Annunciation to the shepherds

Annunciation to the shepherds

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The Annunciation to the shepherds is an episode in the Nativity of Jesus
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 described in the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 in Luke 2
Luke 2
Luke 2 is the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It contains an account of Jesus's birth and an incident from his childhood.- Jesus's Birth :...

, in which angels tell a group of shepherd
Shepherd
A shepherd is a person who tends, feeds or guards flocks of sheep.- Origins :Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations, beginning some 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat and especially their wool...

s about the birth of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. It is a common subject of Christian art
Christian art
Christian art is sacred art produced in an attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form the principles of Christianity, though other definitions are possible. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of...

 and of Christmas carols.

Biblical narrative


As described in verses 8–20 of the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

, shepherds were tending their flocks out in the countryside near Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

, when they were terrified by the appearance of an angel
Angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

. The angel explains that he has a message of good news for all people, namely that "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

After this, a great many more angels appear, praising God with the words "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Deciding to do as the angel had said, the shepherds travel to Bethlehem, and find Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 lying in the manger
Manger
A manger is a trough or box of carved stone or wood construction used to hold food for animals . Mangers are mostly used in livestock raising. They are also used to feed wild animals, e.g., in nature reserves...

, just as they had been told. The Adoration of the shepherds
Adoration of the shepherds
The Adoration of the shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is often combined with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title...

 follows.

Translational issues


The King James Version of the Bible translates the words of the angels differently from modern versions, using the words "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (where the word "men" is used generically to mean "people" or "human beings"). Most Christmas carols reflect this older translation, with It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, for example, using the words "Peace on the earth, good will to men, / From Heaven’s all gracious King."

The disparity reflects a dispute about the Greek text
Novum Testamentum Graece
Novum Testamentum Graece is the Latin name editions of the original Greek-language version of the New Testament.The first printed edition was the Complutensian Polyglot Bible by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, printed in 1514, but not published until 1520...

 of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 involving a single letter. The Greek text accepted by most modern scholars today uses the words epi gēs eirēnē en anthrōpois eudokias (ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας), literally "on earth peace to men of good will," with the last word being in the genitive case (apparently reflecting a Semitic idiom that reads strangely in Greek). Most ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament have this reading. The original version of the ancient Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus is one of the four great uncial codices, an ancient, handwritten copy of the Greek Bible. It is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript written in the 4th century in uncial letters on parchment. Current scholarship considers the Codex Sinaiticus to be one of the best Greek texts of...

(denoted ℵ* by scholars) has this reading, but it has been altered by erasure of the last letter to epi gēs eirēnē en anthrōpois eudokia (ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία), literally "on earth (first subject: peace) to men (second subject: good will)," with two subjects in the nominative case
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

. Expressed in correct English, this gives the familiar "Peace on earth, good will to men" of many ancient Christmas carols.
Even though some other ancient Greek manuscripts (and many medieval ones) agree with the edited Codex Sinaiticus, most modern scholars and Bible translators accept the reading of the majority of ancient manuscripts, translating as "on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (NIV
New International Version
The New International Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible. Published by Zondervan in the United States and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK, it has become one of the most popular modern translations in history.-History:...

) or "on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (ESV
English Standard Version
The English Standard Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible. It is a revision of the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version...

).

The Douay-Rheims Bible, translated from the Latin Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

, derives from the same Greek text as the original Codex Sinaiticus, but renders it "on earth peace to men of good will." In the New American Bible
New American Bible
The New American Bible is a Catholic Bible translation first published in 1970. It had its beginnings in the Confraternity Bible, which began to be translated from the original languages in 1948....

, this is updated to "on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Theological interpretation


It is generally considered significant that this message was given to shepherds, who were located on the lower rungs of the social ladder in first-century Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

. Contrasting with the more powerful characters mentioned in the Nativity
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

, such as the Emperor Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

, they seem to reflect Mary's words in the Magnificat
Magnificat
The Magnificat — also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary — is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn...

: "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble."
The shepherds, taken as Jewish, also combine with the gentile
Gentile
The term Gentile refers to non-Israelite peoples or nations in English translations of the Bible....

 Three Magi, in later tradition thought to be one each from the three continents then known, to represent the first declaration of the Christian message to all the peoples of the world.

The phrase "peace to men on whom his favor rests" has been interpreted both as expressing a restriction to a particular group of people that God has chosen and inclusively, as God displaying favor to the world.

Depiction in art



Initially depicted only as part of a broader Nativity scene
Nativity of Jesus in art
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

, the Annunciation to the shepherds became an independent subject for art in the 9th century, but has remained relatively uncommon as such, except in extended cycles with many scenes. The standard Byzantine
Byzantine art
Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire from about the 5th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453....

 depiction, still used in Eastern Orthodox icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

s to the present, is to show the scene in the background of a Nativity, typically on the right, while the Three Magi approach on the left. This is also very common in the West, though the Magi are very often omitted. For example, the 1485 Adoration of the shepherds scene by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence. Among his many apprentices was Michelangelo.-Early years:Ghirlandaio's full name is given as Domenico di Tommaso di Currado di Doffo Bigordi...

 includes the Annunciation to the shepherds peripherally, in the upper left corner, even though it represents an episode occurring prior to the main scene. Similarly, in the Nativity at Night
Nativity at Night (Geertgen tot Sint Jans)
The Nativity at Night or Night Nativity is an Early Netherlandish painting of about 1490 by Geertgen tot Sint Jans in the National Gallery, London . It is a panel painting in oil on oak, measuring 34 x 25.3 cm., though it has been cut down in size on all four sides...

of Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Geertgen tot Sint Jans , also known as Geertgen van Haarlem, Gerrit van Haarlem, Gerrit Gerritsz, Gheertgen, Geerrit, Gheerrit, or any other diminutive form of Gerald, was an Early Netherlandish painter from the northern Low Countries in the Holy Roman Empire...

, the Annunciation to the shepherds is seen on a hillside through an opening in the stable wall.

Scenes showing the shepherds at the side of the crib are a different subject, formally known as the Adoration of the shepherds
Adoration of the shepherds
The Adoration of the shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is often combined with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title...

. This is very commonly combined with the Adoration of the Magi, which makes for a balanced composition, as the two groups often occupy opposite sides of the image space around the central figures, and fitted with the theological interpretation of the episode, where the two groups represented the peoples of the world between them. This combination is first found in the 6th century Monza ampullae
Monza ampullae
The Monza ampullae form the largest collection of a specific type of Early Medieval pilgrimage ampullae or small flasks designed to hold holy oil from pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land related to the life of Jesus, that were made in Palestine, probably in the fifth to early seventh centuries...

 made in Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

.

The landscape varies, though scenes in the background of a Nativity very often show the shepherds on a steep hill, making visual sense of their placement above the main Nativity scene. The number of shepherds shown varies also, though three is typical in the West; one or more dogs may be included, as in the Taddeo Gaddi
Taddeo Gaddi
Taddeo Gaddi was a medieval Italian painter and architect.-Biography:He was the son of Gaddo di Zanobi, called Gaddo Gaddi. He was a member of Giotto's workshop from 1313 to 1337, when his master died...

 (right, with red collar). The Annunciation to the shepherds became less common as an independent subject in the late Middle Ages, but depictions continued in later centuries. Famous depictions by Abraham Hondius
Abraham Hondius
Abraham Danielsz. Hondius was a Dutch Golden Age painter known his depictions of animals. He was the son of a city stonemason, Daniel Abramsz de Hondt....

 and Rembrandt exist. Along with the Agony in the Garden
Agony in the Garden
The Agony in the Garden refers to the events in the life of Jesus between the Last Supper and Jesus' arrest. Jesus' struggle praying and discussing with God, before accepting his sacrifice, before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane also denotes a state of mind - agony.-Scriptural...

and the Arrest of Christ the scene was one of those used most often in the development of the depiction of night scenes, especially in 15th century Early Netherlandish painting
Early Netherlandish painting
Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of artists active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and early 16th-century Northern renaissance, especially in the flourishing Burgundian cities of Bruges and Ghent...

 and manuscript illustration (see illustrations here and the Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Geertgen tot Sint Jans , also known as Geertgen van Haarlem, Gerrit van Haarlem, Gerrit Gerritsz, Gheertgen, Geerrit, Gheerrit, or any other diminutive form of Gerald, was an Early Netherlandish painter from the northern Low Countries in the Holy Roman Empire...

 linked above).

In Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 art, drawing on classical stories of Orpheus
Orpheus
Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music; his attempt to retrieve his wife from the underworld; and his death at the hands of those who...

, the shepherds are sometimes depicted with musical instruments. A charming but atypical miniature in the La Flora Hours in Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 shows the shepherds playing to the Infant Jesus, as a delighted Virgin Mary stands to one side.

Christmas carols


Many Christmas carol
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

s mention the Annunciation to the shepherds, with the Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Gloria in Excelsis Deo
"Gloria in excelsis Deo" is the title and beginning of a hymn known also as the Greater Doxology and the Angelic Hymn. The name is often abbreviated to Gloria in Excelsis or simply Gloria.It is an example of the psalmi idiotici "Gloria in excelsis Deo" (Latin for "Glory to God in the highest")...

being the most ancient. Phillips Brooks
Phillips Brooks
Phillips Brooks was an American clergyman and author, who briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s. In the Episcopal liturgical calendar he is remembered on January 23...

' O Little Town of Bethlehem
O Little Town of Bethlehem
"O Little Town of Bethlehem" is a popular Christmas carol. The text was written by Phillips Brooks , an Episcopal priest, Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. He was inspired by visiting the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his...

(1867) has the lines "O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth, / And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!" The originally German carol Silent Night
Silent Night
"Silent Night" is a popular Christmas carol. The original lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" were written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, by the priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber...

has "Shepherds quake at the sight; / Glories stream from heaven afar, / Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!"

The episode plays a much greater role in Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley , and father of musician Samuel Wesley, and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley...

's Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley. This is not the version widely known today. A sombre man, Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the...

(1739), which begins:


Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th’angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”



Nahum Tate
Nahum Tate
Nahum Tate was an Irish poet, hymnist, and lyricist, who became England's poet laureate in 1692.-Life:Nahum Teate came from a family of Puritan clergymen...

's well-known carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" is a Christmas carol describing the Annunciation to the Shepherds, with words attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and England's Poet Laureate, Nahum Tate....

(1700) is entirely devoted to describing the Annunciation to the shepherds, and the episode is also significant in The First Nowell, Angels from the Realms of Glory
Angels from the Realms of Glory
"Angels from the Realms of Glory" is a Christmas carol written by English poet James Montgomery. It was first printed in the Sheffield Iris on Christmas Eve 1816, though it only began to be sung in churches after its 1825 reprinting in the Montgomery collection The Christian Psalmist and in the...

, the originally French carol Angels We Have Heard on High
Angels We Have Heard on High
"Angels We Have Heard on High" is a Christmas carol. The song commemorates the story of the birth of Jesus Christ found in the Gospel of Luke, in which shepherds outside Bethlehem encounter a multitude of angels singing and praising the newborn child....

, and several others.

The carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a Christmas carol based on the 1864 poem "Christmas Bells" by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.- Origin :...

, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, reflects on the phrase "Peace on earth, good will to men" in a pacifist sense, as does It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

In popular culture


The phrase "Peace on earth, good will to men" has been widely used in a variety of contexts. For example, Samuel Morse's farewell message in 1871 read "Greetings and thanks to the telegraph fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will to men. – S. F. B. Morse."