After about a year, I finally finished Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey.
It took so long only because it’s so packed full of info you can’t read it like a novel.
It should be required reading for any seminary course on Jesus or the Gospels but it’s not pedantic. He even has a summarized list of points at the end of each chapter. Once you catch the gist of Chiasms (ring structures, which he explains well–ancient type of structure for writing), you will start noticing them on your own in Bible Study.
Each chapter deals with a pericope (one event, section) in the life of Jesus. The book is divided into sections such as the Birth Stories, Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, dramatic actions, Jesus and Women, and lastly, Parables.
The author lived much of his life and taught at universities in the Middle East. He is not only conversant with modern culture but has studied first century culture and all the texts through the Arabic tradition. Did you know there have been many commentaries on the Bible written by Arabic Christians throughout the centuries?! Me, neither, and they provide awesome insight from that eastern perspective.
His work was the basis for Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, which is about Luke 15.
He presents so much background for these stories that often reveal more and more about the Greatness and Grace of God.
His background on the Birth stories change many modern views about the “Christmas” story and are fascinating.
I highly recommend it, especially if you preach and teach often.