The idea of focusing on geography in a Bible commentary is so unique that Lexham Geographic commentaries easily grab my attention. Before I buy, let’s just check the sample page before committing my hard earned dollars and clicking purchase. https://lexhampress.com/product/138314/lexham-geographic-commentary-on-the-gospels https://lexhampress.com/images/pagescans/138314/005.jpg https://lexhampress.com/images/pagescans/138314/006.jpg “VISIT OF THE SHEPHERDS” on pages 5 - 6 has a reference to Alfred Edersheim: The life and times of Jesus the Messiah, that should be easy to check since Edersheim’s work is public domain, freely available online. The reference is book 2 chapter 4, The nativity of Jesus the Messiah. Okay, just considering pages 5-6, this is what I observe regarding the shepherds at the Birth of Jesus Christ and the timing of Christ’s birth: • Lexham Geographic commentaries (LGC) assert that flocks are not in the open, in Bethlehem during the winter. Edersheim attributes this argument to Lightfoot. LGC does not attribute their source of this argument. • The reason given by LGC is that temperatures are in the low 50s F and can drop below freezing. This is not a sufficient answer because adult sheep are comfortable in these temperatures. More explanation is needed, such whether lambing was happening in winter? • Edersheim refers to source material which LGC does not mention: 1. Mishan, Baba K.80a Flocks were either in the wilderness or they were those for the Temple-services. The keeping of non-temple-service flocks was prohibited in Israel except in the wilderness. 2. Talmud Taan 6b: That the flocks not outside in winter are ‘the wilderness’flocks. These are distinct from the Bethlehem flocks. 3. Bezah 40a wilderness flocks do remain outside all year round. (Edersheim also lists Tosephta Beza iv6, and Jer. Bezah 63 b). • LGC mentioned Shekalim 7:4, but neglected to engage with Edersheim’s main point, that Shekalim 7:4 states that the flocks were in the field 30 days before the Passover (i.e. February). Edersheim points out that this is the time when rainfall was highest. LGC’s appeal to climate is starting to wane. • Edersheim mentions that 9th Tebheth is a Jewish fast day of unknown reason. 9th Tebheth has coincided with 25th December many times (Megillath Taanith ed. Warsh p.20a. and Zunz, Ritus d. Synag. Gottesd. P.126). • Edersheim makes his case. Note these points: Only flocks for Temple-services were in Bethlehem. Ordinary Shepherds were banned from Rabbinism. Edersheim’s Conclusion: These were not ordinary shepherds. On this point LGC says it is “often supposed” that the shepherds were more ritually clean. Who often supposes this? Edershiem’s ideas may imply this but he has not stated this, it is simply the corollary of the facts he has presented. To challenge this conclusion we need to question Edersheim’s claim that ordinary Shepherds were banned from Rabbinism, but LGC has not pursued this. LGC also says it is “theologically tempting to associate his birth with shepherds who were already connected to the ritual of the temple…” But we can also say that it is theologically tempting to hold the view which LGC has taken, which associates Christ’s birth with ordinary shepherds, i.e. that Christ humbles himself to be viewed by ordinary humble unclean folk. LGC has implied that their perspective rests on facts and the `ritually clean’ shepherd idea is only speculative theology. LGC’s position is speculative (i.e. that sheep don’t stay outside in winter) and LGC has disregarded Edersheim’s use of historical fact from source documents which address their position, all the while implying that the position Edersheim represents is just theological speculation. • What is the relevance of this? If LGC is right, then December 25 is unrelated to Christ’s birth and so the Christmas tradition is detached from historical reality, and Christians have been deceiving themselves about Dec 25. If Edersheim is right then the traditional Christmas date of December 25 closely represents the day of Christ’s birth, and so the tradition of Christmas is founded in historical truth, and has retained this truth through the millennia. Quite a lot just from a quick view of a couple of sample pages: • Lacks engagement with content of reference • Lack of engagement with an alternative perspective • Dismissive claims about the opposing perspective e.g. “this can in no way be proven,” This sentence is wrong. There is a way. An historical text stating that Levites raised the temple sacrifices would be proof. That we don’t have this degree of proof is different than saying it cannot be proven. • Disregard for source material • Does not examine weaknesses in own perspective (i.e. the real possibility of shepherding in winter). The geographical aspects of this work seem quite helpful but not so for the historical treatment, if this small section of just two pages is any indication of what lies in the volumes.
- I really appreciate you pointing this out. While I still plan on purchasing the series, knowing to read the historical sections with a critical eye is very helpful.
Sean Boisen — EditedThanks for your feedback. The articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary series reflect the contributions of individual scholars, largely chosen by our General Editor, Dr. Barry Beitzel, for their knowledge of particular subject areas. While I recognize that you don't agree with the conclusions of the author, Dr. Paul H. Wright, he's a respected author with numerous other works in this area (other Logos resources by Wright are here: https://www.logos.com/search?q=paul%2525252520wright&query=paul%20wright&filters=author-22293_Author). Every scholar has their own perspectives, and we've generally chosen to keep articles on the shorter side to ensure the content is approachable for the non-expert: that sometimes means not all sides of an issue get full attention. Even if you don't agree with his conclusions on this subject, I'm optimistic that you'll find useful information on other topics in the volume, and I hope you won't dismiss it based on these few pages.