A Description of the
Habits and Uses of every living
Creature mentioned in the Scriptures,
Explanation of Passages in the Old and New Testament in
which reference is made to them.
J. G. WOOD,
AUTHOR OF “HOMES WITHOUT HANDS,”
“THE ILLUSTRATED NATURAL HISTORY,” ETC.
Importance of Sheep in the Bible—The Sheep the chief wealth of the pastoral tribes—Arab shepherds of the present day—Wanderings of the flocks in search of food—Value of the wells—How the Sheep are watered—The shepherd usually a part owner of the flocks—Structure of the sheepfolds—The rock caverns of Palestine—David’s adventure with Saul—Use of the dogs—The broad-tailed Sheep, and its peculiarities.
We now come to a subject which will necessarily occupy us for some little time.
There is, perhaps, no animal which occupies a larger space in the Scriptures than the Sheep. Whether in religious, civil, or domestic life, we find that the Sheep is bound up with the Jewish nation in a way that would seem almost incomprehensible, did we not recall the light which the New Testament throws upon the Old, and the many allusions to the coming under the figure of the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world.
In treating of the Sheep, it will be perhaps advisable to begin the account by taking the animal simply as one of those creatures which have been domesticated from time immemorial, dwelling slightly on those points on which the sheep-owners of the old days differed from those of our own time.
The only claim to the land seems, in the old times of the Scriptures, to have lain in cultivation, or perhaps in the land immediately surrounding a well. But any one appears to have taken a piece of ground and cultivated it, or to have dug a well wherever he chose, and thereby to have acquired a sort of right to the soil. The same custom prevails at the present day among the cattle-breeding races of Southern Africa. The banks of rivers, on account of their superior fertility, were considered as the property of the chiefs who lived along their course, but the inland soil was free to all.
Had it not been for this freedom of the land, it would have been impossible for the great men to have nourished the enormous flocks and herds of which their wealth consisted; but, on account of the lack of ownership of the soil, a flock could be moved to one district after another as fast as it exhausted the herbage, the shepherds thus unconsciously imitating the habits of the gregarious animals, which are always on the move from one spot to another.
Pasturage being thus free to all, Sheep had a higher comparative value than is the case with ourselves, who have to pay in some way for their keep. There is a proverb in the Talmud which may be curtly translated, “Land sell, sheep buy.”
The value of a good pasture-ground for the flocks is so great, that its possession is well worth a battle, the shepherds being saved from a most weary and harassing life, and being moreover fewer in number than is needed when the pasturage is scanty Sir S. Baker, in his work on Abyssinia, makes some very interesting remarks upon the Arab herdsmen, who are placed in conditions very similar to those of the Israelitish shepherds.
“The Arabs are creatures of necessity; their nomadic life is compulsory, as the existence of their flocks and herds depends upon the pasturage. Thus, with the change of seasons they must change their localities according to the presence of fodder for their cattle…. The Arab cannot halt in one spot longer than the pasturage will support his flocks. The object of his life being fodder, he must wander in search of the ever-changing supply. His wants must be few, as the constant change of encampment necessitates the transport of all his household goods; thus he reduces to a minimum his domestic furniture and utensils….
“This striking similarity to the descriptions of the Old Testament is exceedingly interesting to a traveller when residing among these curious and original people. With the Bible in one’s hand, and these unchanged tribes before the eyes, there is a thrilling illustration of the sacred record; the past becomes the present, the veil of three thousand years is raised, and the living picture is a witness to the exactness of the historical description. At the same time there is a light thrown upon many obscure passages in the Old Testament by the experience of the present customs and figures of speech of the Arabs, which are precisely those that were practised at the periods described….
“Should the present history of the country be written by an Arab scribe, the style of the description would be precisely that of the Old Testament. There is a fascination in the unchangeable features of the Nile regions. There are the vast pyramids that have defied time, the river upon which Moses was cradled in infancy, the same sandy desert through which he led his people, and the watering-places where their flocks were led to drink. The wild and wandering Arabs, who thousands of years ago dug out the wells in the wilderness, are represented by their descendants, unchanged, who now draw water from the deep wells of their forefathers, with the skins that have never altered their fashion.
“The Arabs, gathering with their goats and sheep around the wells to-day, recall the recollection of that distant time when ‘Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east. And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and lo! there were three flocks of sheep lying by it,’ &c. The picture of that scene would be an illustration of Arab daily life in the Nubian deserts, where the present is a mirror of the past.”
Owing to the great number of Sheep which they have to tend, and the peculiar state of the country, the life of the shepherd in Palestine is even now very different from that of an English shepherd, and in the days of the early Scriptures the distinction was even more distinctly marked.
Sheep had to be tended much more carefully than we generally think. In the first place, a thoughtful shepherd had always one idea before his mind,—namely, the possibility of obtaining sufficient water for his flocks. Even pasturage is less important than water, and, however tempting a district might be, no shepherd would venture to take his charge there if he were not sure of obtaining water. In a climate such as ours, this ever-pressing anxiety respecting water can scarcely be appreciated, for in hot climates not only is water scarce, but it is needed far more than in a temperate and moist climate. Thirst does its work with terrible quickness, and there are instances recorded where men have sat down and died of thirst in sight of the river which they had not strength to reach.
In places therefore through which no stream runs, the wells are the great centres of pasturage, around which are to be seen vast flocks extending far in every direction. These wells are kept carefully closed by their owners, and are only opened for the use of those who are entitled to water their flocks at them.
Noontide is the general time for watering the Sheep, and towards that hour all the flocks may be seen converging towards their respective wells, the shepherd at the head of each flock, and the Sheep following him. See how forcible becomes the imagery of David, the shepherd poet, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures (or, in pastures of tender grass): He leadeth me beside the still waters” (Ps. xxiii. 1, 2). Here we have two of the principal duties of the good shepherd brought prominently before us,—namely, the guiding of the Sheep to green pastures and leading them to fresh water. Very many references are made in the Scriptures to the pasturage of sheep, both in a technical and a metaphorical sense; but as our space is limited, and these passages are very numerous, only one or two of each will be taken.
In the story of Joseph, we find that when his father and brothers were suffering from the famine, they seem to have cared as much for their Sheep and cattle as for themselves, inasmuch as among a pastoral people the flocks and herds constitute the only wealth. So, when Joseph at last discovered himself, and his family were admitted to the favour of Pharaoh, the first request which they made was for their flocks. “Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.
“They said moreover unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”
[Genesis 46:33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation? 46:34 That ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.
47:1 Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan; and, behold, they are in the land of Goshen.
47:2 And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.
47:3 And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.
47:4 They said morever unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen.
47:5 And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee: 47:6 The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.
47:7 And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.]
This one incident, so slightly remarked in the sacred history, gives a wonderfully clear notion of the sort of life led by Jacob and his sons. Forming, according to custom, a small tribe of their own, of which the father was the chief, they led a pastoral life, taking their continually increasing herds and flocks from place to place as they could find food for them. For example, at the memorable time when the story of Joseph begins, he was sent by his father to his brothers, who were feeding the flocks, and he wandered about for some time, not knowing where to find them. It may seem strange that he should be unable to discover such very conspicuous objects as large flocks of sheep and goats, but the fact is that they had been driven from one pasture-land to another, and had travelled in search of food all the way from Shechem to Dothan.
In 1 Chron. iv. 39, 40, we read of the still pastoral Israelites that “they went to the entrance of Gedor, even unto the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks. And they found fat pasture and good, and the land was wide, and quiet, and peaceable.”
How it came to be quiet and peaceable is told in the context. It was peaceable simply because the Israelites were attracted by the good pasturage, attacked the original inhabitants, and exterminated them so effectually that none were left to offer resistance to the usurpers. And we find from this passage that the value of good pasture-land where the Sheep could feed continually without being forced to wander from one spot to another was so considerable, that the owners of the flocks engaged in war, and exposed their own lives, in order to obtain so valuable a possession.
We will now look at one or two of the passages that mention watering the Sheep—a duty so imperative on an Oriental shepherd, and so needless to our own.
In the first place we find that most graphic narrative which occurs in Gen. xxix. to which a passing reference has already been made. When Jacob was on his way from his parents to the home of Laban in Padan-aram, he came upon the very well which belonged to his uncle, and there saw three flocks of Sheep lying around the well, waiting until the proper hour arrived. According to custom, a large stone was laid over the well, so as to perform the double office of keeping out the sand and dust, and of guarding the precious water against those who had no right to it. And when he saw his cousin Rachel arrive with
 the flock of which she had the management, he, according to the courtesy of the country and the time, rolled away the ponderous barrier, and poured out water into the troughs for the Sheep which Rachel tended.
About two hundred years afterwards, we find Moses performing a similar act. When he was obliged to escape into Midian on account of his fatal quarrel with a tyrannical Egyptian, he sat down by a well, waiting for the time when the stone might be rolled away, and the water be distributed. Now it happened that this well belonged to Jethro, the chief priest of the country, whose wealth consisted principally of Sheep. He entrusted his flock to the care of his seven daughters, who led their Sheep to the well and drew water as usual into the troughs. Presuming on their weakness, other shepherds came and tried to drive them away, but were opposed by Moses, who drove them away, and with his own hands watered the flock.
Now in both these examples we find that the men who performed the courteous office of drawing the water and pouring it into the sheep-troughs married afterwards the girl to whose charge the flocks had been committed. This brings us to the Oriental custom which has been preserved to the present day.
The wells at which the cattle are watered at noon-day are the meeting-places of the tribe, and it is chiefly at the well that the young men and women meet each other. As each successive flock arrives at the well, the number of the people increases, and while the sheep and goats lie patiently round the water, waiting for the time when the last flock shall arrive, and the stone be rolled off the mouth of the well, the gossip of the tribe is discussed, and the young people have ample opportunity for the pleasing business of courtship.
As to the passages in which the wells, rivers, brooks, water-springs, are spoken of in a metaphorical sense, they are too numerous to be quoted.
And here I may observe, that in reality the whole of Scripture has its symbolical as well as its outward signification; and that, until we have learned to read the Bible strictly according to the spirit, we cannot understand one-thousandth part of the mysteries which it conceals behind its veil of language; nor can we appreciate one-thousandth part of the treasures of wisdom which lie hidden in its pages
Another duty of the shepherd of ancient Palestine was to guard his flock from depredators, whether man or beast. Therefore the shepherd was forced to carry arms; to act as a sentry during the night; and, in fact, to be a sort of irregular soldier. A fully-armed shepherd had with him his bow, his spear, and his sword, and not even a shepherd lad was without his sling and the great quarter-staff which is even now universally carried by the tribes along the Nile—a staff as thick as a man’s wrist, and six or seven feet in length. He was skilled in the use of all these weapons, especially in that of the sling.
In these days, the sling is only considered as a mere toy, whereas, before the introduction of fire-arms, it was one of the most formidable weapons that could be wielded by light troops. Round and smooth stones weighing three or four ounces were the usual projectiles, and, by dint of constant practice from childhood, the slingers could aim with a marvellous precision. Of this fact we have a notable instance in David, who knew that the sling and the five stones in the hand of an active youth unencumbered by armour, and wearing merely the shepherd’s simple tunic, were more than a match for all the ponderous weapons of the gigantic Philistine.
It has sometimes been the fashion to attribute the successful aim of David to a special miracle, whereas those who are acquainted with ancient weapons know well that no miracle was wrought, because none was needed; a good slinger at that time being as sure of his aim as a good rifleman of our days.
The sling was in constant requisition, being used both in directing the Sheep and in repelling enemies: a stone skilfully thrown in front of a straying Sheep being a well-understood signal that the animal had better retrace its steps if it did not want to feel the next stone on its back.
Passing his whole life with his flock, the shepherd was identified with his Sheep far more than is the case in this country. He knew all his Sheep by sight, he called them all by their names, and they all knew him and recognised his voice. He did not drive them, but he led them, walking in their front, and they following him. Sometimes he would play with them, pretending to run away while they pursued him, exactly as an infant-school teacher plays with the children.
Consequently, they looked upon him as their protector as well as their feeder, and were sure to follow wherever he led them.
We must all remember how David, who had passed all his early years as a shepherd, speaks of God as the Shepherd of Israel, and the people as Sheep; never mentioning the Sheep as being driven, but always as being led. “Thou leddest Thy people like a flock, by the hands of Moses and Aaron” (Ps. lxxvii. 20); “The Lord is my Shepherd…. He leadeth me beside the still waters” (Ps. xxiii. 1, 2); “Lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies” (Ps. xxvii. 11); together with many other passages too numerous to be quoted.
Our Lord Himself makes a familiar use of the same image: “He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.”
Although the shepherds of our own country know their Sheep by sight, and say that there is as much difference in the faces of Sheep as of men, they have not, as a rule, attained the art of teaching their Sheep to recognise their names. This custom, however, is still retained, as may be seen from a well-known passage in Hartley’s “Researches in Greece and the Levant:”—
“Having had my attention directed last night to the words in John x. 3, I asked my man if it were usual in Greece to give names to the sheep. He informed me that it was, and that the sheep obeyed the shepherd when he called them by their names. This morning I had an opportunity of verifying the truth of this remark. Passing by a flock of sheep, I asked the shepherd the same question which I had put to the servant, and he gave me the same answer. I then bade him call one of his sheep. He did so, and it instantly left its pasturage and its companions, and ran up to the hands of the shepherd, with signs of pleasure, and with a prompt obedience which I had never before observed in any other animal.
“It is also true that in this country, ‘a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him.’ The shepherd told me that many of his sheep were still wild, that they had not learned their names, but that by teaching them they would all learn them.”
Generally, the shepherd was either the proprietor of the flock, or had at all events a share in it, of which latter arrangement we find a well-known example in the bargain which Jacob made wit Laban, all the white Sheep belonging to his father-in-law, and all the dark and spotted Sheep being his wages as shepherd. Such a man was far more likely to take care of the Sheep than if he were merely a paid labourer; especially in a country where the life of a shepherd was a life of actual danger, and he might at any time be obliged to fight against armed robbers, or to oppose the wolf, the lion, or the bear. The combat of the shepherd David with the last-mentioned animals has already been noticed.
In allusion to the continual risks run by the Oriental shepherd, our Lord makes use of the following well-known words:—”The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, … whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”
Owing to the continual moving of the Sheep, the shepherd had very hard work during the lambing time, and was obliged to carry in his arms the young lambs which were too feeble to accompany their parents, and to keep close to him those Sheep who were expected soon to become mothers. At that time of year the shepherd might constantly be seen at the head of his flock, carrying one or two lambs in his arms, accompanied by their mothers.
In allusion to this fact Isaiah writes: “His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arms and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead them that are with young” (or, “that give suck,” according to the marginal reading). Here we have presented at once before us the good shepherd who is no hireling, but owns the Sheep; and who therefore has “his reward with him, and his work before him;” who bears the tender lambs in his arms, or lays them in the folds of his mantle, and so carries them in his bosom, and leads by his side their yet feeble mothers.
Frequent mention is made of the folds in which the Sheep are penned; and as these folds differed—and still differ—materially from those of our own land, we shall miss the force of several passages of Scripture if we do not understand their form, and the materials of which they were built. Our folds consist merely of hurdles, moveable at pleasure, and so low that a man can easily jump over them, and so fragile that he can easily pull them down. Moreover, the Sheep are frequently enclosed within the fold while they are at pasture.
If any one should entertain such an idea of the Oriental fold, he would not see the force of the well-known passage in which our Lord compares the Church to a sheepfold, and Himself to the door. “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear his voice…. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
Had the fold here mentioned been a simple enclosure of hurdles, such an image could not have been used. It is evident that the fold to which allusion was made, and which was probably in sight at the time when Jesus was disputing with the Pharisees, was a structure of some pretensions; that it had walls which a thief could only enter by climbing over them—not by “breaking through” them, as in the case of a mud-walled private house; and that it had a gate, which was guarded by a watchman.
In fact, the fold was a solid and enduring building, made of stone. Thus in Numbers xxxii. it is related that the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who had great quantities of Sheep and other cattle, asked for the eastward side of Jordan as a pasture-ground, promising to go and fight for the people, but previously to build fortified cities for their families, and folds for their cattle, the folds being evidently, like the cities, buildings of an enduring nature.
In some places the folds are simply rock caverns, partly natural and partly artificial, often enlarged by a stone wall built outside it. It was the absence of these rock caverns on the east side of Jordan that compelled the Reubenites and Gadites to build folds for themselves, whereas on the opposite side places of refuge were comparatively abundant.
See, for example, the well-known history related in 1 Sam. xxiii.-xxiv. David and his miscellaneous band of warriors, some six hundred in number, were driven out of the cities by the fear of Saul, and were obliged to pass their time in the wilderness, living in the “strong holds” (xxiii. 14, 19), which we find immediately afterwards to be rock caves (ver. 25). These caves were of large extent, being able to shelter these six hundred warriors, and, on one memorable occasion, to conceal them so completely as they stood along the sides, that Saul, who had just come out of the open air, was not able to discern them in the dim light, and David even managed to approach him unseen, and cut off a portion of his outer robe.
That this particular cave was a sheepfold we learn from xxiv. 2-4: “Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats. And he came to the sheepcotes by the way.” Into these strongholds the Sheep are driven towards nightfall, and, as the flocks converge towards their resting-place, the bleatings of the sheep are almost deafening.
The shepherds as well as their flocks found shelter in these caves, making them their resting-places while they were living the strange, wild, pastoral life among the hills; and at the present day many of the smaller caves and “holes of the rock” exhibit the vestiges of human habitation in the shape of straw, hay, and other dried herbage, which has been used for beds, just as we now find the rude couches of the coast-guard men in the cliff caves of our shores.
The dogs which are attached to the sheepfolds were, as they are now, the faithful servants of man, although, as has already been related, they are not made the companions of man as is the case with ourselves. Lean, gaunt, hungry, and treated with but scant kindness, they are yet faithful guardians against the attack of enemies. They do not, as do our sheepdogs, assist in driving the flocks, because the Sheep are not driven, but led, but they are invaluable as nocturnal sentries. Crouching together outside the fold, in little knots of six or seven together, they detect the approach of wild animals, and at the first sign of the wolf or the jackal they bark out a defiance, and scare away the invaders. It is strange that the old superstitious idea of their uncleanness should have held its ground through so many tens of centuries; but, down to the present day, the shepherd of Palestine, though making use of the dog as a guardian of his flock, treats the animal with utter contempt, not to say cruelty, beating and kicking the faithful creature on the least provocation, and scarcely giving it sufficient food to keep it alive.
Sometimes the Sheep are brought up by hand at home. “House-lamb,” as we call it, is even now common, and the practice of house-feeding peculiar in the old Scriptural times.
We have an allusion to this custom in the well-known parable of the prophet Nathan: “The poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter” (2 Sam. xii. 3). A further, though less distinct, allusion is made to this practice in Isaiah vii. 21: “It shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep.”
How the Sheep thus brought up by hand were fattened may be conjectured from the following passage in Mr. D. Urquhart’s valuable work on the Lebanon:—
“In the month of June, they buy from the shepherds, when pasturage has become scarce and sheep are cheap, two or three sheep; these they feed by hand. After they have eaten up the old grass and the provender about the doors, they get vine leaves, and, after the silkworms have begun to spin, mulberry leaves. They purchase them on trial, and the test is appetite. If a sheep does not feed well, they return it after three days. To increase their appetite they wash them twice a day, morning and evening, a care they never bestow on their own bodies.
“If the sheep’s appetite does not come up to their standard, they use a little gentle violence, folding for them forced leaf-balls and introducing them into their mouths. The mulberry has the property of making them fat and tender. At the end of four months the sheep they had bought at eighty piastres will sell for one hundred and forty, or will realize one hundred and fifty.
“The sheep is killed, skinned, and hung up. The fat is then removed; the flesh is cut from the bones, and hung up in the sun. Meanwhile, the fat has been put in a cauldron on the fire, and as soon as it has come to boil, the meat is laid on. The proportion of the fat to the lean is as four to ten, eight ‘okes’ fat and twenty lean. A little salt is added, it is simmered for an hour, and then placed in jars for the use of the family during the year.
“The large joints are separated and used first, as not fit for keeping long. The fat, with a portion of the lean, chopped fine, is what serves for cooking the ‘bourgoul,’ and is called Dehen. The sheep are of the fat-tailed variety, and the tails are the great delicacy.”
This last sentence reminds us that there are two breeds of Sheep in Palestine. One much resembles the ordinary English Sheep, while the other is a very different animal. It is much taller on its legs, larger-boned, and long-nosed. Only the rams have horns, and they are not twisted spirally like those of our own Sheep, but come backwards, and then curl round so that the point comes under the ear. The great peculiarity of this Sheep is the tail, which is simply prodigious in point of size, and is an enormous mass of fat. Indeed, the long-legged and otherwise lean animal seems to concentrate all its fat in the tail, which, as has been well observed, appears to abstract both flesh and fat from the rest of the body. So great is this strange development, that the tail alone will sometimes weigh one-fifth as much as the entire animal. A similar breed of Sheep is found in Southern Africa and other parts of the world. In some places, the tail grows to such an enormous size that, in order to keep so valuable a part of the animal from injury, it is fastened to a small board, supported by a couple of wheels, so that the Sheep literally wheels its own tail in a cart.
Frequent reference to the fat of the tail is made in the Authorized Version of the Scriptures, though in terms which would not be understood did we not know that the Sheep which is mentioned in those passages is the long-tailed Sheep of Syria. See, for example, the history narrated in Exod. xxix. 22, where special details are given as to the ceremony by which Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the priesthood. “Thou shalt take of the ram the fat and the rump, and the fat that covereth the inwards, and the caul above the liver, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them.”
Though this particular breed is not very distinctly mentioned in the Bible, the Talmudical writers have many allusions to it. In the Mischna these broad-tailed Sheep are not allowed to leave their folds on the Sabbath-day, because by wheeling their little tail-waggons behind them they would break the Sabbath. The writers describe the tail very graphically, comparing its shape to that of a saddle, and saying that it is fat, without bones, heavy and long, and looks as if the whole body were continued beyond the hind-legs, and thence hung down in place of a tail.
The Rabbinical writers treat rather fully of the Sheep, and give some very amusing advice respecting their management. If the ewes cannot be fattened in the ordinary manner, that end may be achieved by tying up the udder so that the milk cannot flow, and the elements which would have furnished milk are forced to produce fat. If the weather should be chilly at the shearing time, and there is danger of taking cold after the wool is removed, the shepherd should dip a sponge in oil and tie it on the forehead of the newly-shorn animal. Or, if he should not have a sponge by him, a woollen rag will do as well. The same potent remedy is also efficacious if the Sheep should be ill in lambing time.
That the Sheep is liable to the attack of the gadfly, which deposits its eggs in the nostrils of the unfortunate animal, was as well known in the ancient as in modern times. It is scarcely necessary to mention that the insect in question is the Æstrus ovis. Instinctively aware of the presence of this insidious and dreaded enemy, which, though so apparently insignificant, is as formidable a foe as any of the beasts of prey, the Sheep display the greatest terror at the sharp, menacing sound produced by the gadfly’s wings as the insect sweeps through the air towards its destination. They congregate together, placing their heads almost in contact with each other, snort and paw the ground in their terror, and use all means in their power to prevent the fly from accomplishing its purpose.
When a gadfly succeeds in attaining its aim, it rapidly deposits an egg or two in the nostril, and then leaves them. The tiny eggs are soon hatched by the natural heat of the animal, and the young larvæ crawl up the nostril towards the frontal sinus. There they remain until they are full-grown, when they crawl through the nostrils, fall on the ground, burrow therein, and in the earth undergo their changes into the pupal and perfect stages.
It need hardly be said that an intelligent shepherd would devote himself to the task of killing every gadfly which he could find, and, as these insects are fond of basking on sunny rocks or tree-trunks, this is no very difficult matter.
The Rabbinical writers, however, being totally ignorant of practical entomology, do not seem to have recognised the insect until it had reached its full larval growth. They say that the rams manage to shake the grubs out of their nostrils by butting at one another in mimic warfare, and that the ewes, which are hornless, and are therefore incapable of relieving themselves by such means, ought to be supplied with plants which will make them sneeze, so that they may shake out the grubs by the convulsive jerkings of the head caused by inhaling the irritating substance.
The same writers also recommend that the rams should be furnished with strong leathern collars.
When the flock is on the march, the rams always go in the van, and, being instinctively afraid of their ancient enemy the wolf, they continually raise their heads and look about them. This line of conduct irritates the wolves, who attack the foremost rams and seize them by the throat. If, therefore, a piece of stout leather be fastened round the ram’s neck, the wolf is baffled, and runs off in sullen despair.
Generally, the oldest ram is distinguished by a bell, and, when the flock moves over the hilly slopes, the Sheep walk in file after the leader, making narrow paths, which are very distinct from a distance, but are scarcely perceptible when the foot of the traveller is actually upon them. From this habit has arisen an ancient proverb, “As the sheep after the sheep, so the daughter after the mother,” a saying which is another form of our own familiar proverb, “What is bred in the bone will not come out of the flesh.”
We now come to the Sheep considered with reference to its uses. First and foremost the Sheep was, and still is, one of the chief means of subsistence, being to the pastoral inhabitants of Palestine what the oxen are to the pastoral inhabitants of Southern Africa.
To ordinary persons the flesh of the Sheep was a seldom-tasted luxury; great men might eat it habitually, “faring sumptuously every day,” and we find that, among the glories of Solomon’s reign, the sacred chronicler has thought it worth while to mention that part of the daily provision for his household included one hundred Sheep. No particular pains seem to have been taken about the cooking of the animal, which seems generally to have been boiled. As, however, in such a climate the flesh could not be kept for the purpose of making it tender, as is the case in this part of the world, it was cooked as soon as the animal was killed, the fibres not having time to settle into the rigidity of death.
Generally, when ordinary people had the opportunity of tasting the flesh of the Sheep, it was on the occasion of some rejoicing,—such, for example, as a marriage feast, or the advent of a guest, for whom a lamb or a kid was slain and cooked on the spot, a young male lamb being almost invariably chosen as less injurious than the ewe to the future prospects of the flock. Roasting over a fire was sometimes adopted, as was baking in an oven sunk in the ground, a remarkable instance of which we shall see when we come to the Jewish sacrifices. Boiling, however, was the principal mode; so much so, indeed, that the Hebrew word which signifies boiling is used to signify any kind of cooking, even when the meat was roasted.
The process of cooking and eating the Sheep was as follows.
The animal having been killed according to the legal form, the skin was stripped off, and the body separated joint from joint, the right shoulder being first removed. This, it will be remembered, was the priest’s portion; see Lev. vii. 32: “The right shoulder shall ye give unto the priest for an heave offering of the sacrifices of your peace offerings.” The whole of the flesh was then separated from the bones, and chopped small, and even the bones themselves broken up, so that the marrow might not be lost.
A reference to this custom is found in Micah iii. 2, 3, “Who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people … and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron.” The reader will now understand more fully the force of the prophecy, “He keepeth all His bones: not one of them is broken” (Psa. xxxiv. 20).
The mixed mass of bones and flesh was then put into the caldron, which was generally filled with water, but sometimes with milk, as is the custom with the Bedouins of the present day, whose manners are in many respects identical with those of the early Jews. It has been thought by some commentators that the injunction not to “seethe a kid in his mothers milk” (Deut. xiv. 21) referred to this custom. I believe, however, that the expression “in his mother’s milk” does not signify that the flesh of the kid might not be boiled in its mother’s milk, but that a kid might not be taken which was still in its mother’s milk, i.e. unweaned.
Salt and spices were generally added to it; see Ezek. xxiv. 10: “Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume the flesh, and spice it well.” The surface was carefully skimmed, and, when the meat was thoroughly cooked, it and the broth were served up separately. The latter was used as a sort of sauce, into which unleavened bread was dipped. So in Judges vi. 19 we read that when Gideon was visited by the angel, according to the hospitable custom of the land, he “made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it to him.”
Valuable, however, as was the Sheep for this purpose, there has always existed a great reluctance to kill the animal, the very sight of the flocks being an intense gratification to a pastoral Oriental. The principal part of the food supplied by the Sheep was, and is still, the milk; which afforded abundant food without thinning the number of the flock. As all know who have tasted it, the milk of the Sheep is peculiarly rich, and in the East is valued much more highly than that of cattle. The milk was seldom drunk in a fresh state, as is usually the case with ourselves, but was suffered to become sour, curdled, and semi-solid.
We now come to a portion of the Sheep scarcely less important than the flesh and the milk, i.e. the fleece, or wool.
In the ancient times nearly the whole of the clothing was made of wool, especially the most valuable part of it, namely the large mantle, or “haick,” in which the whole person could be folded, and which was the usual covering during sleep. The wool, therefore, would be an article of great national value; and so we find that when the king of Moab paid his tribute in kind to the king of Israel, it was carefully specified that the Sheep should not be shorn. “And Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool.”
The wool of the Sheep of Palestine differed extremely in value; some kinds being coarse and rough, while others were fine.
The wool was dressed in those times much as it is at present, being carded and then spun with the spindle, the distaff being apparently unused, and the wool simply drawn out by the hand. The shape of the spindle was much like that of the well-known flat spinning-tops that come from Japan—namely, a disc through which passes an axle. A smart twirl given by the fingers to the axle makes the disc revolve very rapidly, and its weight causes the rotation to continue for a considerable time. Spinning the wool was exclusively the task of the women, a custom which prevailed in this country up to a very recent time, and which still traditionally survives in the term “spinster,” and in the metaphorical use of the word “distaff” as synonymous with a woman’s proper work.
When spun into threads, the wool was woven in the simple loom which has existed up to our own day, and which is identical in its general principles throughout a very large portion of the world. It consisted of a framework of wood, at one end of which was placed the “beam” to which the warp was attached; and at the other end was the “pin” on which the cloth was rolled as it was finished.
The reader may remember that when Delilah was cajoling Samson to tell her the secret of his strength, he said, “If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.” So, as he slept, she interwove his long hair with the fabric which was on her loom, and, to make sure, “fastened it with the pin,” i.e. wove it completely into the cloth which was rolled round the pin. So firmly had she done so, that when he awoke he could not disentangle his hair, but left the house with the whole of the loom, the beam and the pin, and the web hanging to his head.
Wool was often dyed of various colours; blue, purple, and scarlet being those which were generally employed. The rams’ skins which formed part of the covering of the Tabernacle were ordered to be dyed scarlet, partly on account of the significance of the colour, and partly because none but the best and purest fleeces would be chosen for so rare and costly a dye. How the colour was produced we shall learn towards the end of the volume.
Sheep-shearing was always a time of great rejoicing and revelry, which seem often to have been carried beyond the bounds of sobriety. Thus when Nabal had gathered together his three thousand Sheep in Carmel, and held a shearing festival, David sent to ask for some provisions for his band, and was refused in accordance with the disposition of the man, who had inflamed his naturally churlish nature with wine. “He held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king: and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken” (1 Sam. xxv. 36).
The same was probably the case when Laban was shearing his Sheep (Gen. xxxi. 19). Otherwise it would scarcely have been possible for Jacob to have gone away unknown to Laban, taking with him his wives and children, his servants, his camels, and his flocks, the rapid increase of which had excited the jealousy of his uncle, and which were so numerous that, in fear of his brother Esau, he divided them into two bands, and yet was able to select from them a present to his brother, consisting in all of nearly six hundred sheep, camels, oxen, goats, and asses.
Sometimes the shepherds and others who lived in pastoral districts made themselves coats of the skins of the Sheep, with the wool still adhering to it. The custom extends to the present day, and even in many parts of Europe the sheep-skin dress of the shepherds is a familiar sight to the traveller. The skin was sometimes tanned and used as leather, but was considered as inferior to that of the goat. Mr. Tristram conjectures that the leathern “girdle” worn by St. John the Baptist was probably the untanned sheep-skin coat which has been just mentioned. So it is said of the early Christians, that “they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented,” the sheep-skins in question being evidently the rude shepherd’s coats.
The horn of the ram had a national value, as from it were made the sacred trumpets which played so important a part in the history of the Jewish nation. There is no doubt that the primitive trumpets were originally formed either from the horn of an animal, such as the ox, the large-horned antelopes, the sheep, and the goat, and that in process of time they were made of metal, generally copper or silver.
References are frequently made in the Bible to these trumpets, for which there were different names, probably on account of their different forms. These names are, however, very loosely rendered in our version, the same word being sometimes translated the “cornet,” and sometimes the “trumpet.”
The jubilee year was always ushered in by the blasts of the sacred trumpets. “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. xxv. 9). Then there was the festival known as the Feast of Trumpets. “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you” (Numb. xxix. 1).
One of these trumpets is now before me, and is shown in the accompanying illustration.
In length it measures eighteen inches, i.e. a cubit, and it is formed entirely in one piece. As far as I can judge, it is made from the left horn of the broad-tailed Sheep, which, as has already been remarked, 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, and is then modelled into the very form which was used by the Jewish priests who blew the trumpet before the ark.
At the present day one such trumpet, at least, is found in every Jewish community, and is kept by the man who has the privilege of blowing it.
We now come to the important subject, the use of the Sheep in sacrifice.
No animal was used so frequently for this purpose as the Sheep, and in many passages of the Mosaic law are specified the precise age as well as the sex of the Sheep which was to be sacrificed in certain circumstances. Sometimes the Sheep was sacrificed as an offering of thanksgiving, sometimes as an expiation for sin, and sometimes as a redemption for some more valuable animal. The young male lamb was the usual sacrifice; and almost the only sacrifice for which a Sheep might not be offered was that of the two goats on the great Day of Atonement.