Good shepherd

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Jesus as a good shepherd, 3rd century fresco in the Catacomb of Calixtus , Rome

The Good Shepherd (Greek. Ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός ho ho Poimen kalós , Lat. Pastor bonus ) is in Christianity one of the oldest and most common names for Jesus Christ . However, the image also occurs in the pre-New Testament period. “The shepherd has a religious symbolic character as with all upscale nomads, also in Israel.” In the context of increasing devotion to Mary there has also been the image type of the “divine shepherdess” (Divina Pastora) since the Baroque .


Old testament

In the Old Testament the image of the shepherd is common, Abel , Abraham , Isaac or Jacob were shepherds. Moses was seen as the shepherd of his people. Promised leaders of the people on the one hand, and irresponsible kings and judges on the other hand were called good or bad shepherds. The most important role as a shepherd was played by David . The messianic shepherd, however, has to reckon with rejection and violence: "Hit the shepherd, then the sheep will scatter" ( Zech 13.7  EU ).

In many cases the image of the shepherd is directly related to God. The picture is particularly found in Psalm 23 , the “Shepherd's Psalm” and in Jer 31,10  EU .

New Testament

The Good Shepherd , mosaic in the mausoleum of Empress Galla Placidia , Ravenna , first half of the 5th century

In one of the great parable speeches of the Gospel of John (chap. 10.1-18 EU ) Jesus says of himself: "I am the good shepherd" ( Joh 10.11.14 EU ) and explains  the figurative word under different aspects: The good shepherd knows the sheep and call them one by one by name. The sheep recognize him by his voice. In contrast to the wage keeper, the good shepherd stands up for the flock until he surrenders his own life. The background of the allegorical New Testament Jesus' pastoral words ( Joh 9,35–41  EU ; 10,22–30 EU ) is the pastoral motif of the Old Testament, which refers to God himself. The depiction of Jews in these stories picking up stones to stone Jesus suggests that, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus indicated his divinity, which was considered the most serious blasphemy .

The letter to the Hebrews offers further evidence of Jesus' pastoral office. In his final blessing, he describes Jesus as the “great shepherd of the sheep” ( Heb 13.20  EU ). The shepherd's title also appears indirectly in the story of the lost and rescued sheep Mt 18.12–14  EU par., Lk 15.1–7  EU : He is not looking for the 99 other sheep, but for the one lost, the sinner. The allegory of Jesus as the good shepherd finds an opposite pole in the image of Christ as the “ Lamb of God ”. In it, Jesus appears as a flawless lamb sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins .

Shepherd motifs

The name of the good shepherd is a popular patronage for churches, here the Guthirt Church in Zurich.

The shepherd image was applied to rulers and responsible persons of all kinds in the entire ancient Orient ( Sumerians , Akkadians , Assyrians , Babylonians , Egyptians ) and also by Greeks and Romans also care for the weak. Christianity relates the image of the shepherds of the church to the office of bishop . The image of the Good Shepherd is symbolized by the liturgical insignia of the pallium , which is worn by the Pope and the metropolitan of the Catholic Church at Holy Mass . This symbolizes the rediscovered sheep that the good shepherd carries on his shoulders. The Orthodox Church's equivalent to the pallium is the omophorion . The Latin word pastor is v. a. in northern Germany became the name of the pastor .


In common parlance, the term head shepherd is common. Oberhirte could, in a distant sense, have been derived from the Latin magister pecoris . As a rule, senior shepherd stands for a minister who is above the other in the church hierarchy . The bishop is called the pastor of his diocese and the pope is the pastor of the Catholic Church. The “supreme shepherd” ( 1 Pet 5,4  EU ) means Jesus Christ. The shepherd, like the good shepherd, should guard the community entrusted to him and protect it in an emergency at the risk of his own life.

Good Shepherd Sunday in the church year

Since the Old Church had set the Gospel readings for the individual Sundays, the 2nd Sunday after Easter ( Misericordias Domini ) has been under the sign of the Good Shepherd (so until today in the Lutheran and Reformed as well as in the Old Catholic Church). The Roman Catholic Church moved to the liturgical reform the Sunday of the Good Shepherd on the fourth Sunday of Easter to the first three Sundays reserved for actual Easter Gospels (encounters with the Risen).


In Christian art , the shepherd with the lost sheep on his shoulders is the oldest representation of Christ , often in the Roman catacombs . Since this motif was already popular in pre-Christian shepherd scenes and had also found its way into the cult of the dead (see Mithraism ), it is often not clear whether it is already a Christian testimony. In contrast to the western church tradition, "the art of the Christian East [...] practically does not know the image of the good shepherd". In the 19th century, the picture experienced a renaissance and became popular living room and bedroom decorations as an art print in the Nazarene style in many variations.


Similar motifs from the history of art and religion

The depictions of the good shepherd are reminiscent of older depictions of animal carriers such as the calf carrier and the ram carrier from classical antiquity. The Greek god Hermes was referred to as kriophoros , among other things . In the Roman catacombs one often finds pagan representations alongside early Christian ones.

See also


  • Michael Fischer u. a. (Ed.): The motif of the good shepherd in theology, literature and music (= Mainz hymnological studies , volume 5). Francke, Tübingen u. a. 2002, ISBN 3-7720-2915-9 .
  • Gerd Heinz-Mohr : Article “Shepherd”. In: Gerd Heinz-Mohr: Lexicon of symbols: images and signs of Christian art. Eugen Diederichs, Munich, 1988 10 , ISBN 3-424-00943-1 , pp. 136-138.
  • Anton Legner : Article “Shepherd, Good Shepherd”. In: Engelbert Kirschbaum (Ed.): Lexicon of Christian Iconography , Volume 2. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau a. a., 1970, ISBN 3-451-22568-9 , col. 289-299.

Web links

Commons : Jesus Christ as the “Good Shepherd”  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Heinz-Mohr: Hirt , p. 136.
  2. Gen 4.2  EU
  3. Gen 13.2  EU
  4. Gen 27.9  EU
  5. Gen 30.31  EU
  6. Isa 63.11  EU ; Num 27.17  EU
  7. Jer 23 : 1-4  EU ; Hes 34  EU
  8. 1 Sam 16.19  EU ; 17.15.28 EU ; 2 Sam 7,8  EU , Ps 78,70-72  EU
  9. Gen 48.15  EU ; Ps 23 , Ps 80 ; Ps 95 ; Isa 40.11  EU ; Jer 31.10  EU
  10. Mt 26 : 31-32  EU par. Mk 14: 27-28  EU
  11. Joseph Ratzinger : Jesus of Nazareth. First part: From the baptism in the Jordan to the transfiguration. Third edition, Herder Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau 2008, p. 317.
  12. Georges, 1910 ( )
  13. Legner, Col. 289.
  14. Heinz-Mohr, p. 137.
  15. ^ A b Peter and Linda Murray: The Oxford Companion to Classical Art and architecture , p. 475: "Thus we find philosophers holding scrolls or a Hermes Kriophoros which can be turned into Christ giving the Law (Traditio Legis) and the Good Shepherd respectively . "
  16. ^ Sculpture Collection and Museum for Byzantine Art  in the German Digital Library. Accessed on August 24, 2014.
  17. a b Reinhard Herbig : Pan, the Greek goat god. Attempt a monograph . Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1949, DNB 451964187 , p. 23: “One of his fathers, Hermes in the type of the Kriophoros ram-bearer, was certainly the godfather to such an art representation. In the imagination of the good shepherd, this form penetrated the early Christian circle of images, as is well known, and there received and preserved its symbolic character. "
  18. Victor Schultze: The catacombs: The early Christian tombs. Your history and your monuments . Leipzig 1882; Reprint: Severus, Hamburg 2012, p. 35: "The room contains three arcosolias, two of which are decorated with paintings, which, with the exception of one depiction, not only have no analogies in the Christian image circle, but even pagan deities - Pluton, Mercury, perform the Parzen and mythological scenes. "