Jacob and the Prodigal

Book cover: Jacob and the Prodigal
Book cover: Jacob and the Prodigal

Kenneth Bailey spent forty years living and teaching in the Middle East, and he combines his scholarly smarts and his personal experience to enlighten those of us who haven’t had the same privilege. One of the main themes of his works is highlighting the importance of the Middle Eastern perspective when reading the New Testament. In his research, he references the centuries-long tradition of translations and commentaries in languages such as Coptic, Syriac and Arabic. He also applies insight gained from contemporary traditional Middle Eastern culture which, even though different from 1st century Palestinian culture, is still closer to Jesus’ own than contemporary western culture.

In Jacob & the Prodigal, Bailey expounds 51 common dramatic elements between Jacob’s saga and the story of the prodigal. I could argue that some were contrived, but I haven’t spent a lifetime in study like Dr Bailey has. He groups them in three categories:

  • Dramatic material that appears in each account with little change (12 elements)
  • Dramatic material that appears in each account where the reuse in the parable shows some significant revision (16 elements)
  • Dramatic material that appears in each account but with major differences (23 elements)

That material is fairly hard to summarise, so I chose to concentrate my book notes on the 4 chapters which Bailey dedicates to the parable in Luke 15. ‘Parable’, not ‘parables’ because the three stories in this chapter make up one extended parable.  If you could read only one portion of the book, the section comprised of chapters 6-9 is it. Much of the material in these chapters is taken from one of his previous books, Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (Amazon), so it may make more sense to check that out instead.

If you’re of the audio-visual persuasion, here’s a talk given by Michael Ramsden (a student/mentee of Bailey’s) which covers much of the same ground. The relevant portion starts around the 15-minute mark of the 1-hour long talk.

Posts in this series
1 Introduction & overview
2 Three stories, one parable
3 The parable of the lost sheep
4 The lost coin
5 To find the lost (Part 1)
6 To find the lost (Part 2)
7 To find the lost (Part 3)
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