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Sunday, May 17, 2015

THE GOOD SHEPHERD: A THOUSAND YEAR JOURNEY from PSALM 23 to the NEW TESTAMENT (audiobook) by Kenneth E. Bailey

Published by Blackstone Audio in December of 2014
Read by Stephen E. Thorne
Duration: 10 hours, 5 minutes

Kenneth E. Bailey spent more than forty years teaching theology in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus and along the way he developed a natural curiosity about shepherds. This is natural, considering how often shepherds are mentioned and that many of the main figures of the Old Testament were shepherds at one point or another (Abraham, Moses and David to name a few) and that Jesus refers to himself as both a shepherd and a lamb. 

Combine that natural curiosity with a willingness to research and the ability to see the stories from a different cultural perspective and you have something new, at least new for those of us in the West. 

What Bailey has delivered here is a very readable (or in my case, listenable) overview of the major passages about shepherds in the Old and New Testaments and how they relate to one another and the cultural meanings of these texts and makes them all the richer and more meaningful. He also looks at the way the Orthodox and Coptic churches have approached the concept of Good Shepherd through the centuries.

He starts with Psalm 23 and explains the structure of how it is written and goes into cultural detail. Far from boring, I found it to be fascinating and in some ways, it changed my understanding of the Psalm. It says a lot more than I ever thought it said before.

The other passages were Jeremiah 23:1-8, Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 10:2-12, Luke 15:1-10, Mark 6:7-52, Matthew 18:10-14, John 10:1-18, and I Peter 5:1-4. As Bailey works his way through each passage he goes back to the 23rd Psalm and then compares the passages. As he goes along, he assumes that the reader picks some of it up and does not go back and re-explain things that he mentioned many times. If a new thought is introduced (such as the concept of the sheep being misled by a "bad shepherd") he discusses it fully and refers back to the new concept if it comes up again.

For me, the most powerful moment came when he tied together four stories of Jesus' life in Mark 6:7-52. Even though the story of Jesus sending out the disciples to preach on their own, the subsequent beheading of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist,  the feeding of the 5,000 and the story of Jesus walking on water all sit right next to each other in Mark, I have never heard all four them told as one story (usually, I have heard them as three separate stories). The way Bailey explains it, the disciples came back after John's death and the 5,000 would have come to hear Jesus' reaction to the wanton murder of his cousin by King Herod. What would Jesus do to avenge his cousin? After all, culturally, there would have to be some sort of response by Jesus, John's most well-known relative. Would he denounce the king? Would he go into hiding? Would he ask them to join him in overthrowing this despot? Bailey looks into the deep symbolism of every sentence in that story and I was very impressed.

While I appreciate that I received a free copy of the audiobook for review purposes from the publisher through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer Program, this is one of the few times that I wished I had a paper copy of the book so that I could flip through it and make notes as I read and then quickly be able to refer back to it.

Reader Stephen E. Thorne did a good job of reading the text. He read its slowly enough that you could easily follow along and think as you went but not so slow that it dragged. 

This book can be found at Amazon here: 
The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

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