About 2,000 years ago in fields near Bethlehem, angels were said to have told shepherds of the birth of Jesus. A few shepherds can still be found there today, wandering with their flocks across the sparsely covered grass slopes much as their predecessors did in biblical times, but their numbers are dwindling.

Most shepherds have given up the hard life and moved into modern homes adjoining the fields, where they work strictly on a part-time basis. Should the angels return, they would be likely to find many of the shepherds inside their homes next to an electric heater, watching television.

Only a few shepherds still watch their flocks by night, gazing up at the stars as their forefathers did, looking for good or bad omens and attempting to divine the future.

"Now technology has changed all that. People are less interested in the stars. I have radio, video, television and a satellite dish which picks up all 30 channels,'' Mr. Elisa Banoura, 67, a Palestinian Christian, told Ecumenical News International (ENI). "They supply me with all the weather reports and news I need.''

He typifies the modern-day shepherd now living on the outskirts of Bethlehem. He keeps only seven animals—sheep and goats—in a small room at the rear of his house, seldom letting them roam out of his backyard. He feeds them until they are ready to be slaughtered and sells them for about US$170 each.

The high cost of feedstuffs renders his vocation uneconomic, he says, making it a true labor of love to keep alive a family tradition dating back 500 years. Banoura, who is also a retired science teacher, is the last of a long line of shepherds. All of his children have decided to enter other professions, such as law and medicine, rather than to keep to family tradition. ...

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