill or pasture where very special flocks of sheep were kept and tended. While the exact location of the tower of the flock is unknown today, it is known to have been very close to Bethlehem. It should also be noted that Bethlehem is very close to Jerusalem. The two cities are just over four miles apart. The flocks of sheep kept at the tower of the flock were indeed a very special flock. These were the pascal lambs which were destined to be used as a sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. Is it possible the shepherds who came to visit Jesus had left behind the pascal lambs to visit the final pascal lamb who would be offered up for all of us?

While Luke does not directly mention this possibility, very few things are recorded in the Bible by chance or without purpose. It is also possible first century readers would have had knowledge of the special herds as well as their proximity to Jesus and would have made the connection without being told. Either way, the possible connection is fascinating and offers yet another very special layer to the Christmas Story.

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Biblical Conquest of the Promised Land - Is there Proof?

The Bible tells us the story of how Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Eventually, under the command of Joshua, the Hebrew people invading the promised lands and conquered the lands that would become Israel. It should come as no surprise that critics of the Bible insist none of this ever happened.

These critics insists archaeologists have found no signs of battles, war, or the conquest of the cities of
Canaan during the time indicated in the Bible. If there was no conquest, no war, then the story of Joshua is not an historical event, but perhaps just a story of fiction created centuries later. These critics go on to say that since there was no conquest of the Promised Lands, there was no Joshua, there was also no Exodus, no Moses. These elements, like the conquest, were fiction created centuries later to provide Israel with a more dynamic history. It is their own domino theory showing the Bible cannot be trusted as a historically accurate text. Does this domino theory stand up to scrutiny? Is there in fact no evidence of a war in Canaan during the time of Joshua? Fortunately, there are ancient records which can help shed light on what actually took pace.

Pharaoh Akhenaten instituted a number of reforms and changes which were considered radical by the Egyptian citizens. Akhenaten did away with almost all of the traditional Egyptian gods and centered on worshipping a single god, Alten. Some scholars have put forward a theory that Akhenaten made the change to a monotheistic society as a result of seeing the power of the Hebrew God. It is proposed that Akhenaten was aware of the recent history of Egypt during the Exodus and believed he could have that same type of power by worshipping only one god. In fairness, it should be said this theory is not widely supported.

Alten - is also known as Aton, Atonu, and Itn. This was a term for the disc of the sun and was traditionally Ra, the sun god in ancient Egyptian religion.  

The Pharaoh's attempt to do away with the ancient gods was extremely unpopular with the people, but it was not his only act that caused the people to despise him. The Pharaoh also decided to move the traditional capital of Egypt from Thebes to a brand now city he would have built. The city of Amarna was the capital of Egypt for just over a decade. So unpopular were the religious reforms and new capital that immediately upon the death of Pharaoh Akhenaten, the reforms were done away with and the old gods restored. In addition, the city of Amarna was abandoned and mostly destroyed by citizens as they departed.

Amarna - Built as the new capital of Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. Building was begun in 1346 B.C. under the orders of Pharaoh Akhenaten. The city was abandoned shortly after the Pharaoh's death in 1332 B.C.

In 1887 a group of villagers digging in the ruins of Amarna discovered a number of cuneiform tablets. It turned out the villagers had actually discovered the records hall for Amarna. In all there were 382 tablets discovered. These tablets are now housed in a variety of museums and collections. Most of these tablets concern normal correspondence between the kings in Canaan and the Egyptian Pharaoh. It should be noted that most of the region of Canaan was considered the territory of Egypt. The various smaller kingdoms traded with Egypt and had regular diplomatic correspondence with the Pharaoh. 

The relatively short time span in which the city of Amarna was occupied allows the dating of the tablets with a high degree of accuracy. The city was abandoned shortly after 1332 B.C. so the tablets could not have arrived after that time period or before 1346 B.C. when the city was just being built. This unusual situation takes out any guesswork about when the tablets were received and allows a clear timeline for the events they record.

While most of the tablets, known as the Amarna Tablets, were normal letters of trade or communication between the leaders, some were very different. On a number of the tablets the writing told of an invading people known as the Habiru. While this term was used to describe a certain type of person, an outlaw or rebel, it was not known to be used to describe an organized group. While there is certainly disagreeing viewpoints, many people point out the similarity between the term Habiru and the term Hebrew. While it cannot be fully confirmed, they believe the term Habiru is actually the Hebrew people, engaging in a war to conquer Canaan, just as the Bible records.

Habiru a term often used in 2nd-millennium BC in the Fertile Crescent for rebels, outlaws, raiders, mercenaries, servants, slaves, and laborers.

The tablets that make reference to the Habiru are very different from the other tablets. The kings of Canaan are pleading with Egypt for help against the invading Habiru. Some of the tablets tell of the cities and areas that have already fallen to the Habiru. Others were desperately seeking military help from the Pharaoh. Some ask for soldiers while others request archers to help defeat the enemy.

 “There is war against me from the mountains”

 “Save his land from the power of the Habiru,” for the war “is severe"

 "...now the Habiru have taken the very cities of the [Egyptian] king. Not a single mayor remains to the king, my lord; all are lost”

 “The king has no lands. The Habiru-people plunder all the lands of the king….if there are no archers sent here, then lost are the lands of the king”

"King, the war is severe. Abdi-AĊĦirta has taken all my cities; Byblos alone remains to me. You yourself have been negligent of your cities so that the Habiru takes them."

"From Rib-Hadda mayor of Byblos (Gebal): Sumur, your garrison-city, have joined the Habiru, and you have done nothing. Send a large force of archers."

These examples form the Amarna Tablets show there was a significant threat to the kingdoms of Canaan from the Habiru. It should also be pointed out that none of the communications are from the cities Joshua and the Hebrews defeated early in the conquest of the Promised Land. It is believed this is because they fell to the Hebrews (Habiru) before they could send for help. Once the cities such as Jerico began to be defeated the other kings realized the threat and sent messages to Egypt for help. It is unclear exactly why, but there is no evidence to indicate Egypt ever offered and type of military aide against the Habiru. Could this be because the memory of the events surrounding the Exodus were still in the minds of some and the Pharoah had no desire to confront the Hebrews again?

Arguments can be made that whatever the reason Egypt did not come to the aide of their allies in Canaan it had nothing to do with any memory of the Hebrews. It can also be argued that the Habiru are not the Hebrew people at all. While arguments can be made, the history as recorded on these tablets tell of a large and apparently very capable force invading Canaan at the time the Bible tells us Josua was leading the Hebrew people into the Promised Land. Can it all be just a coincidence?

What of the original argument of the critics? The argument that says there is no archaeological evidence of a war or invasion of Canaan. The Amarna Tablets, found in the hall of records in Egypt which can be positively dated to the time of the conquest, tell of an invasion and records the desperate pleas of the Kings of Canaan for help. These tablets make it clear there was an armed conflict in Canaan at the time the Bible tells us the conquest was taking place. While some elements are in question, the argument of no conflict taking place is an empty one and holds no merit. There was most certainly a significant military invasion of Canaan at the appropriate time in history. The Amarna tablets help prove the critics wrong and gives us adequate reason to believe the historical accuracy of the Biblical texts. 

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Through the Ages

  Geologic Time 4.6 Million B.C. -to- 2.6 Million B.C. Stone Age Palaeolithic 2.6 Million B.C. -to- 10,000 B.C. Mesolithic 10,000 B.C. -to- ...