The mystery of the shepherds

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Many writers have speculated about the identities of the Magi, most recently Fr Dwight Longenecker. Clearly, many questions are still to be answered, of which the key ones are:

  • were there three of them?
  • were they wise?
  • were they men?

Indeed, next Christmas’s blockbuster by Fr James Martin SJ is expected to reveal that they were five women deacons wearing dalmatics.traddy creche

A traddy nativity scene, unsuitable for modern use.

Traditionally, at least, there were three wise men, called Kasper, Müller and Baldisseri, but nobody know how many shepherds there were, nor any of their names.

My own detailed research suggests that there were three shepherds (because Biblical stuff comes in threes, sevens, twelves and forties). I thought at first that Baa-lamb was a shepherd, but many scholars now say that he kept a donkey, and was nothing at all to do with the first Christmas.

Balaam and the angel

Shepherds only! Clear off!

A study of the Archers, a long-running religious radio programme broadcast by the BBC, suggests that one of the shepherds might be called Walter Gabriel, originator of the phrase, “Me old pal, me old beauty”, although Gabriel is also the name of an angel, so one cannot be sure.

The Tony Hancock character Joshua Merryweather (another Biblical name!) is also a possibility, with his classic hymn of praise (now available in The Graham Kendrick Book of Hymns for Today):

I've got mangel wurzels in my garden, 
I've got mangel wurzels in my shed,
I've got mangel wurzels in my bathroom,
And a mangel wurzel for a head.

Tony Hancock et al

Were these the three shepherds?

Well, it’s all very mystifying. Also, why did the angels summon shepherds to the manger? Why not celebrities – by which we mean actors, footballers, comedians, politicians, professors of zoology, professors of human flourishing, etc.? Or even celebrity clerics, bloggers, and professors of theology, who could have explained what was going on? It all sounds like an almighty mix-up.

Massimo Faggioli

“There will be a time for the canonization of King Herod,” explains a distinguished professor.

Note: “While shepherds washed their socks by night / All seated round the tub” is © The Graham Kendrick Book of Hymns for Today.

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