Caves are safe havens. At night, the sheep are brought in and the shepherd sits at the entrance, perhaps lighting a fire to warn away wild animals. Remember how we learned that there are still wolves in Israel? We also learn that the 23rd psalm describes a shepherd's life.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
All this is straightforward.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
We have seen how the sheep follow the shepherd in single file.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
These deep valleys are prone to flash floods in winter and it's the shepherd's duty was know when to go into them.
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The shepherd raps his staff rhythmically on a stone, and as long as the sheep hear it, they graze freely.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Sheep's head have no wool and sunburn easily. The traditional treatment is olive oil and it is rubbed into the skin.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
We've all seen stained glass with a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders. They still do that with injured sheep, or sheep that are a little wayward and like to graze at the edges of their fields. Aren't we all like that sometimes?
We make our way out of the cave and to yet another souvenir shop. Hawkers besiege us again trying to sell us precious stone beads strung into necklaces. Allan finds a broken one on the ground, and wonders how precious they are if they can be discarded so easily when they break. Our guide tells us that the sheep here are a unique breed called awassi which has a fat tail good for cooking. We see a painting of it at the souvenir shop.
But my mind is on the herb mix we had with our Jerusalem bagel. I head next door. The small grocery store has a few herb mixes but I can't find what I'm looking for. The lady, a pleasant Christian woman, helps me out, asking her husband something in Arabic. (swift Arabic, then "google", then more swift Arabic, then "Ipad")
Her husband googles the words I have said in English and with Allan's help, we find the box of mix I'm looking for. Our guide says it's wonderful mixed with oil, with bread to dip into it.
I'm pleased to see on back cover that it is made by Palestinian cooperatives and small scale farmers.
It's back toward the checkpoint again. The high security walls are full of graffiti, such as a dove of peace wearing a flak jacket. Again, that tension, although our guide reports that Bethlehem's last three mayors have been Christian, and the latest is a woman. Christians are poor here, but it's been good in recent years. I come away with mixed feelings about our visit.
We have one more special site to see, not far from our hotel. One that is so wonderful, it has to be saved for last.