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Unto us a lamb is given
The Spectator (UK) ^ | 12/15/2001 | Horatio Clare

Posted on 12/22/2001 6:56:03 AM PST by dighton

SO far this year we have slaughtered and burnt four-and-a-half million of them; it may not be enough. We are planning to kill or castrate hundreds of thousands more. The government is awarding itself powers to destroy any it chooses, and no right of appeal will exist. We have declared total war on sheep.

A relationship 2,000 years in the making has suddenly soured, and there is no question who has come off worse: Humans, 4.5 million; Sheep, one o.g. (A single slaughterman died during the killing, but no sheep was blamed; rather one Keith Ward, another slaughterman, who denies murder.)

It seems a good moment — perhaps a last chance — to look at the animal on the receiving end of this unprecedented spree of interspecies violence. You ought at least to know something about these creatures. You are paying for their destruction (£2 billion in taxes so far this year), and your great-grandchildren, coming across some antiquated storybook depicting smiling farmers and patchwork fields, may well ask you what the white things were.

Historically, the deal between sheep and humans has been very simple: we fed and looked after them, they fed and looked after us. Ten thousand years ago Central Asians were wearing sheepskins and fleeces. Five-and-a-half thousand years ago man learnt how to spin wool. There were small, primitive sheep in Britain before the Romans arrived. They brought over the large white things, now known as Cotswolds, which were to revolutionise the British economy.

In the Middle Ages we treasured the sheep. You could eat it, wear it, write on it (skins to parchment), drink from it, or treat it as a friendly, self-propelled cheese factory. The mediaeval wool trade boomed to such an extent that in the 14th century it provided half the Crown’s tax revenues. Churches, halls and manors were paid for by sheep. They were our first international hot seller, and we were not the only nation to benefit.

Cortez shipped sheep from Spain to South America, introducing them to North America in 1519. The success of sheep-farming among the North American colonists, and the economic power it brought them, enraged the British government. Amputation was introduced for ‘illegal’ trading. Resentment at that, and the Stamp Act, led to the Revolutionary War. In the 20th century, 60 per cent of Australia’s exports came off the back of a sheep.

So, although it may look like an ignorant bundle of wool, its ancestors built nations and started revolutions. Perhaps a little respect might be in order?

From the sheep’s point of view, good farmers have been a blessing. Sure, we have a habit of eating their sons, but we have put millennia of care into the wellbeing of their daughters. My mother, a hill farmer of consummate skill, is still amazed at the variety of ways a sheep can find to die. Even the hardy Welsh mountain breed with which I was brought up are susceptible to braxy, pulpy kidney, staggers, pneumonia, pasturella, twin lamb disease, cancer, hypothermia in the winter, maggots in the summer, scab, scrapie, foxes, crows and dogs.

They push their heads through fences and get stuck (the grass on the other side really is greener: sheep invented the axiom). They climb trees to pick at foliage and get hung up by their horns or legs. They fall down banks, get bitten by snakes and stung by wasps. They tumble into ponds and streams. They gorge themselves on fallen ash leaves, roll on to their backs and blow up like balloons. They poison themselves on ragwort. Rams’ horns regularly grow into their own heads, a lethal variation of the in-growing toenail. They starve, freeze, get depressed and fall ill — but a good shepherd can counter every affliction.

This extraordinary vulnerability and tendency to self-destruction made them the perfect metaphor for man in Christianity. Jesus was the ultimate Good Shepherd, laying down his life for his flock. Wherever the metaphor appears in Scripture, love, trust and sacrifice are invoked. Jesus himself was the Lamb of God. The line of trust and succour from God to Jesus to man to sheep was comprehensible and logical for 2,000 years; only in our generation has it lost its force, as the shepherd gave way to the slaughterman.

The metaphor for humans is not as unflattering as it might appear. Every sheep has a distinct character. For each fearful and stupid animal, there is a curious and affectionate one. Every flock has its leaders: while the rest panic at the appearance of humans and dogs, the leaders work out what you want them to do, and, if it seems safe, they do it. Their confidence inspires the rest.

Although no one has ever claimed that sheep are intelligent animals, neither are they fools. Some seem predisposed to stray. Once they learn that fences can be surmounted by jumping or crawling, they are unstoppable. Strays lead independent lives, rearing their lambs on the run. Incidents of sheep learning to roll across cattle-grids are famously well documented.

They can be very playful. Lambs run races along the edges of fields. They love to compete for King of the Castle: any ant-heap will do. My mother had a yearling (a one-year-old) which had the habit of climbing on to the daily hay bale, apparently for the hell of it. She was evidently a joker, as most lambs pass through the playful phase and enter a rather solemn period, when they eschew games.

When newly shorn or dashing through a gate into fresh pasture, young sheep literally jump for joy, springing into the air like pot-bellied antelopes. They form strong attachments: best friends will stick together and remember each other, seeking each other out after periods of separation.

Scientists have recently ‘revealed’ that sheep can remember the faces of up to 50 other sheep, as well as their shepherd’s mug. This will not come as much of a surprise to sheep or shepherds, who have known it for centuries. ‘Sheep must potentially be able to think about individuals that are absent from their environment,’ says Dr Keith Kendrick of the Babraham Institute, Cambridge. It’s a fact, Dr Keith. When you wean lambs from ewes, both mothers and children cry for days. Their memories last for at least two years, according to the scientists; rather longer than some humans.

The telling phrase in the Babraham report, published in Nature, is that the test-sheep were trained to recognise pairs of faces ‘using a food reward’. Sheep, as the researchers have discovered, will do absolutely anything for food.

Their emotional sympathy is extraordinary. Sheep sense human anger or frustration and try to flee. Good shepherds move calmly and slowly among their flocks, and talk to them. Sheep will answer. The ubiquitous bleat of the hungry sheep is only one of many communications. There are cries of distress, which any shepherd will recognise; whickering, affectionate noises to reassure lambs. There are curious, interrogative grunts; whistles of alarm or hostility, and groans of pain when giving birth.

Anyone who thinks that sheep are cowards has never tried to capture a full-grown ram for a spot of horn-shortening. A ewe will face down dogs or foxes when defending a lamb, which is astonishingly courageous, considering her complete lack of weaponry. And there is absolutely no doubt that they know when death is upon them. When they believe all is lost, lambs go completely limp in the hand.

So when Elliot Morley, the euphemistically titled minister for animal health, announces another round of slaughter, spare a thought for the victims. As the slaughterman closes in, and the faces of their 50 friends flash before their eyes, the last face may well be that of the shepherd, accompanied by a mournful question-mark. Where we used to cure, we now kill. It is a perverse end to a beautiful friendship.

© 2001 The

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
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Zurbaran: Agnus Dei.

1 posted on 12/22/2001 6:56:03 AM PST by dighton
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To: dighton
2 posted on 12/22/2001 6:59:55 AM PST by afraidfortherepublic
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To: dighton
"He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds!
Once you were wandering like lost sheep. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls." I Pet 2
3 posted on 12/22/2001 7:07:42 AM PST by anniegetyourgun
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To: dighton
Ovis Bovinus bump!
4 posted on 12/22/2001 7:27:13 AM PST by woollyone
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To: dighton
Wool bump for ewe.
5 posted on 12/22/2001 7:47:10 AM PST by aculeus
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To: dighton
The government is awarding itself powers to destroy any it chooses, and no right of appeal will exist.

and i thought england was some sort of democracy. hmmm. sheep indeed.

must be their government officials are in bed with alf. this is too sad.

...look for it coming to a country near you.

zurbaran bump.

6 posted on 12/22/2001 7:50:38 AM PST by glock rocks
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To: dighton
SO far this year we have slaughtered and burnt four-and-a-half million of them

I hate to show my ignorance, but WHY ?

7 posted on 12/22/2001 8:22:15 AM PST by THEUPMAN
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I hate to show my ignorance, but WHY ?

Hoof and mouth disease.

8 posted on 12/22/2001 8:31:02 AM PST by aculeus
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To: dighton
Damn this is truly a sad story. Make me want to cry over some steaming mutton!
9 posted on 12/22/2001 8:57:35 AM PST by Bommer
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To: aculeus
Hoof and mouth disease.

what's so bad about hoof and mouth , I understand that the animal loses weight but dosn't it recover ? people don't get it. Why are these farmers allowing their animles to be killed?

10 posted on 12/22/2001 6:53:31 PM PST by THEUPMAN
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To: dighton; Sad.
Phillip Keller has written a very heart touching book titled "A Shepher Looks at Psalm 23". He is a shepherd in real life and brings the 23rd Psalm to rich meaning that will make you laugh and and make you dry, but most of all, will give insight to the Lord's view of us and how we really are very much like sheep and how He really is the Good Shepherd.

It isn't a large book, but it is one that you will probably read more than once. I have given numerous copies as gifts and the response has always been gratifying.

Just thought you might be interested. Merry Christmas.


11 posted on 12/22/2001 7:43:50 PM PST by woollyone
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To: woollyone
Articles based within the socialist, democratic nation of Britain are unworthy of America. That nation is nothing more than a method to strip America of our Constitution.
12 posted on 12/22/2001 7:48:42 PM PST by Buckeroo
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To: 2sheep
13 posted on 12/22/2001 7:51:46 PM PST by RnMomof7
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To: dighton
A beautiful post. The Agnus Dei has always been my favorite section of the Mass. I am listening to Palestrina's Mass as I Freep!!


14 posted on 12/22/2001 7:58:36 PM PST by Good King Wenceslas
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To: Buckeroo
Certainly, the global socialist agenda is being perfected in GB and what we see there will, in time, come home to our land, unless we stand together to fight tyranny.
15 posted on 12/22/2001 8:13:26 PM PST by woollyone
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To: woollyone
"...will make you laugh and and make you dry."

...meant to say "cry". *grin*

16 posted on 12/22/2001 8:16:55 PM PST by woollyone
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To: dighton
And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
17 posted on 12/22/2001 8:56:51 PM PST by Fester Chugabrew
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To: dighton
mmmm. honest, had a great leg-o-lamb with mint jelly for dinner with the family

hit & run ?

18 posted on 12/22/2001 11:56:08 PM PST by glock rocks
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To: Orual; artist; afraidfortherepublic; anniegetyourgun; woollyone; aculeus; glock rocks; THEUPMAN...
William Holman Hunt. The Hireling Shepherd, 1851.

Oil on canvas, approximately 30 x 43 inches. City of Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

A viewer might look a long time at this painting for the source in Shakespeare and never find it, but these lines from Act II, scene vi of King Lear, spoken by Edgar disguised as the madman Tom, accompanied the picture when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy:

Sleepeth or waketh thou, jolly shepherd?
Thy sheep be in the corn;
And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,
Thy sheep shall take no harm.

The association may begin to come into focus, but the implications of the song from King Lear are not totally clear without these comments from a letter written by Hunt.

Shakespeare's song represents a Shepherd who is neglecting his real duty of guarding the sheep: instead of using his voice in truthfully performing his duty, he is using his "minikin mouth" in some idle way. He was a type thus of other muddle headed pastors who instead of performing their services to their flock--which is in constant peril--discuss vain questions of no value to any human soul. My fool has found a death's head moth, and this fills his little mind with forebodings of evil and he takes it to an equally sage counsellor for her opinion. She scorns his anxiety from ignorance rather than profundity, but only the more distracts his faithfulness: while she feeds her lamb with sour apples his sheep have burst bounds and got into the corn. It is not merely that the wheat will be spoilt, but in eating it the sheep are doomed to destruction from becoming what farmers call "blown." (Quoted by Landow, 39)

The painting, Hunt says, is thus to be read allegorically as a comment on good and bad pastors, a topic of particular concern at mid-century with the debate between evangelical and high church factions in the Church of England. Following Hunt's lead for a religious interpretation of the painting and the passage from King Lear, critics have as well suggested other possible sources in John 10:11-14 and John Milton's Lycidas.

Hunt was perhaps the firmest adherent to the principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of which he was a founding member: The Hireling Shepherd is a brilliant and faithful depiction of a natural rural scene (some say that he is the best artist at reproducing the actual effects of sunlight and shadow) and at the same time says something important and timeless that reaches beyond the actual painting itself. As George Landow puts it in William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism, the artist wanted to create an art "that could marry realism and elaborate iconography, fact and feeling, matter and spirit. . . . an art that demanded both an immediate emotional response and one that was meditative and analytical. . . . he wanted to create an art that would be simultaneously intellectual and deeply moving, popular and appealing to an elite, objective and subjective" (1).

The allusion to King Lear does not stop here, for Hunt returned again to the subject of lost sheep in another painting, Our English Coasts, 1852, which he exhibited in 1853 and then later renamed Strayed Sheep. Ideas similar to The Hireling Shepherd are, A. C. Gissing notes, hinted at in Strayed Sheep (77).

In this painting the sheep are in imminent danger as they wander along the precipice of the cliff, and here there is no shepherd in sight to protect them from falling over the edge. They are completely abandoned. Critics immediately associated Our English Coasts with Hunt's earlier painting, The Hireling Shepherd and suggested that the painting had another meaning and spoke "of men, and not of sheep." Others read into the painting political overtones and speculated about not only negligent pastors but irresponsible political leaders who allowed the electorate to wander dangerously. Given Hunt's "intense nationalism," Landow suggests that some sort of political as well as religious interpretation may be plausible (43).

A political reading of both the passage from King Lear and the painting is more than plausible in our own century. Critics note that Lear is in a sense the bad shepherd in Tom's song, for his subjects do indeed suffer from the initial act of foolishness when he gives up kingship and throws his country into chaos and civil war. Much like a painter, Grigori Kozintsev graphically depicts this fact in his 1970 film of King Lear. Jack Jorgens in Shakespeare on Film analyzes the opening scenes of this "Christian-Marxist" Russian King Lear and notes that the groups of citizens coming to Lear's meeting with his daughters in the opening scene of the play "become larger until they cover the hillsides like ants. Having gathered, they wait in silence before the massive walls of Lear's castle. . . . Kozintsev shows us a wasteland peopled, masses of subjects who have suffered from Lear's tyranny, blindness, and neglect, who after his rash, fatal act are ravaged by the civil war and must rebuild when it is over" (238). Modern critics of King Lear certainly would not reject a political reading of either The Hireling Shepherd or Strayed Sheep.

-- Harry Rusche, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

19 posted on 12/23/2001 9:57:48 AM PST by dighton
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To: dighton
Good post! Jesus indeed addressed the hirling problem very well in John 10.

Sadly, too many pastors fall squarely into the catagory of hirlings, who do the bidding of the flesh nature of the body or of the board. When it happens, the Word is compromised, and the sheep aren't fed the whole council of God.

Healthy sheep reproduce healthy sheep and good shepherds are always needed.

20 posted on 12/23/2001 10:39:35 AM PST by woollyone
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