MYTH: Too cold for shepherds to Tend Flocks in December
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Whenever discussions are started about the December 25 date used to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, this subject typically comes up. Those who wish to discredit and cast doubt on Christianity will say, "It is too cold in December for the shepherds to be tending their flocks!"
So lets take a look at the Truth. The Truth is of course very important - from John 8:32:
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
To begin - lets look at the Scripture.
This is a step the politically correct and those who desire to cast doubt on Jesus overlook. They of course have a goal or desire to cast doubt on the Scripture. There is an interesting passage in Genesis 31:38-40 that is very relevant to this issue:
This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
This passage is when Laban confronts Jacob as Jacob has left Laban's household with Rachel and his family. Note that for 20 years Jacob had tended Laban's and others flocks. He tended the flocks through drought. He tended the flocks through frost by night.
The area where Jacob tended the flock was well north of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is a few miles south of Jerusalem. In Genesis 28:2 we are told where Laban lived:
"Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughers of Laban thy mother's brother."
Padanaram is another name for the city of Haran. (Click on map on left for full size map). This location is 10 miles north of today's Syrian border - in Turkey along the Balikh River.
So the weather, where the Scripture tells us that Jacob tended flocks being further north (417 miles from Bethlehem to Laban's home), would be as cold or colder than the shepherds around Bethlehem would have faced. At the right is a picture taken January 3, 2012 in Harran, Turkey - the modern day village at the site of Biblical Haran which shows livestock including a few sheep grazing. (Credit: click here for Flicker link).
So obviously shepherds tended their flocks even in rather cool times and those around Bethlehem would have a milder climate than Jacob several hundred miles to the north.
Now for the rest of the story as a famous commentator would have said.
What is the average temperature around Bethlehem in December?
Remember, Bethlehem is a few miles south of Jerusalem at about 2,500 feet which is the same as Jerusalem. The flocks would have been tended more in the valley than at the top of the mount, so the temperatures faced by the shepherds would have been warmer than either recorded in Jerusalem or those that Jacob experienced.
With very little effort this information is easily available. The Weather Channel website provides the recorded average low temperature by month for many locations, including Jerusalem. In fact it will compare the average lows per month between two locations. Doing a little research with this tool gives an interesting comparison between Lake City, Florida and Jerusalem, Israel (Click here and then select Avg Low option).
As you will see from either using the link or from the image at the right, the December temperature in Jerusalem is two degrees cooler than Lake City Florida; 42 vs. 44 degress. The same is true for Jacksonville, Florida. However the average low temperature for Valdosta, Georgia and Albany, Georgia are a degree or two cooler than Jerusalem. So the average December low temperature in Jerusalem (at the top of the mount) is the equilvalent of extreme south Georgia or extreme north Florida. Not exactly Arctic conditions so to speak.
And that is at the top of the mount in Jerusalem and the valleys where the sheep would be tended would be warmer. So the average December temperatures that the shepherds would have faced would be warmer than Lake City, Florida.
Anyone who has ever been around Lake City, Florida can tell you. December winters in the area are rather mild, while there may be a few nights with a freeze or frost, they are NOT severe. Certainly the hardy people of the Biblical times would have been capable of facing this rather mild climate! Jacob certainly was.
So the statement that it is too cold in December for the shepherds to be tending their flocks is incorrect!
Logistics of feeding a flock of sheep.
The sheer logistics of caring for a flock of sheep will show that shepherds would have been grazing their flocks in all but extreme weather. An adult sheep eats betwen 3-6 lb forage a day and can drink up to a gallon of water. So lets put this in perspective of the labor to tend to a flock of 100 sheep that are not abiding in the fields:
Water: 7lb, a gallon of water weighs just over 7 lb.
Feed: 3-6 lb, lets use the lower limit, 3 lb.
Total per sheep, per day: 10 lb.
Flock (100 sheep) total per day: 1,000 lb.
For December-February: 90 days at 1,000 lb per day - 90,000 lb. or 45 tons.
So if you were a shepherd with a flock of 100 sheep and it was not so cold that it was life threatning would you take your flock to the fields and let them graze and use available water - OR - would you want to haul 45 tons of forage and water to their enclosure?
Putting this is relative human manual labor terms. If a sturdy shepherd could haul 50 lb a trip and had to only go an average of a quarter mile to gather forage or water:
50 lb per trip and 90,000 lb needed: 1,800 trips, a total of 90 miles. 1,800 trips over 90 days would be 20 per day.
The logistics of caring for a flock of sheep would point to the flock abiding in the field in all but extreme cases.