PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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The Good Shepherd; William Charles DOBSON

Bible revival

Shepherds and Lambs







A man dressed like a shepherd carries a lamb or a young ewe.

In the pastoral civilizations of the Middle-East, the images of the shepherd and his lamb are loaded with meaning. The representation of the shepherd has a double meaning: on the one hand, he is a strong man, one who defends his flock against all the dangers, on the other hand, he is gentle and full of solicitude, the one who sets out to find his lost sheep, the one who carries the sheep too weak to be able to walk.

This man is Jesus who has always been presented as the shepherd or pastor of his people, either keeping his flock or, more often, carrying the young ewe or the lost lamb on his shoulders.

John the Baptist is not a shepherd but an ascetic, wearing the skin of a camel or of a goat and living in the desert. But as John the Baptist proclaims, when he is about to baptize him, that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the lamb is henceforth associated to Christ.

It is therefore sometimes difficult to distinguish John the Baptist with a lamb from Jesus the Good Shepherd. John never carries the lamb on his shoulders, he is generally rather young and, in his hands, he holds a very thin cross instead of a shepherd’s crook. He announces the Lamb and points at him. This also explains that John, as a child, plays with a lamb and the cross in the company of the Christ Child.







The Good Shepherd; William Charles DOBSON

Bible revival


Shepherds and Lambs



The Gospel according to John, chapter 10

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep… I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15).

 John the Baptist    

The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3

And the same John had his clothes in camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, went out to him And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:4-6)

The Gospel according to John, chapter 1

These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man who is preferred before me: for he was before me. (John 1:28-30)




Jesus is the Good Shepherd par excellence, the God shepherd of his people as Psalm 23 already says; the one that Abel the Just was considered to foreshadow (see Abel and Cain). The lamb is either on his shoulders or on a rock, out of which sometimes four rivers, those of Paradise, are running.

But Jesus is also the lamb. This animal is also the symbol of purity and innocence, its offering to God is a tradition. It is Abel’s ewe that God accepts as an offering, it is the ram that the angel designates to Abraham as a substitute for the sacrifice of his son (see The Sacrifice of Abraham). And it is above all the lamb that the Israelites kill before leaving Egypt and whose blood protects them against the death that strikes the Egyptians. This rite of the lamb is repeated at every Jewish Passover.

For the Jewish prophets, the lamb is the image of the ill-treated just; all the New Testament designates in Jesus the lamb ready to be delivered for the sacrifice.





Shepherds and Lambs


Jesus good shepherd 



The Good Shepherd; William Charles DOBSON

Bible revival


The Good Shepherd is represented in various ways, as an adult or as a child.


Christ, the Good Shepherd, Bartolomeo MURILLO; 1660; oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Web Gallery of Art



The Parable of the Good Shepherd; between 1400 and1500; pen drawing from “Speculum Humanae Salvationis”, MWW 10 C 23, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.



The representation of the Good Shepherd is very old; it comes from ancient times and is inspired by that of the Greek god Hermes carrying a young goat or a young calf. It has changed but a little except for his clothing and stick. Pastors wear short tunics; that of Christ is longer and his crook takes the shape of a bishop’s crozier so as to suggest the bishops who carry it as a symbol of authority over their flocks.



The Good Shepherd; 3rd century AD; marble statuette; Cleveland Museum of Art.




Hermes Criophorus (ram-bearer); 5th century BCE, Greek terracotta; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 In secula



Another ancient representation: that of Christ charming animals like Orpheus, has disappeared quickly enough.



Christ-Orpheus; 3rd century; fresco; Catacomb of Domitilla, Rome.




Orpheus; Roman Mosaic; Musée, Vienne, France.




John the Baptist and  the Lamb


St John the Baptist, TITIAN; 1542; oil on canvas; Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice




John the Baptist shows the Lamb or meditates on his destiny. Here John’s clothes have nothing of those of the ascetic traditionally dressed in the skin of a beast.


John the Baptist in the Wilderness; tot Sint Jans GEERTGEN; 1490-95; panel; Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Web Gallery of Art



John the Baptist with the Lamb of God on a Book; Workshop of the Master of the First Prayer Book of Maximilian ; 1510-20; tempera, gold and ink on parchment from “the Spinola Hours”; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Paul Getty trust


John the Baptist is often represented as an adolescent, as a child even, close to the images of the Holy Family.


St John the Baptist; Nicolas REGNIER; 1610; oil on canvas; Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

Web Gallery of Art



St John the Baptist in the Desert; Georges de La Tour; c. 1651; oil on canvas; Musée départemental, Vic-sur-Seille, France.




The Lamb of God


Agnus Dei; Francisco de ZURBARAN; 1632; oil on panel; private collection.



The lamb is the beast of sacrifice; it calls to mind Christ on the cross. But as Jesus is risen, the lamb is also the vanquisher of death and is represented with a leg folded, victoriously bearing the standard of the cross.


Ecce Agnus Dei; Andrea della ROBBIA; 1487; enamelled and varnished terracotta; Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence.

 In secula



Easter Lamb; Eric GILL; 1917; engraving; Tate Collection, London

 Tate collections


In the Book of Revelation, the lamb is worshipped by the crowd of the elect who acclaims him with their palms; he breaks the seals and is the image of Christ-Judge at the end of time.


The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb; Hubert and Jan van EYCK, 1432; oil on wood; central panel of the altarpiece, St Bavo cathedral, Ghent, Belgium

Web Gallery of Art






The Good Shepherd; William Charles DOBSON

Bible revival

Shepherds and Lambs

Shepherds of today and yesterday

In our modern civilisation, the shepherd is slightly outdated, but he comes back in force in some regions. The image of the shepherd was also transformed by the pastorals of the 17th and 18th centuries which gave him a rather naïve, even silly, aspect.

The shepherds are also those who come to worship the Christ Child who has just been born (see Nativity). Represented in paintings and sculptures, they are also present in Provençal living cribs played by children.

Finally the vocabulary has taken a religious character to which it is often confined. The name “pastor” designates the head of a community but it is particularly reserved to Protestant Churches other than the Church of England.





BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008