There are some books that are life changing in their impact. This is one of those books for me. Having been interested in the Jewish basis of Christianity for some years (since my short sabbatical in 2007 I have had a keen interest) I came across the author Kenneth Bailey.
The first of his books that I read was “Jacob and the Prodigal – how Jesus retold Israel’s story”; a great linking of the story of the prodigal son with the story of Jacob in the book of Genesis.
The second of his books that I read was this one, Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes. The book is a series of vignettes looking at different stories in the Gospels through the eyes of first century Jewish society.
What makes this book different from many other books that have been written is that firstly, Kenneth Bailey lived in the middle east for many years; secondly, that he was a keen observer of live and how people lived (especially rural peasants) and thirdly that he interacted with many of the arabic sources that have been largely ignored for most of the last millennium by the west.
All of this means that when you read stories from the Gospels, through the understanding and depth of insight that Kenneth Bailey brings to the text, they take on greater meaning. Its like suddenly seeing something that you thought of as black and white suddenly full of colour.
There are profound lessons to be learnt from Kenneth Bailey’s insights. In terms of the hospitality laws in the New Testament times; in terms of how radical Jesus really was (and quite how much of a challenge to those around him he was – and by extension to us today).
We should be profoundly grateful for this book. It destroys myths (such as the fact that there was no inn for Mary and Joseph) and helps us to climb heights that we wouldn’t reach otherwise. One of the great books to read.
The book is divided into six sections – the Birth of Jesus, the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, Dramatic actions of Jesus, Jesus and Women and the Parables of Jesus
In each of these sections he helps and challenges us to what Jesus was really saying and how it came across to his first century hearers. The most eye opening for me was to do with the parables of Jesus. I must admit that it does rather knock a hole in traditional nativity play – in that he argues, cogently, that Mary and Joseph did have a place to stay and that there was therefore no inn or innkeeper – but then I’m not down to do the nativity this year!