The Shepherd of Hermas

The Shepherd of Hermas, sometimes just called The Shepherd, is a Christian literary work of the late first half of the second century, considered a valuable book by many Christians, and considered canonical scripture by some of the early Church fathers such as Irenaeus. The Shepherd was very popular amongst Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It is found in the Codex Sinaiticus, and it is listed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus.
The work comprises five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it.

Language and translation

The book was originally written in Rome in the Greek language. A first Latin translation, the Vulgata, was made very shortly afterwards. A second Latin translation, the Palatina, was made at the beginning of the fifth century. Of the Greek version, the last fifth or so is missing. The Vulgate Latin translation is the earliest translation and the most complete witness.
The Shepherd was also translated at least twice into the Coptic language and fragments of both Sahidic and Akhmimic translations survive. Three translations into Ge'ez were also made, but none survives complete. The sole surviving Georgian translation may have been made from Arabic, but no Arabic translation has been preserved. There does not appear to have been a Syriac translation and no Syriac author shows any awareness of the Shepherd. It was always more popular in the Western Roman Empire and in Alexandria than in the east. There was a Middle Persian translation made for a Manichaean readership. It survives in a single fragmentary manuscript found at Turfan.


The book consists of five visions granted to Hermas, a former slave. This is followed by twelve mandates or commandments, and ten similitudes, or parables. It commences abruptly in the first person: "He who brought me up sold me to a certain Rhoda, who was at Rome. After many years I met her again, and began to love her as a sister." As Hermas is on the road to Cumae, he has a vision of Rhoda. She tells him that she is now his accuser in heaven, on account of unchaste and impure thoughts the married narrator once had regarding her. He is to repent and pray for forgiveness, for himself and all his house. He is consoled by a vision of the Church in the form of an aged woman, weak and helpless from the sins of her unfaithful children, who tells him to bear fruits of repentance and to correct the sins of his children. Subsequently, after his repentance he sees her made younger, yet still wrinkled and with white hair; then again, later she appears as quite young but still with white hair; and lastly, she shows herself as a glorious Bride.
This allegorical language continues through the other parts of the work. In the second vision she gives Hermas a book, which she later takes back in order to add to it. The fifth vision, which is represented as taking place 20 days after the fourth, introduces "the Angel of repentance" in the guise of a shepherd, from whom the whole work takes its name. He delivers to Hermas a series of precepts, which form an interesting development of early Christian ethics. One point which deserves special mention is the instruction of a Christian husband's obligation to forgive and take back an adulterous wife upon her repentance. The eleventh mandate, on humility, is concerned with false prophets who desire to occupy the primary, or best seats. Some have seen here a reference to Marcion, who came to Rome c. 140 and desired to be admitted among the priests.
After the mandates come ten similitudes in the form of visions, which are explained by the angel. The longest of these is an elaboration of the parable of the building of a tower, which had formed the matter of the third vision. The tower is the Church, and the stones of which it is built are the faithful. In the third vision it looks as though only the holy are a part of the true Church; in Similitude 9 it is clearly pointed out that all the baptized are included, though they may be cast out for grave sins, and can be readmitted only after repentance.
In spite of the grave subjects, the book is written in a very optimistic and hopeful tone, like most early Christian works.
In parable 5, the author mentions a Son of God, as a virtuous man filled with a holy "pre-existent spirit" and adopted as the Son. In the 2nd century, adoptionism was one of two competing doctrines about Jesus' true nature, the other being that he pre-existed as the Word or only-begotten Son of God and is to be identified as such from his conception; Christ's identity as the Logos, in which the Logos is further understood to be uncreated and coessentially divine with God, was affirmed in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. Bogdan G. Bucur says the document was widely accepted among "orthodox" Christians, yet was not criticized for apparently exhibiting an adoptionistic Christology. He says that the passage in question should be understood as Jesus making his dwelling within those who submit to his spirit, so that the adoption that takes place is not of Jesus, but of his followers.

Authorship and date

, the nature of the theology, and the author's apparent familiarity with the Book of Revelation and other Johannine texts are thought to set the date of composition in the 2nd century.
However, several ancient witnesses support an early dating and there is internal evidence for the place and date of this work in the language and theology of the work. The reference to an unknown Clement is presumed by some to be Clement of Rome; if this is that Clement, it would suggest a date c. 90 for at least the historicised setting of the first two visions. Since Paul sent greetings to a Hermas, a Christian of Rome, a minority have followed Origen of Alexandria's opinion that he was the author of this religious allegory.
Three ancient witnesses, one of whom claims to be contemporary, declare that Hermas was the brother of Pope Pius I, whose pontificate was not earlier than 140–155 AD, which corresponds to the date range offered by J. B. Lightfoot. These authorities may be citing the same source, perhaps Hegesippus, whose lost history of the early Church provided material for Eusebius of Caesarea. The witnesses are the following:
Remarks of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria give a sense of resistance to the Shepherd among its hearers, and of a sense of controversy about it. Tertullian implies that Pope Callixtus I had quoted it as an authority, for he replies: "I would admit your argument, if the writing of The Shepherd had deserved to be included in the Divine Instrument, and if it were not judged by every council of the Churches, even of your own Churches, among the apocryphal." And again, he says that the Epistle of Barnabas - which is Tertullian's name for the NT Epistle of Hebrews is "more received among the Churches than the apocryphal epistle of the Shepherd". Though Clement of Alexandria constantly quotes with reverence a work that seems to him to be very useful, and inspired; yet he repeatedly apologizes, when he has occasion to quote it, on the ground that "some people despise it". Two controversies divided the mid-century Roman Christian communities. One was Montanism, the ecstatic inspired outpourings of continuing pentecostal revelations, such as visions recorded in the Shepherd may have appeared to encourage. The other was Docetism that taught that the Christ had existed since the beginning and the corporeal reality of Jesus the man was merely an apparition.
Cyprian makes no reference to this work, so it would seem to have been out of use in Africa during the early decades of the 3rd century. Somewhat later it is quoted by the author of the pseudo-Cyprianic tract Adversus aleatores as "Scriptura divina", but in Jerome's day it was "almost unknown to the Latins". Curiously, it went out of fashion in the East, so that the Greek manuscripts of it are but two in number; whereas in the West it became better known and was frequently copied in the Middle Ages.


The Greek text is edited by Gebhardt and Harnack, by Funk, and, with its English translation, by Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, edited by Harmon ; the Codex Sinaiticus of Hermas was edited by Lake. The English translation by William Wake is given in W. Hone and J. Jones's Apocryphal New Testament. An English translation is also in volume i of the American edition of Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Roberts and Donaldson. In general, consult: