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Book Review: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

Book Review: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes


This book (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eye) is a series of essays in which Bailey makes an effort to extract meaning from them that would have been understandable to both the initial readers (targeted audience and slightly beyond) of the gospels as well as those experiencing the events during the period in which they were occurring. Since there isn’t really a running narrative, each essay can be read separately if you’d like to. They are arranged according to theme; the first part is devoted to the nativity stories of Luke and Matthew. The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ miracles, and his parables are all covered in separate sections. The essay’s several sections each offered material that could leave a reader with a lot to ponder or simply serve to draw the reader’s attention to something they may not have known before.

Bailey makes extensive use of his well-known grasp of Middle Eastern culture to help us comprehend Jesus as a person and his relevance within his own cultural context. Bailey reveals Jesus in the context of his genuine historical and cultural background by removing the obscuring layers of contemporary Western interpretation with a sure but sympathetic hand. Bailey’s involvement with Arabic translations of the New Testament, which were translated from Syriac and Coptic, offers insights into Eastern approaches to biblical interpretation. All of these linguistic roots are more closely related to the Semitic world of Jesus than the Greek and Latin civilizations of the West due to their shared affinity with the larger ancient Middle Eastern culture (p. 12).

Main Idea

First, it’s important to emphasize that Jesus was born. The true meaning and message of the text, according to Bailey, have been masked over time by conventional interpretations of the birth narratives (p. 25). Rereading the book with current cultural attitudes and practices in mind would help to eliminate this imprecision, as will actively letting go of ingrained habits that have made us ignorant of Middle Eastern culture and customs that have persisted to this day.

Parts 2 and 3 talk about The Lord’s Prayer and The Beatitudes.  Despite the fact that Bailey did not specifically address the widely held belief that abba refers to one’s father in the “Lord’s supper” portion, the following is nevertheless an important aspect of Jesus’ usage of abba to refer to God: Jews who spoke Aramaic in the first century continued to pray in Hebrew, therefore Jesus was praying in their language and instructing his disciples to do the same (p. 95). The Old Syriac translation of the Gospels, which utilizes the adjective ameno, which means “lasting, never ceasing,” explains the puzzle of what the Greek term that underlies the all-too-familiar English rendition of “daily” bread may imply (p.121).

Bailey offered significant cultural context for the accounts of Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus and his healing of the blind Bartimaeus in chapter 13, “Dramatic Actions of Jesus.” The cultural realities of the time are too frequently absent from our reading of these tales; for example, how did a blind beggar live and how would they fare if they were to regain their sight? A prominent community leader, would they climb a tree? Zacchaeus claimed he would give away half of his possessions, but how much of that claim was hyperbole and how much of it was ethically acceptable? In an interesting manner, Bailey covers all of these discussions and more.

Parables of Jesus: Bailey frequently highlights the open-ended nature of parables and comments at one point that even ones that seem conclusive may be open-ended as “In the Middle East the word no is never an answer, rather it is a pause in the negotiations” (p.273). “Metaphorical theologian” is how Jesus the storyteller is described (pp. 279–280). Bailey’s plea to acknowledge the historical aspect of the Scriptures is at the core of this cultural approach to the Gospels. He underlines that historical figures have carried out the ministry of the Word of God, saying that “those people and that history cannot be ignored without missing the speaker or writer’s intentions and creating our own substitutes for them” (p. 281).

My take on this book

The author’s knowledge of Middle Eastern culture is this work’s greatest strength. He is successful in providing fresh insight into well-known Gospel stories from a cultural perspective. This book also makes a significant contribution by introducing and interacting with excellent Eastern comments that have been mostly ignored or lost to contemporary biblical scholarship.

The most important aspect of his study is to examine the rhetorical architecture of the spoken language, which he accomplishes through the skilful use of indentation to highlight paragraphs that are parallel to one another but have the text’s climax in the middle rather than at the end. It taught me new approaches to reading texts that I had never thought of before, and such novel insight is both pleasant and humbling. Although it is a very scholarly study, Bailey’s writing is incredibly approachable and real-world.

With a minimum of technical terminology, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is easily reading. Every time Bailey uses a rhetorical word, he carefully defines it while carrying along a fresh perspective to the subject. By referencing both old and new literature, he gives students of scripture a deeper understanding of the texts he analyzes. Although it includes a plethora of material that may be accessible by using it as a reference for investigating any of the treated Gospel passages, one might also enjoy reading the book straight through and benefit from its abundance of knowledge.


Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is an excellent book for readers of all reading abilities. Ministers will find a ton of “sermon” material, scholars will learn from the interpretations that come from Middle Eastern study interactions, and curious laypeople will learn that Bailey’s work might also be used as a devotional guide. Anyone who wishes to understand the New Testament from a distinctive Middle Eastern, cultural perspective should read this book. Bailey uses brilliant, frequently amusing personal anecdotes and insights of contemporary Middle Eastern society to bring the Jewish cultural environment of first-century Roman Palestine to life. Unnamed ladies like the adulterous lady are portrayed with vibrant, delicate brushstrokes, while the indistinct shapes of mysterious biblical figures like King Herod or Zacchaeus take on sharper shapes. In his insightful analysis of the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ parables, Bailey provides a feast for the intellect and heart; there is something to appreciate in every chapter. Bailey creates an unusual, fascinating research by tying theological and Christological meaning to his cultural discoveries.


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