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The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants Paperback – July 3, 2005
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"It is an extremely rare event in New Testament studies when the historical expertise of the scholar is combined with the poetic imagination of the storyteller. Ken Bailey's The Cross & the Prodigal unites the professor and the playwright. In the first section of the book the author's unique familiarity with Christian literature of Near Eastern provenance and his intimate knowledge of Near Eastern village life produce a fascinating explanation of the parable of the prodigal son, which emerges not as the sentimental account of the pilgrimage of a sorry sinner, but as the portrayal of God as a Father who pays every price possible in the search of two lost sons, a portrait contrary to all expectations associated with a patriarch. The book's second section is a play in four scenes in which this understanding of the parable is placed on the stage. Thus, exegetical theology is transformed back into its original medium, the telling of a story." (Ulrich Mauser, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary)
"This book is for those of us who long to know what Jesus was saying to his audience then, so that we can know what the Bible is saying to us now. Ken Bailey's work is very nourishing, spiritually and theologically. And if you like to be surprised with new insights, you will love The Cross & the Prodigal!" (The Rev. Marian McClure, Ph.D., Director, Worldwide Ministries, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.))
"In The Cross & the Prodigal, Kenneth Bailey uses his rare and intimate familiarity with the peasant culture of the Middle East to illuminate three beloved parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Bailey rightly believes that Christian communities with close connections to the biblical world have many things to teach us about the cultural background of biblical narrative. This classic work, newly revised, provides fresh perspectives for understanding the love of God the Father, and for seeing how the compassion of the cross is present already in the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ." (Philip Graham Ryken, Senior Minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church)
"Dr. Kenneth Bailey's unique perspective as one who has spent the better part of his life living in the Middle East unlocks the parables and teachings of our Lord Jesus in remarkably fresh ways. In the unfolding of the prodigal son Bailey demonstrates there is no forgiveness without great cost on the part of the forgiver. This revised edition is a wonderful update and expansion of an already excellent book. I am delighted to commend it." (The Right Reverend John W. Howe, D.D., Bishop, The Episcopal Church Diocese of Central Florida)
"The Cross & the Prodigal is a little book that changed the minds of Gospel scholars throughout the world. In its original edition (1973) Bailey not only established himself as a leading New Testament interpreter, but he launched an approach to the Gospels that was utterly unique. Over sixty years of life in the Middle East (from Egypt to Iraq) bequeathed to him a discerning knowledge of peasant life; fluency in Arabic; the ability to work in Syriac, Coptic and Aramaic; and an intimate acquaintance with Rabbinic literature. These skills he now applies to the three parables of Luke 15 in order to unlock cultural insights that have eluded scholars for centuries. This approach deserves a name--Middle Eastern New Testament Studies--and today Bailey's legacy belongs with scholars such as Joachim Jeremias: leading parable interpreters whose work has been a watershed for the rest of us." (Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College & Graduate School)
About the Author
Kenneth E. Bailey (1930–2016) was an acclaimed author and lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament studies. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he served as Canon Theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. The author of more than 150 articles in English and in Arabic, his writings include Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, The Good Shepherd, Open Hearts in Bethlehem: A Christmas Drama, and The Cross and the Prodigal. Bailey spent forty years living and teaching in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. For twenty of those years he was professor of New Testament and head of the Biblical Department of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut where he also founded and directed the Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. Bailey was also on the faculty of The Ecumenical Institute for Theological Research in Jerusalem. Traveling around the globe to lecture and teach, Bailey spoke in theological colleges and seminaries in England (Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol) Ireland, Canada, Egypt, Finland, Latvia, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, and Jerusalem. He was active as a Bible teacher for conferences and continuing education events in the Middle East, Europe, and North America, and he taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Fuller Seminary.
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My only complaint, and it is a relatively slight one in light of the whole story, is that Bailey kind of misses the mark in identifying the parties of the story. In identifying the prodigal son as just mankind, he misses the covenant significance behind it. The father figure is indeed representative of Yahweh as he points out, but the older son would be representative of the two southern tribes that were technically still within the covenant with the Father, with the prodigal son representing the ten Northern tribes who were not. Like the prodigal son, those tribes were cast out, dispersed throughout the nations, but they were promised (as seen in Isaiah, Hosea and Ezekiel 37, and elsewhere) that one day they were to be brought back into the fold. As we see this beginning to happen under the ministry of Paul, we see the building frustration of the Pharisees who were dealing unkindly to the idea, just as the older son in the story did.
But as I said, while this is a technical issue of sorts, it doesn't really alter the thrust of this book's underlying story, that of the Father's love even for the people who despised him beforehand, but were now returning to the fold. I just think that bringing in that identification would add a slightly deeper meaning to the story, as well as bringing in the connection and tying together the promises from the OT that were about to take place.
Even without that though, he brings out the extent of the Father's love, which bends over backwards in the face of cultural mandates, and acts in a way that is so contrary to the actions required of someone in the father's position, that it should bring the readers to a greater appreciation of what Yahweh has done for His people.