In the early days of settlement in Palestine the chief occupation of the Israelites was that of shepherding. Traces of the importance of this occupation are found through the Old Testament. The shepherd's function was to lead the flocks of sheep to the pasture and the stream (Ps. xxiii. 2), and protect them from wild beasts (I Sam. xii. 24) and robbers (Job i. 14 et seq.), in which latter task he was sometimes assisted by a sheep-dog (Job xxx. 1). At night the shepherds kept watch, sometimes in the open air (Nah. iii. 18), and at other times in the shepherd's tent (Isa. xxxviii. 12) or in a special stone tower (Gen. xxxv. 21). At times he would collect the sheep in caves (I Sam. xxiv. 3), or in sheepfolds built of stones (Judges v. 16; Zeph. ii. 6); and a lamb that had fallen sick or become lame he would carry in his bosom (Isa. xl. 11).
The shepherd generally wore a single garment (Jer. xliii. 12), clad in which he walked forth at the head of his flock (John x. 4), carrying his shepherd's bag or wallet; his weapons were a staff and a sling (Gen. xxxii. 10; I Sam. xvii. 40). When agriculture became the prominent industry of the country, the shepherd, instead of being independent, was generally hired by a farmer, who paid him wages in kind (Gen. xxx. 28), or sometimes in money (Zech. xi. 13). The number of sheep returned to the master's fold was checked by being made to pass under the shepherd's staff (Jer. xxxiii. 13; Ezek. xx. 37). As farming increased in importance, the shepherd became less respected, just as in Egypt, where he was regarded "as an abomination" (Gen. xlvi. 34). In Talmudic times it was even declared that a shepherd was incapable of bearing witness, owing to his habit of encroaching upon other persons' pastures (Sanh. 25a).