I, Jacob Howard, wrote Dr. Charlie Dyer, who is the speaker on the Land and the Book Radio, a question about Migdal-Eder, mentioned in Micah 4:8. This was Dr. Dyer’s response.
Thank you for your e-mail, and thanks as well for your kind words! Denny and I both appreciate the privilege God has given us to serve Him in this way. You have encouraged us both!
As far as Midgal Eder is concerned, there is no universal identification of the site. But I do believe it was a real site. The best thing I’ve read on the subject is from Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. (You can find his complete work online at Google Books.) I’ll include his quotation here, and then I’ll follow it with a few observations. (I’ll also highlight the key point he makes in the quote.)
But as we pass from the sacred gloom of the cave [i.e., he was just talking about the birth of Jesus in a cave] out into the night, its sky all aglow with starry brightness, its loneliness is peopled, and its silence made vocal from heaven. There is nothing now to conceal, but much to reveal, though the manner of it would seem strangely incongruous to Jewish thinking. And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, “the tower of the flock.” This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnaic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover—that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.
—Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, pp. 186-87
If Edersheim is correct (and I believe he is), the location for Migdal Eder would be north of Bethlehem and near the old road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. (That road is the old “Hebron road” one drives on between Jerusalem and Bethlehem today!) I believe this puts the location somewhere between the Jewish kibbutz of Ramat Rachel and Bethlehem, probably just to the west of Har Homa. There used to be an actual sheepfold in this area where I would take our groups but, sadly, it has been covered over by the modern road that now goes to Har Homa.
A key point here. Edersheim indicates that Migdal Eder was an actual spot, but he is not saying it was a town or village. Rather, the name means “watchtower of the flock” which seems to identify it as a specific pasture area for sheep. And the sheep that grazed here were those specifically destined for Temple sacrifice. In that sense the shepherds keeping watch over the temple sacrifices were the ones to whom God announced the birth of the ultimate “sacrificial lamb.”
I’m attaching a screen shot from Google Earth that might be of help in identifying the location for Midgal Eder. Note that Ramat Rachel is at the top of the picture and Bethlehem is at the bottom. The road running along the left side of the picture is the old Hebron Road, and Homat Shemu’el/Har Homa is just to the right of center in the picture. Based on Edersheim’s description, I would place Migdal Eder almost in the center of the picture…north of Bethlehem, just to the west of Har Homa, and east of the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Since the word means “tower of the flock” it is likely a high spot in this area where sheep would graze. The hills right around (or right at) Har Homa are probably the best possible location.
I hope this is helpful!