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The Shepherd of Hermas is a text from the very early Christian church of the second century, during the period in which the New Testament was being canonized. A popular text during the second and third centuries, the Shepherd was considered scriptural by many of the theologians of the time. It is written as a call to repentance and adherence to a strict moralistic life.
As a witness to early Christianity in Rome, the Shepherd of Hermas includes a distinct Jewish witness to a early Christian form. The author, or authors, of the Shepherd are not known. A number of ancient sources attribute the identity of the author to a Hermas who was a brother of the Bishop of Rome, Pius I. Pius I was Bishop of Rome from 140 to 155. Language and theology of the work also point to earlier composition of some parts of the Shepherd. Reference in the work to Clement I of Rome suggest that at least the first two visions can be dated from his time as Bishop of Rome, from 88 to 97. Origen proposed that the Apostle Paul was an author, as in (Romans 16:14) he sent greetings to a Hermas, a Christian in Rome. Yet, apparent familiarity in the text with Revelations and other Johannine texts supports a second century composition of the text.
In the Shepherd Hermas speaks of his life and the development of Christian virtues as he relates his life as a freed Christian slave. The teaching point of the book is thus ethical, not theological. The work is divided into three main sections. The first section describes five visions; the second section presents 12 mandates; and the last section presents ten parables, sometimes referred to as similitudes.
Hermas begins the book relating his being sold to a certain Rhoda, who later frees him, and whom he meets again. In his travels Hermas sees her again in a vision in which she relates his need to pray for forgiveness for an unchaste thought that he had had. In his vision, Hermas is aided by an aged woman who tells him to do penance and correct the sins of his children. In a later vision, an angel of repentance appears in the guise of a shepherd who delivers to Hermas the precepts, or mandates, that in that form present the development of early Christian ethics. The mandates, or similitudes, follow also in the form of visions that are explained by the angelic shepherd.
Throughout the book Hermas presents himself as a simple person who is genuinely pious and conscientious.
Only a limited number of incomplete Greek manuscripts are extant. Additionally, a number of fragments have been discovered, including fragments of a Middle Persian translation. Of note is that the Codex Sinaiticus of the mid third century contains a copy of the Shepherd of Hermas at the end of the New Testament, illustrating its popularity at that time.