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Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies In The Gospels

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While all of the sections are thought-provoking, the first section, “The Birth of Jesus,” is noteworthy. Bailey argues that over the centuries, traditional understandings of the birth narratives have obscured the true meaning and message of the text (p. 25). This imprecision can be combated by re-reading the text bearing in mind cultural customs and attitudes contemporaneous to the text and by consciously stripping away long held traditions that have blinded us to Middle Eastern culture and customs that still remained unchanged even up to this day.

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Bailey is fluent in Arabic and an expert on New Testament cultural and literary forms. He researches ancient, medieval, and modern commentaries and translations in Semitic languages—Syriac, Hebrew/Aramaic, and Hebrew. These languages are closer to Jesus’ world than the Greek and Latin cultures that shaped Western thought. Bailey takes 32 different passages and seeks to uncover the Middle Eastern cultural realities that really open up the meaning of the gospel accounts. The author spent 60 years of his life in the Middle East and devoted his academic career to trying "understand the stories of the Gospels in the light of Middle Eastern culture."You’ve likely pictured Jesus as born in a stable because English translations of Luke 2:7 say Mary placed baby Jesus “in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Bailey says Middle Eastern Christians are the living inheritors of the cultural world of Jesus and Semitic languages. Yet they fell off the Christian radar screen after 451, when the Council of Chalcedonreaffirmed that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

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That’s how things go in Open Hearts in Bethlehem: A Christmas Musical Drama, written byKenneth E. Bailey, who, also, by the way, says Jesus was born in summer or fall, not on December 25. The two primary markers of the path that Bailey forges in regards to his cultural studied approach (which are the markers that set him apart from many or most other commentaries on 1 Corinthians) is:Open Hearts in Bethlehem: A Christmas Musical Dramawas written byKenneth E. Bailey, with songs by David M. Bailey. Read excerpts from the introduction and chapter on Jesus’ birthof Bailey’s newest book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Bailey agrees that those four stages happened between when Jesus said or did something and when the stories became fixed in print in thecanon of the New Testament. Some scholars see this process as deterioration.

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