Biblical Studies Shepherd of Hermas
Harry Maier
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0230


The Shepherd of Hermas is a document attributed to Hermas, a Roman freedperson, who flourished during the first half of the 2nd century CE. Hermas as author as well as authorship by one or more writers have been topics of debate. The Muratorian Canon (44) states the Shepherd was written when Hermas’s brother, Pius (traditionally dated c. 140—c. 154 CE), was the bishop of Rome. The writing identifies a Clement who has the responsibility of sending writings on behalf of a Roman church to believers in other cities (Vis. 2.4.3), a reference many regard as a direct allusion to the author of the 1st-century letter, 1 Clement. From the writing we learn that Hermas is the former slave of his master, Rhoda (Vis. 1.1.1), and that he has suffered some setbacks in his business ventures due in part to the sins of his family (Vis. 1.3.1–2; 2.3.1–2). The shepherd of the title refers to an angelic figure, “the angel of repentance,” who appears part way through the work to reveal divine teachings. The 15th-century Codex Athous presents it in three parts: five “visions,” twelve “commandments,” and ten “parables.” These are not strict demarcations, however: the fifth vision is an introduction to the commandments that follow and several of the parables are expansions of the content of the visions. The writing centers largely on ethical teachings and instruction concerning communal values. These focus on the need of Roman Christ followers to renew and increase their commitment to religious ideals, especially to an ecclesial identity that will distinguish it from the society around it. Hermas learns from his heavenly messengers that because believers have sinned following their baptism God is offering them an opportunity before a coming judgment for a “second repentance.” In some parts of the early church the Shepherd was treated as canonical: the Greek Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and the Greek-Latin Codex Claromantanus (6th century) include it as part of the New Testament; Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria quote it as Scripture. The Shepherd was one of the most widely read writings in the early church; numerous authors (for example, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Athanasius, to name only a few) cited it even if they did not regard it as canonical. Its popularity is also attested by numerous depictions of scenes in Christian iconography.

General Overviews

A number of texts offer a general orientation to the Shepherd. Quasten 1983 and Hilhorst 1988 furnish a basic introduction as well as a bibliography. Introductory essays in volumes dedicated to overviews of the Apostolic Fathers provide brief discussions of the manuscript tradition, date, authorship, theology, and other issues, as discussed in Hellholm 2010, Jefford 2005, and Verheyden 2007. Alongside these, Wilson 1995, Joly 1992, and Barnard 1968 offer overviews of debated topics in the study of the work.

  • Barnard, L. W. “The Shepherd of Hermas in Recent Research.” The Heythrop Journal 9 (1968): 29–36.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.1968.tb00347.x

    This is a review article of critical editions and translations of the text, theories of multiple authorship, and studies in the ecclesiology of the Shepherd.

  • Hellholm, David. “The Shepherd of Hermas.” In The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction. Edited by Wilhelm Pratscher, 215–242. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.

    Hellholm, a leading authority on the work, offers an overview of the text tradition, genre, contents, organization, theology, uses of Scripture, occasion, authorship and dating, and furnishes an excellent bibliography of important studies.

  • Hilhorst, A. “Hermas.” Das Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 14 (1988): 682–781.

    Presents a basic introduction to the Shepherd and scholarly debates concerning its content, as well as a bibliography.

  • Jefford, Clayton N. The Apostolic Fathers: An Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.

    The Shepherd of Hermas is treated together with the rest of the writings constituting the corpus of Apostolic Fathers through a series of chapters dedicated to overarching themes such as uses of Scripture, structures of leadership, and theological ideas.

  • Joly, Robert. “Le milieu complexe du ‘Pasteur d’Hermas.’” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Part 2. Vol. 27.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase and Hildegard Temporini, 525–551. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992.

    Joly’s essay presents an overview of the Shepherd as well as a presentation of leading scholarly views on chief topics, together with a bibliography and list of critical editions and translations.

  • Quasten, Johannes. Patrology. Vol. 1, The Beginnings of Patristic Literature. Reprint, Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1983.

    This is the starting point for research. Quasten furnishes a bibliography with a general overview of chief themes of the letter, its author, the question of the document’s integrity, and its place in the history of doctrine. Originally published 1953.

  • Verheyden, Joseph. “The Shepherd of Hermas.” In The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Edited by Paul Foster, 63–71. T&T Clark Biblical Studies. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2007.

    This provides both a basic overview of the Shepherd and a valuable critical engagement with recent research.

  • Wilson, Christian J. Five Problems in the Interpretation of the Shepherd of Hermas: Authorship, Genre, Canonicity, Apocalyptic, and the Absence of the Name “Jesus Christ.” Mellen Biblical Press Series 34. Lewiston, NY: Mellen Biblical Press, 1995.

    Wilson identifies and discusses differing points of view and presents his own position on each of the topics named in the title and the main proponents of representative views. This is an excellent orientation to basic issues in Shepherd scholarship.

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