on 22 February 2012
When it comes to biblical exegeses Kenneth Bailey, is in my opinion, without equal. Jesus was after all a Jew. The writers of the New Testament were Jews. Failure to understand a Jewish mindset therefore leads to all sorts of weird readings of the New Testament. Knowing this Bailey immersed himself into the Middle East for many years in order to better understand the biblical narratives. The results are often intelligent, surprising and highly engaging.
In this book Bailey reviews the parable of the two sons. In doing so he cross references the parable to the Genesis story of Jacob in order to show you how Jesus took the story and re-jigged it for a new audience. The outline of the book is roughly as follows:
1) Why he thinks that these parables are Jesus', and how they were passed on; i.e. an overview of the verbal rabbinic traditions.
2) An overview of how other Jewish Scholars, most noticeably Philo and Josephus reshaped biblical narratives to tell different stories.
3) The parable of the lost sleep (Luke 15.3-7); and alternative ways of looking at this parable.
4) The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15.3-32); and alternative ways of looking at this parable.
5) The parable of the two sons (15.11-32); and how this relates to the Jacob story listed in Genesis.
6) An overview of how NT Wrights view of the story bears similarity with Bailey's understanding.
7) An overview of what all the above means - specifically in relation to Jesus' understand of what sin is, what the nature of God is, what is Jesus saying about himself, and what is Jesus saying about Salvation and Repentance.
A summary of the parable of the two lost sons is as follows:
The main thrust is that asking a father for your inheritance is equivalent to wishing him dead. Squandering your inheritance is deemed distasteful and worthy of being disowned for. The son having hit rock bottom wishes to come home and con his father to give him a job. The father (hereby symbolising God) see the son far off and goes out to him, thereby embarrassing and shaming himself in the eyes of the community. This melts the son's heart, which causes him to confess his selfishness to his father. The father throws a celebration for this act of reunion. The eldest son is jealous and throws a wobble. The father is entitled to disown his eldest for this act of outburst. Instead he again lowers himself to make amends with his eldest, thereby reconciling himself with another for the second time in the same story. The result of all of this is that the hero of the story is the father for his acts of self-sacrificing, instead of either of the two sons. This is in contrast to the very Western view of the Hero being the youngest son, often understood as referring to the Gentiles.
Overall, a thoroughly engaging book. If you have never read anything by Kenneth Bailey before I highly suggest that you do. His books `Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes' and `Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes' will change the way you read the New Testament - for the better. The cultural titbits he includes really does change the way you view the texts. These are, in my opinion, invaluable for any biblical reader, otherwise the reader simply reads the story out of context and the heart of the story is lost.
Because of the brilliance of this scholar I struggle to ever rate his work less than 5 stars. Thoroughly recommended!
on 2 December 2013
I have recently come to read and enjoy Kenneth Bailey's approach to understanding scripture in the light of middle-east culture, with which he has a personal as well as research-based relationship. This book is a distilling of some of his more lengthy academic work, and is written for an every-day readership. While his observations on the text of the Bible have a rigorous, analytical basis, he keeps a devotional frame of mind, which draws us into his thoughts and seeks to expand our view of God's grace and purposes through Jesus.
This book looks specifically at the three closely-related parables of Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son(s), focusing mainly on the last of these. In doing so, Bailey challenges many of the commonly-held views of what it meant for the prodigal son to take his father's wealth, squander it among gentiles and then plan his return to try and redeem his disgrace. What is the significance of his father running to the edge of the village to meet him? What of the elder, law-abiding son? What part does the community play? There are fascinating insights to ponder. Bailey draws parallels between Jesus' story of the prodigal son and the OT history of the brothers Jacob and Esau, their parting and eventual reconciliation, a backdrop with which his hearers would have been very familiar. How convincing is his reasoning? Whether you end up agreeing or disagreeing with each strand of his thesis, the journey is very rewarding and will throw fresh light on over-familiar scripture, providing a deeper understanding of the depth of God's love and grace. Read it! If you are not too sure, start with the three central chapters which tease out the meaning of each of the three parables.