The Metaphor of Shepherd in the Hebrew Bible: A Historical-Literary Reading

Jonathan Gan University Press of America, Lanham, MD June 14, 2007
Purchase

Gan, an ordained minister of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, studies the shepherd metaphor of the Old Testament and applies his conclusions to the issue of pastoral theology. He begins with a brief survey of different theories of pastoral theology expressed between the years 1958 and 1986. One wonders why more recent studies are not included.

After two short chapters that outline methodological issues and overview the use of the shepherd image in the Hebrew Bible, Gan surveys the metaphor of shepherd in the Torah, the former prophets, the latter prophets, and writings, before summarizing his findings and stating his conclusions in two brief chapters, each of which is less than two pages in length. The author concludes that “contemporary pastoral theology” understands the shepherd image as a “therapeutic” one (p. 101) that “inclines toward therapist, counselor, and care-giver” (p. ix). In his view this conflicts with the evidence from the Hebrew Bible, which is applied to Yahweh and to “leaders and kings of Israel” and focuses on the roles of “leading, protecting, and feeding.” He contends that this “theology of shepherding derived from the metaphor of shepherd should be the foundation of the formulation of pastoral theology” (p. 101).

Gan’s survey of the biblical evidence is helpful, but the volume is deficient in several ways. (1) Gan’s survey of so-called “contemporary pastoral theology” is dated and not really contemporary. Furthermore no bibliographical data are given for one of the studies cited (Kromminga’s). (2) At points Gan’s application of the evidence seems simplistic and shortsighted. Cultural differences between the ancient Israelite and contemporary contexts should receive greater attention. After all, in a modern context the notion of “feeding” the flock could take the form of the therapeutic roles described by Gan. (3) The subheading on page 27 gives the impression that the discussion will compare Israelite notions of the shepherd with broader ancient Near Eastern material. But the heading is misleading, for there is very little interaction with the abundant evidence in the ancient Near East. (4) At many points the book is in desperate need of editing. One finds transliteration mistakes (pp. 31-32), widowed headings (pp. 14-15), and numerous instances of ungrammatical English. For example, the heading on page 27 reads, “Comparison of the Shepherd Metaphor in the Literature of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near Eastern.” The first sentence in the preface (p. ix) reads, “One of the most important theological imagery in the Hebrew Bible is the metaphor of shepherd,” and the last sentence in the conclusion (p. 102), says, “The relationship of shepherd and sheep ties Yahweh and Israel together, and if derail from this relationship, the course of future for his people is detrimental.” 

—Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

January 1, 2010
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2010 vol. 167 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

Subscribe Today