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lamb: see mutton; sheep.
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Contemporary American Easter decorations feature baby animals of all kinds, including lambs. These images remind us that Easter falls in the spring, a time when many animals give birth to their young. As an Easter symbol, however, the lamb signifies much more than springtime. Rather, it is an ancient symbol of Jesus, particularly his death and resurrection, whose roots date back hundreds of years before the start of the Christian religion.

Shepherds and Sheep in Jewish and Christian
Religious Imagery

Early Christian artwork and texts depict Jesus both as a shepherd and as a lamb. Long before that time, though, the Jewish people spoke of God as a kind shepherd who protected and led his people. The famous opening lines of the twenty-third psalm make this connection clearly: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul.

In Christian scripture Jesus himself announces, "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:14). In these writings both faithful Jews and Christians are cast in the role of sheep. Today many people might find this imagery unflattering, since sheep seem to be stupid, passive creatures. In biblical times, however, people viewed sheep as highly valuable and beautiful. Various Bible stories associate lambs in particular with the qualities of gentleness, dependence, and innocence.

Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb

Many phrases from Christian scripture describe Jesus as a lamb. The early Christians borrowed this image from the Jewish Passover festival. According to Christian scripture Jesus' death and resurrection took place during Passover, a holiday requiring faithful Jews to sacrifice a lamb to God and eat it during the Passover supper. The lamb recalled the original offering their ancestors made while slaves in Egypt, sacrificing a lamb to God and smearing its blood over their doorways as a sign of their faithfulness to the Lord. Afterwards they consumed the sanctified flesh of the lamb. The yearly Passover festival originated in biblical times as a means for Jews to express their gratitude to God for leading their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt over a thousand years before Christ was born. Through participation in the religious ceremonies associated with Passover Jews also reaffirmed their relationship with God. In Jesus' time religious custom required faithful Jews to bring a lamb to the Temple in Jerusalem where it was slain and the animals'blood sprinkled on the altar as an offering to God. Then worshipers took the sacrificial lamb home, where it was roasted and eaten by a gathering of family and friends.

Early Christians found the timing of Jesus' death and resurrection very significant. They began to think of Jesus as a kind of new sacrificial lamb, one whose voluntary suffering and death on the cross washed away their sins and led them from a kind of spiritual slavery towards a new relationship with God (see also Redemption; Salvation). Paul makes this comparison openly, declaring that "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Gospel according to John also makes explicit references to Jesus as a Passover sacrifice. Early in this account of Jesus' life, John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). John's account of Jesus' death also makes it clear that the Roman soldiers presiding at the Crucifixion refrained from breaking Jesus' legs (John 19:32-33). This echoes the requirement found in Jewish scripture that the Passover lamb be roasted and eaten without breaking any of its bones.

Jesus' followers readily adopted this symbol, representing Jesus as a lamb in a variety of artwork. Many of these images refer explicitly to Jesus' death and resurrection. One standard image, known as the "Lamb of the Crucifixion" depicts a lamb carrying a cross on its back and bleeding from its chest into a chalice (see also Eucharist; Holy Grail). The "Lamb of the Resurrection" carries a triumphant banner with a large cross on it. In other images the lamb is used as a symbol of Jesus without any direct reference to the events commemorated at Easter. For example, the "Apocalyptic Lamb" shows a lamb carrying the Book Sealed with Seven Seals and represents Christ as judge at the world's end. Another standard image depicts a lamb with a nimbus, or halo, behind its head standing on a hill from which flow four rivers. The lamb represents Christ, the hill the Church, and the four rivers the four Gospels or the four rivers of paradise. Artwork from the Roman catacombs, underground vaults where the early Christians buried their dead, offers other images of Jesus as a lamb. These images depict the lamb working the miracles performed by Jesus, according to Christian scripture, such as raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43-44) and feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:21, Mark 6:44, Luke 9:14, John 6:10).

Lambs in European Folklore and Tradition

Traditional European folklore presented the lamb as a symbol of various human qualities and characteristics, especially purity and innocence. In the Middle Ages, paintings of St. Agnes (d. 304) often depicted her with a lamb. The lamb represented the saint's innocence, sweetness, patience, mercy, and humility.

Old folk beliefs and superstitions elaborated on the theme of the good lamb. According to some of these traditional beliefs, lambs and doves were the only two animals that the devil could not enter and use for his purposes. Some said that to see a lamb on Easter day brought good luck. Following this line of thought the Finns created small lamb-shaped ornaments to use as good luck charms. In England an old folk belief declared that the Lamb of the Resurrection appeared briefly in the center of the sun as it rose on Easter morning (see also Easter Sun). Some people therefore made it a practice to rise before dawn on Easter morning and to hike to the top of a hill in the hopes of glimpsing this miracle.

In many countries, such as those of eastern and southern Europe, lamb serves as the traditional main course of the Easter meal. Throughout Europe, candies and condiments, such as butter, may also be presented in the shape of a lamb at Easter. Central Europeans often serve a cake baked in the shape of a lamb at Easter time. The cooled cakes are frosted or dusted with confectioner's sugar and then often ornamented with a bell and ribbon round the lamb's neck as well as a religious banner. For the peoples of the Mediterranean, serving lamb at Easter time not only fulfills a symbolic role, but also a practical one. The often-rocky hills of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea make perfect grazing grounds for sheep. The seasonal availability of lamb may also have supported its role as a traditional Easter food. Left to their own devices, sheep tend to be seasonal breeders. So in the days before modern animal husbandry techniques made lamb available year round, spring was the only time of the year during which people could enjoy fresh lamb.

Further Reading

Barth, Edna. Lilies, Rabbits, and Painted Eggs. New York: Houghton Mifflin/Clarion Books, 1970. Hudgins, Sharon. "A Special Flock." The World and I 16, 4 (April 2000): 134. "Lamb." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1999. Møller-Christensen, V., and K. E. Jordt Jørgensen. Encyclopedia of Bible Creatures. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1965. Peifer, C. J. "Passover Lamb." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 10. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Rowland, Beryl. Animals with Human Faces. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1973. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Lamb was an older, alternate name for the sign Aries. The animal that came to replace the Lamb in contemporary astrology is the Ram.

The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a lamb?

“As gentle as a lamb” is a common metaphor brought to mind by this symbol. In a dream this symbol can indicate the Lamb of God (Christ), or being sacrificed like a “lamb to the slaughter.” The dreamer’s relationship with this symbol determines its meaning.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
A young sheep.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the Lord as the sacrificial animal. [Christian Symbolism: O.T.: Isaiah 53:7; N.T.: John 1:29]
See: Christ


attribute of young woman; personification of guiltlessness. [Art: Hall, 161]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the young of a sheep


1. Charles, pen name Elia. 1775--1834, English essayist and critic. He collaborated with his sister Mary on Tales from Shakespeare (1807). His other works include Specimens of English Dramatic Poets (1808) and the largely autobiographical essays collected in Essays of Elia (1823; 1833)
2. Willis Eugene. born 1913, US physicist. He detected the small difference in energy between two states of the hydrogen atom (Lamb shift). Nobel prize for physics 1955


the. a title given to Christ in the New Testament
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


To interpret this dream most accurately, please consider all of the details in the dream and its mood. The lamb in your dream could have negative or positive connotations and it could reflect some of your personal characteristics or attributes. On the positive end, the lamb symbolizes gentleness, warmth, love, innocence, and for the spiritually minded, the Lamb of God. More negative interpretations of this dream symbol would be that the lamb in your dream is a “sacrificial” lamb, or “lamb going to the slaughter.”
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
D20966_1 OFF LIMITS: Lamber Singh (foreground) and other residents and project members at one of the new gates which has already gone up as part of the phased scheme.
CAPITALS: Fussey and Lamber 1+2, Le Febre 1+1, Cingel and Perkins 1+0, Hutchins 0+3, Welch 0+2.
Missing injured Karl Pinks and Steven Pemberton, Woodlands were sixth team with 79 points behind Sydney Grammar (38) - Dominic Woolford (22), Gary Lawson (23) and Paul Lamber (31) supporting Lole.
The 39-year-old, from Southill in Limerick, pleaded guilty to having a 12-gauge Lamber semiautomatic shotgun and 11 rounds of ammo in the city on May 31.
The Great North Revolution debate continues online with a dedicated forum, which will host a live webchat with CBI national director Richard Lamber next Friday, June 18.
"He verbally and abusively challenged the judge's decision while judging was still going on." One of those at the show, William Lamber, of Redhill, Surrey, said: "In 20 years of visiting dog shows I've never experienced behaviour quite like this.
Elke Lambers, choir vice president, said that the group are "really pleased" to take part in this week's festival in Fife.
Eastop and Lambers (1976) designated the species from China and North America as Schlechtendalia chinensis (Lichtenstein, 1883) and Melaphis rhois (Fitch, 1866), respectively.
We have clipped a few sheep - the ones that were relatively close to the farm, the late lambers and the tups.