By Bill Koene
A rare collection of 100-year-old photos recently discovered from ancient Palestine clearly portray shepherds and their sheep in a region of the land of Israel within a few miles of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The photos, with amazing clarity, depict the every-day life of the shepherd in the context of the land as it was in the early 1900’s, before the emergence of the modern nation.
These 100-year-old photos of shepherds in Ancient Palestine can be viewed online at www.shepherdsInIsrael.com, where the option of obtaining reproductions is also provided.
The Ain Farah region, just northeast of Jerusalem, where the photos were originally taken, was the same area where King David, when he was a shepherd boy, likely tended his sheep. The life of a shepherd had not changed very much from the days of King David to the time these photos were taken. You can see the ordinary day-to-day routines of shepherds, sitting with their flocks, leading them along the “still waters,” guiding them with a rod and staff through rocky places, and even playing a flute.
In one of the photos a shepherd is pouring oil out of a ram’s horn onto the heads of his sheep. The shepherd understood that insects and various parasites, especially in the hot summer, can cause great irritability in the sheep, particularly around their eyes and nasal passages. By applying oil to the heads of the sheep, in the manner depicted in the photo, the source of aggravation and restlessness was largely removed, and the sheep would start to feed quietly or lie down in contentment. Through this we gain a new depth of understanding of what David probably had in mind when he wrote, “He anoints my head with oil.”
The photos in this rare collection were originally published in a limited edition hand-bound book produced from a Palestinian tannery with genuine sheep skin leather. A copy of this publication was acquired by a couple visiting Jerusalem and the region in 1925 and was quietly kept as a family treasure in Canada. After taking a day trip on donkey from Jerusalem to the Wady Fara, the husband of this couple records in his personal journal in 1925, “the wildness of the upper part of the Wady above the spring, with its huge boulders and forbidding aspect, may have been in David’s mind as he wrote, ‘yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.'”
The rare book from which these photos were discovered has a most interesting foreword of which the opening lines read as follows (keeping in mind this was written before 1925): “Pastoral life in Palestine flows on the same channels today as it did in the time of David, and in the open region to the northeast of Jerusalem, the flocks are still taken down the rough and winding paths, into the picturesque gorge, in the bed of which winds the silvery stream of Ain Farah. This is still the popular gathering place of the shepherds in the surrounding hill country of Judea, and is generally accepted as the scene of David’s boyhood experiences in shepherd life, which in his riper age he recalls and uses in this ‘Sweet Psalm of Trust.'”