I have just finished my second reading of Kenneth Bailey’s amazing book. Having spent more than forty years in the Middle East, and having witnessed the cultural life of Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, and other minorities, he saw that in order to understand the Gospels one had to enter the mind-set of first century Palestine otherwise Jesus’ doctrines could be significantly misunderstood.
We tend to evaluate everything we read in terms of modern Western-style living, and this is the cause of such misunderstanding. Bailey said this – “If a Westerner is told by his employer, ‘You’re fired! Clear out your desk! I want you off the property by 5 p.m. today!’ the employee will understand that he or she is fired and start packing at once in preparation for departure at 5 p.m. A traditional Middle Easterner will listen to the same speech and conclude: ‘The Master is clearly very upset! Hmm – I see that I have a long negotiating process ahead of me. I must seek help from my most influential friends. This is a very serious matter that requires immediate attention.'”
The typical Western mind sees the concrete already solidified, whereas the Middle Eastern mind sees it as having just been laid, and in haste sets about a process of negotiation before it solidifies.
This is apparent also in respect of buying and selling. The Westerner goes to the Supermarket, fills his trolley, goes through checkout, present his VISA card, and that’s that. But in first century Palestine the process was usually that of bartering. The seller chooses a price two or three times what he wants at the end of the barter. The buyer starts two or three times lower than he is willing to pay, and then the process of bartering begins, and is expected and enjoyed by both seller and buyer. When we spent some years in Nairobi, Kenya, we had to learn how to barter with the Indians who had stalls in the markets. It was a new lesson for us.
These are two lessons that Gospel readers must be acquainted with – Negotiating, and Bartering. More next time.
Kenneth E. Bailey, “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes”. Cultural studies in the Gospels. SPCK. 2008. Quote from pp.406-407.