Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Bible - Be Delivered from the Tyranny of the Number System

Saugatuck, Michigan

Today I received my copy of Kenneth Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. I'm a little late in getting to this book. A few of my colleagues strongly recommended it to me recently. See some of the reviews below.

Our Bibles have numbered chapters and verses. The original scriptures did not have these markings. Usually, they are misleading and lead to subtle misinterpretations of the text. Bailey expresses this nicely when he writes:

"Rhetorical analysis delivers the reader from the tyranny of the number system. The text is permitted its own ordering of ideas. The numbers, however useful they are for finding one's place, subtly dictate to the reader, "you Will see these ideas or stories as a straight line sequence which follows the numbers." Rhetorical analysis frees us from 1,650 years of dominance by chapter headings and 450 years of subtle control by verse number." (17)

"While no book on Jesus and the Gospels can be perfect or final, writing any really good book on them places staggering demands on an interpreter. To name just seven: literary aptitude, linguistic competence, critical shrewdness, cultural sagacity, theological acumen, spiritual sensitivity and hermeneutical sophistication. In this highly stimulating study Kenneth Bailey manages to reflect them all, and more besides, in part because he stands on the shoulders of Middle Eastern interpreters whom few in the West can even read. This book will sharpen historical understanding, improve much preaching and fuel new scholarship. It may shed as much new Licht vom Osten ('light from the ancient East') on Gospel passages as we have seen since Deissmann's book by that title a century ago. And in all of this, Bailey keeps the cross and the message of his sources at the center where they belong." (Robert W. Yarbrough, associate professor and New Testament department chair, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School )

"Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is intended, explains its author, 'to contribute new perspectives from the Eastern tradition which have rarely, if ever, been considered outside the Arabic-speaking Christian world.' Strictly speaking, of course, Kenneth Bailey does not offer new perspectives, but ideas frequently as old as the earliest church and as the ancient church fathers, that may well be new to many of his Western readership. Here is an imaginative, humorous reading of key Gospel passages, an engaged and engaging set of studies that emphasize the concrete world presupposed in the New Testament. Bailey is informed not only by faithful contemporary scholarship, but also by the great exegetes of the past, and shows his humility by offering alternative explanations of passages where these may be of help to the reader. His writing and argument are cogent to the ordinary reader, tackling problems for the contemporary church, without allowing twenty-first-century debates to dictate the scope of his discussion." (Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary )

"Kenneth Bailey, a master storyteller and expert observer of Middle Eastern culture, applies his sixty years of experience living in this region to produce a groundbreaking work on Jesus' world. Bailey animates the Jewish cultural world of first-century Roman Palestine through clever, often humorous personal vignettes and observations of current Middle Eastern culture. The blurry outlines of enigmatic biblical characters such as King Herod or Zacchaeus take clearer shape, and unnamed women such as the Syro-Phoenician mother or the adulterous woman are painted with colorful, culturally sensitive strokes. Bailey offers a feast for the mind and heart in his brilliant discussion of the Lord's Prayer and Jesus' parables; each chapter has plenty to savor. Throughout, Bailey connects theological and christological significance to his cultural insights, producing an original, engaging study. Bailey's passion for the biblical story coupled with his conversational prose renderJesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes a captivating read for scholars, pastors and laypeople alike." (Lynn Cohick, associate professor of New Testament, Wheaton College )

"Kenneth Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is rich with interpretive and cultural insight. He sheds light on what is so often missed in most commentaries and books about Jesus written from a Western perspective. Indeed, Bailey's book provides the much-needed corrective to the dubious results of the Jesus Seminar, whose distorted Jesus is a product of Greco-Roman culture and literature, instead of the Judaic culture and literature of Palestine. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is easy to read--students and pastors will benefit from it tremendously--but there is also much for scholars." (Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, and author of Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels )

"I have long been an admirer of Kenneth Bailey's helpful insights. As in his earlier works, his breadth of knowledge of Middle Eastern culture sheds rich light on numerous points in the Gospels, providing fresh perspectives and often illumining details we have rarely considered. He provokes those of us who depend mostly on ancient written sources to consider new approaches, often cohering with but often supplementing such research." (Craig Keener, professor of New Testament, Palmer Theological Seminary, and author of The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament )

"Among the many New Testament scholars interpreting the Gospels today, few offer new and dramatic insights like Kenneth E. Bailey. From a childhood in Egypt to a career working within the Middle East, Bailey has established himself as the premier cultural interpreter of the life of Jesus. Using insights from cultural anthropology and skilled exegesis, suddenly the Gospels come alive as the Middle Eastern stories that they are. Long after other scholars' books are forgotten, Bailey's work on the Gospels will continue to be a timeless resource into the world of Jesus. This newest volume, written for the nonspecialist, is a splendid place to begin. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is guaranteed to become a favorite on many Christians' bookshelves." (Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College & Graduate School )

"Learning to read Scripture through other people's cultural spectacles, as well as our own, always brings huge enrichment. Kenneth Bailey has done a fantastic job in enabling us to put on the spectacles of a Middle Eastern believer and to therefore gain new insights into what was always there in Scripture but not quite so clear when only viewed through our lenses." (Mary J. Evans, vice-principal emeritus, London School of Theology )