Migdal eder hypothesis

Joyful Christmas!

Luke 2 tells about the birth of Jesus. I read first time about the migdal eder hypothesis (theory). It sounded interesting. Do you know how reliable that hypothesis is?

The migdal eder (tower of the flock) hypothesis interprets that the shephards mentioned in Luke 2 were guarding flocks destined to Temple sacrifice. The lambs born were inspected by these special shephards to see if they could be certified for sacrifice or should be designated for common use. The new lambs would, according to some sources, even be wrapped in special swaddling clothes once certified. So, when the shephards heard that the sign for them is that they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a mangler (the word could also mean stall), it was truly a sign for them and they knew immediately where they would find the baby. If I understood right, this place would have been the migdal eder of Betlehem.

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I’ve heard of this theory; but my understanding is that the earliest textual and/or traditional support comes from well after the time of Christ; so it should be taken with a grain of salt, IMO. But maybe there are others who have done more research on it?

Is this strictly an internet idea? Or is there scholarship behind it?

Alfred Edersheim mentions it in his Life and Times of Jesus. Given this predates the Internet by a few years (I have a 1953 update) I guess it isn’t. I remember hearing about it in a sermon a few years ago.

Is there anything written by a scholar in peer-reviewed professional literature?

I found one article in Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. You can read it here

There were many towers in Israel, so the name migdal eder was probably not unique. I read somewhere that the tower of the flock was situated about a mile from the main village/town of Betlehem, towards the direction of Jerusalem. No idea what the original source of this information is. Possibly a book by Alfred Edersheim (1899).

Why did the angels bring the message to the shephards? The new interpretation would give a nice explanation to that. It would connect the shephards to the symbolic chain of events around the birth of Jesus. It would also explain why the shephards seemed to be aware of what was written in the scriptures.

The controversial part of the interpretation is that Jesus would have born in the tower, not in the main village/town of Betlehem. It conflicts the tradition that has been told for centuries and would mean that the pilgrims visiting the birth site of Jesus visited a wrong place.

If the shephards were guarding the flocks intended for Temple sacrifices, they were probably within the area of Jerusalem. When it is told that they went to Betlehem, it would mean that they went from the area of Jerusalem to the area of Betlehem, either to the main village/town or to the tower.

The interpretation of the shephards would fill holes in the story. That’s why I like it. Changing the birthplace of Jesus (tower instead of main village) does not seem to be a necessary part of the interpretation.

I would prefer to download one pdf instead of a bulk download.

There should be a Download PDF button. There is when I go to the site. I do login to the site. It’s free.

Thanks…I got the PDF. But I don’t see where it says anything about shepherds guarding flocks destined for temple sacrifice. If I’m not seeing it please point me to the right place.

Because it doesn’t. The reason I mentioned it is it makes clear the location of Migdal eder is not known. Which I believe would throw out the theory. To me the theory appears to be based on wishful thinking.

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Unless, of course, the vicinity of Bethlehem was “the Tower of the Flock”, also known as: “Shepherd’s Field”. How so? Check out the elevations of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

  • Bethlehem is located at an elevation of about 775 meters (2,543 ft) above sea level, 30 meters (98 ft) higher than nearby Jerusalem.[65] Bethlehem is situated on the southern portion[ clarification needed ] in the Judean Mountains.
  • Bethlehem is located about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) south of Jerusalem. The elevation of the Old City is approximately 760 m (2,490 ft).
  • If, as Google sources show, Royal (or Priestly) sheep were kept, outside of but nearby Jerusalem, the vicinity of Bethlehem would be the place to keep them. Coincidentally–or divinely predestined, Bethelem is said to have been the birth King David’s birthplace and the location–according to Jewish sources–the location of the future “Messiah’s” birth.
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“Migdal eder” search results @ Sefaria:

All that was required for a sacrificial lamb was that it be without blemish (defect). It didn’t have to come from a special flock or anything. It probably wouldn’t have looked as sleek as a 4H project.

Someone is very confused. Jewish sources claimed that the future Messiah would come from Bethlehem, but never claimed that he would be a sacrificial sheep or lamb. And Jewish sources claimed that “animals fit for sacrifice” would be those straying as far as Migdal-eder: males for “burnt offerings” and females for “peace offerings”.

The Christian, Alfred Edersheim, who wrote “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” around 1883, is the fellow who conjectured that Jesus was the Messiah looked for by the Jews and the sacrificial lamb that “came from Bethlehem”.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem promotes the conjecture. The Tower of the Flock

  • Scriptural Dots:
    • Micah 5:2 - “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”
    • Matthew 2:1 - Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
    • Matthew 2:5 - They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
    • Matthew 2:8 - And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”|
    • Matthew 2:16 - Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.
    • Luke 2:4 - Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
    • Luke 2:15 - When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”
    • John 7:42 - “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

Connecting the dots, one gets:

  • King David and the future Messiah and Jesus born in Bethlehem
  • Angels announcing the Messiah’s birth to shepherds watching their flocks
  • Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents
  • Shepherds visiting Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in Bethelehem

What’s left if one doesn’t connect the dots?
I suspect: Happy Jews, confused Christians, and angry Muslims. Why would Muslims be angry?
Because Surah 3:45 says: “The Angels said, “O Mary, Allah gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, well-esteemed in this world and the next, and one of the nearest.”
If the angels didn’t announce the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds, the likelihood of them telling Mary–which is a perversion of the story in Luke–that her son would be called “the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary” moves toward 0 (when Luke says that the angels announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds).

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Sorry but my Bible seems to be missing the elevations.

Except Edersheim used outdated sources and current scholarship doesn’t agree with his conclusions.

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I’m not surprised. I got my numbers for the elevations of Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the Internet, and specifically … from wikipedia articles on Bethlehem Israel and Jerusalem Israel.

I’d be heartbroken if I were an Edersheim fan. But I’m not, ergo I’m not.

I keep forgetting my sense of humor doesn’t always translate well. What I was hinting at is what is the significance of said elevations.

Ahhh! silly me. The significance–for me–is that Bethlehem’s elevation is higher than Jerusalem’s [Passing for “a Tower”] AND if I were a levite priest interested in strays picked up by shepherds and destined for potential sacrifice, I’d check within a circle around Jerusalem having a radius of no more than the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

  • Halakha 3 · MISHNA If an animal that is fit for the altar was found straying, from Jerusalem and as far as Migdal Eder, and similarly if it was found within that distance from Jerusalem in any other direction, it is presumed that the animal came from Jerusalem. Most of the animals in Jerusalem were designated for offerings, and presumably this one was as well. Males are presumed to be burnt-offerings, as only males are brought as burnt-offerings. Females are presumed to be peace-offerings, as it is permitted to bring a female peace-offering. [Jerusalem Talmud Shekalim 7:3]

Using current elevations. Where did you get the elevations for the 1st century? I get the impression from reading archeology that there is sometimes quite a discrepancy in elevation between now and then.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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