The Good Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd. Thus begins the most beloved of all Psalms – and thus begins a thousand-year journey through the Bible. Prophets, apostles and Jesus himself took up this image from David, reshaping it, developing it and applying it to their own situations and needs. Kenneth Bailey uses his celebrated insights into Middle Eastern culture and especially his familiarity with Middle Eastern shepherding customs to bring new light and life to our understanding of this central image of the Christian faith.With each of nine major Old and New Testament passages, Bailey reveals the literary artistry of the biblical writers and summarizes their key theological features. His work is also enriched by his unique access to very early Middle Eastern commentaries on these passages, bringing fresh understanding from within the mindset of these ancient worlds. The Good Shepherd invites us to experience a rich, biblical feast of ethical, theological and artistic delights.
· Ken Bailey is the consummate expert on the cultural context of first-century life . . . Always insightful, always fresh, consistently surprising, Bailey has produced yet another book that will get many of us rethinking beloved passages of Scripture in completely new ways.
Using the Good Shepherd image, this book takes us on a 1,000-year journey in the Middle East.
The author understands the Middle East mentality, having lived and worked in the country for half a century. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he is currently Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburg.
His special lens is to take the nine major Good Shepherd passages and, through detailed consideration, tease out their ethical, artistic and theological insights.
It is a bold but successful approach. From chapter to chapter, the question reoccurs: 'Why have I never seen that before?' It is a lifetimes's reflection using readable biblical scholarship, contemporary story telling and cultural exegesis. It also makes the corssover to a devotional commentary.
There is a reference to 20 New Testament and four Old Testament biblical versions in Arabic, as well as five Middle Eastern writers who, in their youth, had sheep herding experience.
The passages are in Bailey's order, each studied in the light of the one before. Each passage is tested against a ten-fold focus (see page 23 and 245).
Within the passages, he calls the verses 'cameos'. They have three distinct sequences. Verse to verse in a straight line 1 2 3, 1 2 3 and ring composition 1 2 3 4 3 2 1. This seems technical, but it explains how to read the passage. It is how the Middle Eastern mind thinks. We would call it an artistic, poetic and rhetorical approach.
Looking at the passages - Psalm 23, three different Prophets, four Evangelists and 1 Peter - is to understand the Good Shepherd image in its original intent and also how to apply its meaning to the Church and the world today.
Each major passage, as a chapter, has an outline of introductory material, the rhetoric (how it is laid out), a detailed commentary and its theological elements.
If the reader is open to rethinking beloved Shepherd passages in a new way, he/she will not be disappointed. Bailey clearly helps with a discernment of a Good Shepherd tradition. He achieves a christology of Jesus, sees salvation as the purpose, provides a vision of Christian leadership and offers us Jesus the theologian.
This book helps both reader and preacher, in the words of Matthew, on a journey to follow more perfectly the one "to bring out his treasure what is new and what is old."
In The Good Shepherd, Kenneth Bailey assembles a comprehensive awareness of Middle Eastern cultures and traditions, reflection on five monographs by Middle Easterners who personally herded sheep, ancient treasures of Arabic language commentaries and translations, and multiple personal interviews with students and shepherds who were experienced in the care of sheep. The result is a thoroughly engaging treatment of nine key good shepherd texts found in the Christian Scriptures.
In the Introduction, Bailey sets forth his methodology, which involves examining a cluster of ten recurring theological clusters viewed through a literary approach to Psalm 23; Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 34; Zechariah 10; Matthew 18; Mark 6; Luke 15; John 10; and 1 Peter 5. Each chapter presents one text, carefully examining each cameo (literary segments). Each chapter includes a section of commentary, numerous representations of the literary features of the text and the emerging themes, and concludes with an analysis of which of the ten key themes occur in that text.
The first, and most lengthy chapter, covers Psalm 23. Bailey skilfully develops the key themes, providing exegetical insight from both the Hebrew text and subsequent Arabic translations and commentaries. Each ensuing chapter examines the next text (presented in canonical order) and evaluates how it develops the themes initiated in Psalm 23. Bailey convincingly reveals the movements within Israel’s thought process as the individualistic nature of Psalm 23 is transformed into a nationalistic (militaristic?) view in Zechariah. Bailey then unveils the development of the New Testament’s shift from God as shepherd to Jesus as shepherd. By the end of this encouraging and informative work, the reader realizes that ‘the promises of God to the flock of God in the Hebrew Bible are now promises that can be claimed by the new flock, the church’ (p. 263).
A postscript consists of five reflections: ‘The good shepherd tradition’, ‘Christology from the mouth of Jesus’, ‘salvation’, ‘Christian leadership’ and ‘Jesus as theologian’.
One of the strengths of Bailey’s presentation is also one of its only frustrations. Each chapter ends with a summary of the ten themes and while that is essential for seeing the similarities, diversities and development, it also feels a bit repetitive. But that is a minor distraction amid the pleasure of watching an artist sketch a powerful picture of our shepherd as he is revealed in Scripture.
Any reader familiar with Kenneth Bailey already savours the flavours of the Middle East in his writings. There will be no disappointment in The Good Shepherd. Any reader looking for an example of utilizing literary structures will glean helpful insights from Bailey’s exegesis of nine disparate texts. All who enjoy seeing the relationship among themes as they unfold across the canon will be excited by the deft weaving of textual connections. Readers wishing to know how God and Jesus are portrayed as shepherd throughout Scripture will come away from The Good Shepherd with a full heart and mind prepared for further thought and devotion.