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The Cross and the Prodigal: A Commentary and Play on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

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A commentary and dramatic play on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Kenneth Bailey, American Middle East scholar, has lived and taught in the Middle East for 40 years and experienced peasant life first hand. Through the local people, his understanding of the meaning of the parables of Christ was greatly enriched. He brings out the parable’s literary meaning and its emotional A commentary and dramatic play on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Kenneth Bailey, American Middle East scholar, has lived and taught in the Middle East for 40 years and experienced peasant life first hand. Through the local people, his understanding of the meaning of the parables of Christ was greatly enriched. He brings out the parable’s literary meaning and its emotional impact on the original hearers. The one-act play in the book’s second half, ‘Two sons have I not’, illuminates the parable’s underlying conflicts.


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A commentary and dramatic play on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Kenneth Bailey, American Middle East scholar, has lived and taught in the Middle East for 40 years and experienced peasant life first hand. Through the local people, his understanding of the meaning of the parables of Christ was greatly enriched. He brings out the parable’s literary meaning and its emotional A commentary and dramatic play on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Kenneth Bailey, American Middle East scholar, has lived and taught in the Middle East for 40 years and experienced peasant life first hand. Through the local people, his understanding of the meaning of the parables of Christ was greatly enriched. He brings out the parable’s literary meaning and its emotional impact on the original hearers. The one-act play in the book’s second half, ‘Two sons have I not’, illuminates the parable’s underlying conflicts.

30 review for The Cross and the Prodigal: A Commentary and Play on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anne Hamilton

    'Christians have perverted the message of Christ,' says the Muslim to his Christian friend. 'The story of the prodigal son proves that the cross is unnecessary to forgiveness. The boy comes home. His father welcomes him. There is no cross and no incarnation. Islam with no cross or savior preserves the true message of Christ.' So begins this profound book in which Ken Bailey seeks to examine this centuries-old Muslim criticism of Christianity. Having lived and worked in the Middle East for decades 'Christians have perverted the message of Christ,' says the Muslim to his Christian friend. 'The story of the prodigal son proves that the cross is unnecessary to forgiveness. The boy comes home. His father welcomes him. There is no cross and no incarnation. Islam with no cross or savior preserves the true message of Christ.' So begins this profound book in which Ken Bailey seeks to examine this centuries-old Muslim criticism of Christianity. Having lived and worked in the Middle East for decades, he asked everyone in every strata of society he could find what the story of the prodigal son meant to them. He was particularly interested in the responses of peasants in villages who were able to fill in the necessary unspoken cultural detail. What was expected from each person - from the younger son, the older son and the father - in each circumstance is quite different in the eyes of Eastern people to those of the West. Bailey draws his insights together to demonstrate his belief that the cross is indeed an intrinsic part of the story. He finishes up with a dramatic play to bring out the hidden depths of the parable and explore the emotive reactions that remain invisible to western readers of the fifteenth chapter of Luke's gospel.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dan Curnutt

    WOW is all I can say. Dr. Bailey does it again. He gives us a culturally sensitive and correct exegesis of the three parables in Luke 15. The stories will come alive as you dig into this short (145 pages) book. Do Not Skip the Introduction to the second edition or the Preface. They have wonderul tidbits that will make you stop and think. Dr. Bailey has lived and taught in the Middle East for over 40 years. He is fluent in Middle Eastern Languages and has found, poured over, memorized and thourough WOW is all I can say. Dr. Bailey does it again. He gives us a culturally sensitive and correct exegesis of the three parables in Luke 15. The stories will come alive as you dig into this short (145 pages) book. Do Not Skip the Introduction to the second edition or the Preface. They have wonderul tidbits that will make you stop and think. Dr. Bailey has lived and taught in the Middle East for over 40 years. He is fluent in Middle Eastern Languages and has found, poured over, memorized and thouroughly studied Arabic and Coptic commentaries that are not available to the rest of us in the West because they have not been translated out of their original languages. If you love the Bible and want to better understand the culture of the times that Jesus walked this earth then you MUST read this book and others by Dr. Bailey. I can't recommend this highly enough.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    The insight this book has given to both me and the others in my family has been immense. It’s undeniably important to understand something, biblical or not, in the context with which it is surrounded - which makes me wonder how we so often read the surface of something and just accept it? This was helpful to me not only in Luke, but also in context to reading the Bible as a whole; everything has to be looked at as it were intended, not how I’d choose to interpret it. This book has been so insigh The insight this book has given to both me and the others in my family has been immense. It’s undeniably important to understand something, biblical or not, in the context with which it is surrounded - which makes me wonder how we so often read the surface of something and just accept it? This was helpful to me not only in Luke, but also in context to reading the Bible as a whole; everything has to be looked at as it were intended, not how I’d choose to interpret it. This book has been so insightful and totally changed how I view Luke 15; I’ve bought a few more of his books and readily look forward to seeing what they have to offer!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Terra

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I am a huge fan of Kenneth Bailey--his time spent living in the middle east and seeking to understand the nuances of its various cultures and the implications of those cultures on the gospels and epistles is invaluable. This short work on the story of the prodigal was insightful and helpful but not among his best work--some of his points lacked adequate exploration. But on the whole, his insight that the story is actually about a compassionate father and his TWO lost sons is true and beautiful.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Donna Hues

    Kenneth Bailey draws on his first-hand experience living in the Middle East, among the villagers, learning their culture, and understanding the original meaning of the parable of the prodigal son as told in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Luke. This insightful book explains in-depth the parable from the perspective of the townspeople, the father, the elder son, and the prodigal himself. This is a must read for anyone longing to learn what this parable means to the Middle Eastern mindset.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Bowers

    One of the best explanations of the parable of the prodigal sons I've ever read, with great insights from the author's many years of experience living in the Middle East. 2020 Challenge: A book about the Bible One of the best explanations of the parable of the prodigal sons I've ever read, with great insights from the author's many years of experience living in the Middle East. 2020 Challenge: A book about the Bible

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chase Lefort

    Bailey lays out the heaps of subtext in this pericope masterfully. Very helpful book. The second half, where he presents the story in dramatic form, may be helpful; but it can be skipped without really missing out on any content.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Short but captivating historical/cultural perspective on the story of the prodigal.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenai Hamilton

    Great short commentary on the Luke 15, the prodigal son as written by Luke. A few thoughts may have been overemphasized with license, but I’m interested in reading further.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abbie

    Solid 4.5 👍

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    This book changed my understanding of Luke 15. Putting in context,with illustrations the world of Jesus. All of K.E. Bailey’s books are treasures of teaching in context.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeff McCormack

    I really enjoy Bailey's style, and this book was a bit less technical than some of his others, making it even more easy to read and grasp. He takes a relatively short story and expands on the underlying concepts and cultural understandings that the original hearers would have grasped when they heard it. He adds so much background story to it, that it really comes to life more. My only complaint, and it is a relatively slight one in light of the whole story, is that Bailey kind of misses the mark I really enjoy Bailey's style, and this book was a bit less technical than some of his others, making it even more easy to read and grasp. He takes a relatively short story and expands on the underlying concepts and cultural understandings that the original hearers would have grasped when they heard it. He adds so much background story to it, that it really comes to life more. 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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jim B

    The word "cross" in the title of this brief paperback caught my eye at a used book store. Kenneth E. Bailey has done a service to the Christian church and to Western interpreters of the Bible by devoting his efforts to providing insights of Middle Eastern culture to the New Testament (click on his name to read his bio). He brings something special to the task: He is not merely a professional, but a Christian with an understanding of the gospel that is rare in scholarly writing. He doesn't write The word "cross" in the title of this brief paperback caught my eye at a used book store. Kenneth E. Bailey has done a service to the Christian church and to Western interpreters of the Bible by devoting his efforts to providing insights of Middle Eastern culture to the New Testament (click on his name to read his bio). He brings something special to the task: He is not merely a professional, but a Christian with an understanding of the gospel that is rare in scholarly writing. He doesn't write in a "Bible college" or popular Christian bookstore style. His writing has an underlying assumption that the suffering of the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners is the purest message of Jesus Christ. Bailey has written a much longer text on Jesus which I review elsewhere Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes . The occasion for his analysis of the parable of the two sons and the loving father has to do with the centrality of the cross to the parable. This a point that would surprise most Biblical interpreters from the Western church. Having spent his ministry in the Middle East, Bailey was aware that Islam says that Allah is forgiving and there is no need for Jesus to die on the cross. The Parable of the Prodigal Son has been used in Muslim circles as an example of free forgiveness offered without a sacrificial death. Bailey reveals how the father in the parable appears to someone who grew up in the Middle East. A father should not run out to meet his prodigal son. He should throw his older son out of the house for disrespect. The father in this parable sacrifices greatly out of love for both sons. This sacrifice is the cross. Bailey's discussion of this is worth reading and absorbing. The 1973 book which I originally read was revised in 2005 and won awards. It deserves this recognition!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Seth Heasley

    When I read The Language of Science and Faith, the authors made the point that when we consider the cultural and historical context of a Biblical passage, we don't necessarily overturn the plain meaning (plain from our perspective), but we definitely enrich that meaning. As an example, they used the Parable of the Prodigal Son and referenced Kenneth E. Bailey's beautiful The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants. When I say beautiful, I certainly mean that th When I read The Language of Science and Faith, the authors made the point that when we consider the cultural and historical context of a Biblical passage, we don't necessarily overturn the plain meaning (plain from our perspective), but we definitely enrich that meaning. As an example, they used the Parable of the Prodigal Son and referenced Kenneth E. Bailey's beautiful The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants. When I say beautiful, I certainly mean that the book has some lovely commentary on Christ's teachings, but it also contains the script for a wonderful play based on the parable, and absolutely stunning Arabic calligraphy heading each chapter. For those who don't know, Islam discourages sacred images of any kind, including sacred figurative art. But using the pen to instead make beautiful "pictures" with words was considered kosher (or should I say "halal"?). This book pulls back the veil on the deeper meanings of the story, plain to the original hearers, which have been largely lost to Western ears. Jesus spoke to a Middle Eastern peasant people. Even the educated would have had their roots in that peasantry. What lies between the lines, what is felt and not spoken, is of deepest significance. Indeed, it almost cannot be expressed because it is not consciously apprehended. What "everybody knows" is never explained. Full review on my blog.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Neil R. Coulter

    On separate occasions over the last year, colleagues have mentioned Kenneth E. Bailey's writings, and particularly his insights into the parables of Jesus. So when I saw The Cross & the Prodigal on a friend's bookshelf, I grabbed it. I've dipped into it a little every day this week and finished it this afternoon (which happens to be Good Friday). Bailey lived in the Middle East for many years and uses his cultural observations as a foundation for understanding the three parables of Luke 15. He s On separate occasions over the last year, colleagues have mentioned Kenneth E. Bailey's writings, and particularly his insights into the parables of Jesus. So when I saw The Cross & the Prodigal on a friend's bookshelf, I grabbed it. I've dipped into it a little every day this week and finished it this afternoon (which happens to be Good Friday). Bailey lived in the Middle East for many years and uses his cultural observations as a foundation for understanding the three parables of Luke 15. He spends brief chapters on the lost sheep and lost coin, and then the bulk of his discourse is on the prodigal son. I found it an encouraging devotional read. Possibly his commentary has so affected Western understandings of the parables that now, decades after the original publication date, a lot of his comments seem like common sense. From what he says in the introduction, I gather this wasn't the case when he wrote the book.The final section of the book is a short play script of the prodigal son story, which I think could be quite effective as part of a worship service, or just on its own on an evening in church.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    There are many theology books written out there. Sometimes there is a good paragraph or a great concepts, but every now and again, you get a book that will completely change how you look at Scripture. This is definitely one of those books. After reading this book, I will never, ever look at the narrative of the prodigal son the same way again. The book is short, but packed full of information. It is truly a life changing read. The book doesn't only cover the prodigal though. It looks at all of Lu There are many theology books written out there. Sometimes there is a good paragraph or a great concepts, but every now and again, you get a book that will completely change how you look at Scripture. This is definitely one of those books. After reading this book, I will never, ever look at the narrative of the prodigal son the same way again. The book is short, but packed full of information. It is truly a life changing read. The book doesn't only cover the prodigal though. It looks at all of Luke 15 and goes line by line with the analysis. I really appreciated that as well. It would have been easy to write just on the prodigal and would have still been a fantastic book, but the addition of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep narratives were well received as well. The heart though is the prodigal narrative. The reason for the 4 vs 5 star is simply, it is way shorter than you think. The last 3rd of the book is a play written by the author on the prodigal. It is good, but it was like having a fantastic meal that is just mind blowing, only to have a dessert which is good, but not as good, so you are left with an "eh" taste at the end of the meal.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dmcconkey

    This is an excellent book - one I would recommend every pastor/ teacher should read. It gives the reader a different perspective of these parables, one from the eyes and ears of a Middle Easterner - roots in the culture and setting that they were spoken to. Too often we talk about being people of the Book when in reality we are people of what we have heard not what the Scripture says. Too often we are too quick to come up with a sermon or text or lesson and not spend the time in the Scriptures t This is an excellent book - one I would recommend every pastor/ teacher should read. It gives the reader a different perspective of these parables, one from the eyes and ears of a Middle Easterner - roots in the culture and setting that they were spoken to. Too often we talk about being people of the Book when in reality we are people of what we have heard not what the Scripture says. Too often we are too quick to come up with a sermon or text or lesson and not spend the time in the Scriptures to listen and observe what is going on. Too often we come from our Western viewpoint and miss the truth of the Eastern story/message. Kenneth Bailey has written from his deep well of experience and study in the Middle East, study of Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Rabbinic literature, plus a wealth of Eastern Christian commentaries and writings to give insight into these important parables. He also addresses the conflict with Islam over the parables and his response to their interpretations. This is a must read. Read it during a Shabbat when I was home sick but my soul was enriched.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    An amazing book that exegetes the parable of the prodigal son or rather prodigal sons in its original cultural context and to its original Middle Eastern villager audience. As someone living on the perimeters of today's Middle East the readings are convincing and where speculative are indicated as such but are very likely. The parable is also cited by Moslems to argue that the cross is not necessary that God can simply forgive. The author addresses these concerns convincingly looking at the Fathe An amazing book that exegetes the parable of the prodigal son or rather prodigal sons in its original cultural context and to its original Middle Eastern villager audience. As someone living on the perimeters of today's Middle East the readings are convincing and where speculative are indicated as such but are very likely. The parable is also cited by Moslems to argue that the cross is not necessary that God can simply forgive. The author addresses these concerns convincingly looking at the Father's humiliation even raising his garments and running through the village to reach out to and welcome his repentant son.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    If I could I'd give this book 2 ratings. The first part of the book is a solid 4. Great teaching, unique insights and it really changed the way I understood that parable. The second part of the book is a play based on the parable. It's heavy handed and a complete retread of what the author has previously said. I believe this play is intended for use as a drama/teaching program at a church or study group. I think it would have been better labeled as an appendix: optional reading. In summary, a ver If I could I'd give this book 2 ratings. The first part of the book is a solid 4. Great teaching, unique insights and it really changed the way I understood that parable. The second part of the book is a play based on the parable. It's heavy handed and a complete retread of what the author has previously said. I believe this play is intended for use as a drama/teaching program at a church or study group. I think it would have been better labeled as an appendix: optional reading. In summary, a very worthwhile read. Just skip the ending.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark A Powell

    Although our distance from it means that none of us can know the exact culture of Jesus’ day, Bailey suggests we seek to understand it in order to gain a better understanding of what Jesus was communicating through His parables. Bailey draws from decades of being immersed in Middle Eastern culture to revealingly, and usefully, relate the truths contained in the prodigal son parable. (A four-act play dramatizing the events of this parable is also included.)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dad Bowers

    Bailey gives an excellent treatment of the old familiar parables of Jesus in Luke 15. His approach to see things thru the eyes of the Mid-easterner among whom he has lived for decades helps the freshness and interpretation. He seeks to show the drama, the rhetoric, and the grace of God in these finely crafted stories. His innovative play covering the last part was good, but it might seem better on stage than on paper.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I enjoyed every aspect of this book. Much of my thinking was already in line with the authors thoughts. Bailey added depth to my understanding of love and the willingness to forgive. None of us know the final outcome of any life, nor do we completely understand what the personal journey should entail.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    "Jesus spoke to a Middle Eastern peasant people. Even the educated would have had their roots in that peasantry. What lies between the lines, what is felt and not spoken, is of deepest significance. Indeed, it almost cannot be expressed because it is not consciously apprehended. What "everybody knows" is never explained." "Jesus spoke to a Middle Eastern peasant people. Even the educated would have had their roots in that peasantry. What lies between the lines, what is felt and not spoken, is of deepest significance. Indeed, it almost cannot be expressed because it is not consciously apprehended. What "everybody knows" is never explained."

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Elwell

    It's really an eye opening book i ever read about this passage. Even though there are many books, commentaries talked about this passage but until you see it through the eyes of the people here (Middle East), you cannot fully understand the context of it. Everything in the passage, every little icon is no long "little" anymore but significant! It's really an eye opening book i ever read about this passage. Even though there are many books, commentaries talked about this passage but until you see it through the eyes of the people here (Middle East), you cannot fully understand the context of it. Everything in the passage, every little icon is no long "little" anymore but significant!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    An excellent resource to better understand the parable of the Two Lost Sons. This book expands on Bailey's overall research of the parables. I highly recommend it to help anyone who is working through this parable. An excellent resource to better understand the parable of the Two Lost Sons. This book expands on Bailey's overall research of the parables. I highly recommend it to help anyone who is working through this parable.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Titus Smith

    This is an awesome book. It gives a perfect example of the humiliation Jesus suffered on the cross. It is amazing to hear the background and history of that culture and what it would've looked like back when Jesus told that story. This is an awesome book. It gives a perfect example of the humiliation Jesus suffered on the cross. It is amazing to hear the background and history of that culture and what it would've looked like back when Jesus told that story.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joseph McBee

    What an amazing book! Such incredible insights. It brings Luke 15 to life in such a fresh and beautiful way. This book will make your heart soar with love for Christ and fascinate you at the same time. This is the best book I have read so far this year. I highly recommend it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Hoseason

    A useful short book from which we benefit from Bailey's years living in the middle east. He details how the teachings of Jesus are based on the Jewish culture and, as a result make sense at a deeper level. A useful short book from which we benefit from Bailey's years living in the middle east. He details how the teachings of Jesus are based on the Jewish culture and, as a result make sense at a deeper level.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Comprehensive analysis of cultural background.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants by Kenneth E. Bailey (2005)

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