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Previous. Next. Jesus Thro' Middle Eastern Eyes

An eye-opener for Western readers of the Gospels

The author lived in the Middle East for 60 years, so he is well qualified to write a book with this title: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey (SPCK, 2008, ISBN 978-0-281-05975-1).

He starts with the nativity stories in the Gospels and quickly shows how mistaken is the common Christmas picture of a smelly stable behind a crowded inn. Jesus was in fact born in a typical one-room family house of the day, with a lowered section at one end where the animals were kept overnight. The manger was probably an indentation in the floor at main-floor level but close to the step down to the animals’ area so that these could reach food placed in it. As for the ‘inn’, this was in fact the customary guest-room, either attached to the end of the family room or on the flat roof above it. Because it was already occupied, the owners took Joseph and Mary into their own quarters, where they would receive the best of attention and hospitality.

Bailey offers brilliant insights into the Lord’s Prayer, many of the parables of Jesus and a host of the incidents recorded in the Gospels. I found it completely fascinating.


"Inverted parallelism" places the climax in the centre, not at the end... This rhetorical style is often referred to as “ring composition” because the author's mind moves in a circle and returns to the subject with which he or she began... Logically trained minds assume that the climax always occurs at the end. When this is not the case, the interpreter needs to know how to find it. [p16]

[Re Lk 22:10-12]  Here, the key word, katalyma, is defined; it is "an upper room," which is clearly a guest room in a private home. This precise meaning makes perfect sense when applied to the birth story. In Luke 2:7 Luke tells his readers that Jesus was placed in a manger (in the family room) because in that home the guest room was already full. [p32]

If the magi were east of Israel and they saw his star in the east, they should have gone to India! Obviously, they travelled west. The key to this verse is the fact that in Hebrew, the word for “East" also means "the rising."The Greek text (with the NRSV) can be better translated, "We saw his star at its rising." [p51]

[Re Isaiah 60]  Although the glorious events projected for honouring the city of Jerusalem never happened, the Gospel authors perceived them to be taking place in the birth of Jesus. Around the child there was a great light and the glory of the Lord appeared. To the child came Arab wise men from the desert on camels bringing gold and frankincense. Shepherds visited the child, not the city. The great hopes for the city were transferred to the child in a manger. Indeed, “the glory of the Lord shone round about" the child. This shift from the city to the child is significant... The followers of the Christ child know that the Jerusalem that matters is the heavenly Jerusalem that comes down as a gift of God at the end of history (Rev 21:9-27). No wars should be fought and no blood spilled over the earthly city for Luke tells his readers that the glory of the Lord shone, not around she city, but around the child. [p54-55]

In Matthew 6:7-8 Jesus criticizes the Gentiles for long prayers. When they addressed their gods (which usually included the reigning emperor) the Gentiles used long salutations. They wanted to be sure to use all the correct titles lest the god (Caesar) take offense. [p92]

I am convinced that the Old Syriac is correct and that at the heart of the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches his disciples a prayer that means, “Deliver us, O Lord, from the fear of not having enough to eat. Give us bread for today and with it give us confidence that tomorrow we will have enough." [p122]

[Re John 4] Jesus treats the [Samaritan] woman as a serious theologian and reveals to her the most important teaching on worship in the entire New Testament. Once again he elevates her as a person—and In the process all women with her. [p210]

[Re Mat 20:1-16]  “Not fair!" shouts the leader. "We should receive more." This is not the cry of the underpaid. No one is underpaid in this parable. The complaint is from the justly paid who cannot tolerate grace! [p361]

Our understanding of Scripture must always be open to refinement. All interpretations of Scripture need to be tentatively final. They have to be final in the sense that obedience cannot wait for the disciple to read yet one more technical article in biblical studies. At the same time, all efforts in biblical interpretation are flawed. Our interpretation of Scripture, therefore, must never be closed to correction and revision. [p397]

In the Middle East the word no is not an answer, it is merely a pause in the negotiations. [P406]


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