Q. A few years ago I browsed the internet with many questions surrounding the biblical accounts of the nativity. One question I had was “How did the shepherds know where to go to find the newborn Jesus?” It was then I came across the proposition that he was born at Migdal Eder, also called “The Tower of the Flock” in Micah 4:8. I found the concept compelling due to the history of special type of shepherding that took place in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus birth. What are your thoughts about the possibility of this being where Jesus was born?
You are referring to an interpretation that a commentator named Alfred Edersheim offered of Micah 4:8, “And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.” There is a “tower of the flock” mentioned in Genesis 35:21, and Edersheim assumed that it still existed in the time of Jesus. He inferred from a reference in the Mishnah that sheep destined for temple sacrifices were raised and tended there, and so he saw symbolic significance in the location and suggested that Jesus had been born there.
However, this interpretation is not accepted by most biblical scholars. It is unknown whether the tower mentioned in Genesis still existed in Jesus’ day. In any event, the Mishnah reference simply specifies the radius around Jerusalem within which found sheep were to be considered temple sacrifices, using Migdal Eder (the location, not necessarily a tower by that name) to specify the distance. We do not need to infer from this that this was a place where temple sheep were raised and kept.
For his part, Micah seems only to be describing Jerusalem figuratively as the “tower of the flock,” that is, the city that watches over the people of Israel as God’s flock. Micah is promising that the kingship will return to Jerusalem. Christians believe that this promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. But we do not need to conclude from the prophecy that Jesus was born at or near a tower by that name that still existed in his day.
So how did the shepherds find the baby Jesus? The angel who appeared to them told them how. He said, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds would have known where the various animal feeding locations were in Bethlehem, and they just had to go from one to another until they found a baby, wrapped up as a newborn, in one of the mangers.