Thursday, August 30, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

 is a book about the historical Christ that every serious disciple should read in order to better understand the communal significance of the Lord's teachings and, especially, his parables.

Bailey, who spent over a half century in the Middle East studying and teaching Scripture and biblical languages, including Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew, strips away the layers of myth and time that have encased the narratives about Christ with centuries of misconception. He analyzes the parables using, what he calls a "prophetic rhetorical template" based upon Old Testament patterns. Enthusiasts of rhetoric and composition will find this application of chiasmatic structure particularly enlightening.The gospels are nothing if not sheer poetic genius and, as Bailey calls it at one point, filled with "hypertext links" to the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was, if you will, a walking Wikipedia of scriptural truth and he expounded his knowledge in a context that his listeners would have immediately recognized. For us, in the hyperactive world of Western 21st century modernity, much of his references and nuanced teachings are lost and separated from their original context.

Drawing upon a vast amount of resources, both current and ancient, Bailey is brilliantly able to reconstruct for a reader who has the slightest imagination a three dimensional portrait of the Messiah that is most likely to influence one's understanding of the richness behind the parables and narrative scenes found in the gospels. The author relies frequently upon the Mishnah to explain what contemporaries of Christ would have readily comprehended regarding such things as receiving itinerant rabbis into their homes and the customs surrounding such happenings. Equally, he draws upon early Arabic gospel commentaries by such unknown scholars like Ibn al-Tayyib, a 11th century physician, monk and priest from Baghdad whose works are virtually unheard of in the West. Only someone with Bailey's amazing linguistic talents and life experiences could bring the life of Christ closer to our hearts through a multifaceted, scholarly analysis of text that illuminates from a cultural and linguistic perspective of that era. You could almost say, "you had to be there" to get it, but, because of Bailey, this book is the next best thing. Throw in some Holy Spirit guidance and, if you don't know these things about the cultural milieu surrounding Jesus' ministry like I didn't, you will benefit greatly from this book.

Even though Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is scholarly in its intent, Bailey's straightforward manner, along with numerous references and use of rhetorical templates, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read if you leave out the author's inclination towards  a Liberation Theology approach to exegesis. All in all, I'm sure that you will gain a much clearer picture of the true historical Jesus through this and the other books that Bailey has written.