Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes // Kenneth E. Bailey.

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This is an invaluable and accessible resource -- two adjectives rarely found together! 

Christianity is nearly 2000 years old (if one counts Jesus' resurrection, 33 AD, as the beginning). It is a rich tradition that has stretched over a vast array of countries and cultures. Despite what critics or adherents would say, Christianity is not a domineering Western religion -- it is a global phenomenon. Christianity is not a stagnant monolith of ideas; rather it is dynamic and adaptive to its environment. The supposed destructive components of Christianity to cultures might be more foreign to Christianity than one might think. For example, colonial Christianity is more colonial than Christian, western Christian more western than Christian. Instead, in my understanding, an easy way to put Christianity's relationship with its environment is as both guest and host. Christianity sits as an open and respectful guest of its host environment. At the same time, Christianity is a host who invites its environment to the transformative, life-giving power of Jesus. 

But to understand this Jesus, this 1st c. Palestinian Jew, one must become familiar with 1st c. Palestine, the environment of Christianity's genesis. Jesus is not an abstract human being -- he was a particular Jewish man during a particular time and place. Often times, we lose the brilliance of the gospel and Jesus because we fail to reckon foreign components as foreign components. Kenneth Bailey with a good deal of elbow-grease polishes the gospels to their original 1st c. Palestinian context. 

There's a wealth of information. Thankfully, Bailey has the most helpful summary at the end of each chapter. I recommend reading through these first and then read the chapter if it piques your interests -- my money is on that it will.