Motif of ‘shepherd’ and politics in the Hebrew prophets
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date10/07/2023
Sabanal, Annelle G.
The shepherd metaphor is used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to kings or leaders of the Israelite community. It belongs to the larger group of pastoral metaphors which are used to convey ideas about governance and politics. This is especially apparent in how the Hebrew prophets have utilized pastoral imagery in their rhetoric about politics. Specifically, the imagery occurs in Micah 2:12-13; 5:1- 5; 7:14-20; Isaiah 40:9-11; 44:24-45:7; 56:9-12; 63:7-14; Jeremiah 3:15-20; 10:19- 21; 22:18-23; 23:1-8; 25:30-38; 31:10-14; Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah chs. 10, 11, 13. This study is an analysis of these passages. It investigates the political processes depicted in the text and describes the political ideas that they express. In order to show that pastoral metaphors are powerful rhetorical devices for revealing political ideas, Chapter 1 provides a survey of metaphorical theories that are relevant to the exegesis of the shepherd texts. Particularly useful is Janet Soskice’ notion of ‘metaphorical modeling’ which leads to the overarching metaphorical assumption in the use of pastoral metaphors, that ‘Political governance is shepherding.’ New meanings are created by mapping out the structures of shepherding onto the domain of governance. Secondly, the chapter also examines the sociological background of pastoral metaphors in their wider Mesopotamian context to show that the shepherd metaphor is a political metaphor. Lastly, it explores ideas in political theology that might enhance the exegesis of the text from the perspective of politics. Particularly, the study draws upon the conceptions in political theology proposed by Oliver O’Donovan, Walter Brueggeman and Dale Launderville, who all base their theories on the notion of the ‘authority’ of God. O’Donovan suggests four organizing concepts for doing political theology, namely, salvation, judgment, possession, and praise. On the other hand, Brueggeman intimates a reading that uses the ‘politics of Yahweh vs. politics of Pharaoh’ as a paradigm. As for Launderville, he explores the idea of authority through the notion of legitimation by the gods and by the people. Each of the subsequent chapters (2-6) will offer a detailed exegetical analysis of the prophetic books containing shepherd texts. These close readings result in variety of political implications based on the interactions of three main players, Yahweh who is the owner of the flock and sometimes also portrayed as the Great Shepherd, the human shepherd, and the flock. The web of relationship and interaction of these three players affirms the centrality of the ‘authority of God’ in the politics of the shepherd texts. Moreover, five aspects of politics arise and consistently thread their way across the five chapters. Primary among these is  the different manifestations of the dynamics of relations of power between different entities such as: Yahweh, the Great Shepherd and the supreme king of the flock, the human shepherd-rulers who are considered as vicegerents and are under the jurisdiction of the Great Shepherd, and the flock who are subordinate to both the Great Shepherd and the human shepherd-rulers. Consequent to this notion are the following ideas:  the need for the human-shepherd to be attentive to divine sanction;  the human-shepherd as the chief redistributor of material and symbolic goods in the community;  the shepherd-leader, whether referring to Yahweh or to the human shepherds, as the centralizing symbol in the community; and  justice as a central aspect of governance within the shepherding-governance framework.