Did Jewish Shepherds Swaddle Lambs?

This Christmas a new story related to be the birth of Jesus was brought to my attention. According to the story, many of the lambs to be offered at the temple in Jerusalem came from nearby Bethlehem. The law of Moses required every lamb that was sacrificed to be free from any defect. The shepherds- or priests, depending on which version of the story you find- would examine the lambs very carefully. To protect the sacrificial lamb from injury it was tightly cocooned in blankets or strips of cloth- it was swaddled. Then the swaddled lamb was laid in a stone feed trough, a manger, to protect it from harm.

When the angel told shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus he said to them, “This shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” What an incredible dovetailing of circumstances! An event familiar to the shepherds fit perfectly with the birth of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! These simple shepherds would have immediately recognized the significance of a baby swaddled and laid in a manger. As great as this story is little evidence exists to support the tale of swaddled lambs.

An online search will return many articles repeating this story. But none of the sites I perused cited any archaeological or historical evidence for the story or presented any credible evidence of this taking place in ancient Israel. I was unable to find any commentary, Bible dictionary or other scholarly work which referred to this practice. Time to research this story was limited and it is possible there is evidence to back up the story that I have not yet found. I also realize the lack of evidence for something is not the same as proof against it. Possibly shepherds in Bethlehem swaddled sacrificial lambs, but it seems very unlikely to this author.

The story is interesting and compelling. All its little details fit together nicely with the Christmas story to give a marvelous image of the Lamb of God being readied for His sacrifice. But the Bible never mentions lambs being swaddled. The law of Moses did not command sacrifical lambs to be wrapped in cloth or laid in a manger. If sacrificial lambs were swaddled at birth, it was an extra-Biblical custom of the Jews.

While this particular story is probably harmless, the danger of such stories is their tendency to undermine the sufficiency of the Bible. Everything the world needs to know about the birth of Jesus is found in the pages of Scripture. Archeology and history help bridge the gap between events that happened thousands of years ago and our understanding of those events, but the Bible is sufficient in itself to teach everything we need to know about God the Son and the salvation of men. The Bible does not need the help of 20th century discoveries or modern day Rabbies to communicate Divine truth and transform lives.