I recently read Jesus of Arabia by Andrew Thompson. It left me wanting more historical information that sheds light on Jesus’ choice of words. Thompson is an Anglican priest who has lived in the Middle East for over 20 years. He uses his experiences and many conversations with his Middle Eastern friends to help the reader see the similarities between Arab culture and the culture in which Jesus lived. Some of the topics include the importance of bread, what typically happens at a Middle Eastern wedding, the duty of the oldest son (i.e., Jesus) to a family, how pearls were valued before the days of cultured pearls, and many other cultural insights. After reading Thompson’s book, Bible stories I had been reading for years suddenly had new nuance and meaning.
Thompson acknowledges that Jesus of Arabia is reminiscent of Kenneth Bailey’s, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. However, Thompson’s purpose seems slightly different. He displays great respect for the spiritual journey of Muslims and says that Jesus of Arabia was written for both a Muslim and a Christian audience. One goal of the book seems to be to provide connecting points between Christians and Muslims as we look at the life of Jesus.
As a Westerner, I have learned much from my Muslim friends. As we read the Bible together, I have often been the student as cultural insights are brought to life by my Middle Eastern friends. Indeed, the words and life of Jesus still resonate and provide fertile ground for genuine friendships and mutual learning.
As you read Jesus of Arabia, not only will you gain insights into the cultural implications of Jesus’ teachings, but you will also find many things to discuss with your Middle Eastern friends. When you close this book, you will probably not read the Bible in the same way. You will likely become more aware of the cultural influences and ask better questions of the text. You may want to seek out the books referenced in the footnotes or intentionally seek out new Arab friends to learn more! All of these are positive outcomes that persuade me to highly recommend reading Jesus of Arabia.