Shepherd's Fields in Bet Sahour
"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10).
From the Church of the Nativity we retrace our steps along Paul VI Street past the Lutheran Christmas Church to re-board the bus for the short trip to the large Arab village of Beit Sahour (below). which is thought to be close to the place where, according to the gospel of Luke, an angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.
Beit Sahour ("House of the Night Watch" or "House of Vigilance") is a Palestinian town about one mile east of Bethlehem under the administration of the Palestinian National Authority. The population of 12,367 is 80% Christian and 20% Muslim. Here are three shrines commemorating the angelic announcement to shepherds caring for their flock of sheep in the fields outside Bethlehem. Again, we turn to the account in Luke 2:
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, 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. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:8-20)
Beit Sahour seems to have been established in the mid-13th century AD, although it is not mentioned in Western literature until 1591 AD. Here is a field said to be where Boaz saw Ruth from Moab gleaning and was attracted to her. Probably nearby David, Jesus' ancestor and shepherd of the family flock, was anointed king by Samuel.
The rolling slopes are dotted with scrubby bushes and individual fields are fenced off by low stone walls or rows of silver-green olive trees. It is not surprising that early Christian tradition designated a particular location to the Christmas shepherds. Reports by numerous pilgrims mention an altar for prayer within a cave set apart by a walled garden area. Later records also mention a Monastery of the Shepherds, and by the 5th century AD Christians held vigils on Christmas Eve in the area before processing to the Church of the Nativity.
*Interestingly, the Hebrew word for watch (ra`ah, pronounced raw-aw') is also the word for shepherd, also "to pasture, tend, graze, feed."
As stated above, there are three shrines known as Shepherds' Fields in the eastern part of Beit Sahour — one maintained by the Roman Catholics, another by the Greek Orthodox and a third by the Protestants.