Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel's Story, By Kenneth E. Bailey

Jacob & the Prodigal

How Jesus Retold Israel's Story

by Kenneth E. Bailey

Jacob & the Prodigal
  • Length: 225 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: April 24, 2003
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 2727
  • ISBN: 9780830827275

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Israel, the community to which Jesus belonged, took its name from their patriarch Jacob. His story of exile and return was their story as well.

In the well-known tale of the prodigal son, Jesus reshaped the story in his own way and for his own purposes.

In this work, Kenneth E. Bailey compares the Old Testament saga and the New Testament parable. He unpacks similarities freighted with theological significance and differences that often reveal Jesus' particular purposes. Drawing on a lifetime of study in both Middle Eastern culture and the Gospels, Bailey offers here a fresh view of how Jesus interpreted Israel's past, his present and their future.

"Ken Bailey's Jacob and the Prodigal, a monumental work, will set the stage for all subsequent New Testament scholars working on the 'so-called' parable of the Prodigal Son."

Review of Biblical Literature

"Jacob and the Prodigal is excellently written, very readable, filled with a spirit of reverence for the great subject it talks about and replete with the scholarly nuggets of the Near-Eastern expert that nobody else can provide at this time. The novelty of the New Testament as well as its continuity with the old covenant is wonderfully worked out while offering us a captivating reading of the Evangelium in Evangelio. A book with many refreshing discoveries."

Ulrich W. Mauser, Professor Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary

" 'There cannot be anything new left to be said about the parable of the prodigal son.' Really? Not when Kenneth Bailey sets to work with his phenomenal knowledge of Scripture and Jewish writings, the Middle-Eastern scene and early Arabic commentators on the New Testament! The result is a highly readable, exciting and stimulating new reading of the stories in Luke 15 in tandem with the story of Jacob. Preachers on these stories will never be able to expound them again in the way that they used to do but will find treasures new in them thanks to this insightful treatment. The gospel stands out all the more clearly as a result of Bailey's interpretation."

I. Howard Marshall, Honorary Research Professor of the New Testament, University of Aberdeen

"Kenneth Bailey's Jacob and the Prodigal offers a fascinating study in biblical intertextuality that opens up new and exciting possibilities in the interpretation of one of Jesus' best-known parables, that of the prodigal son. The importance of Bailey's exegesis is not limited to this one parable but has significance for our understanding of the whole of Jesus' theology."

Craig A. Evans, Payzant Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada

"Bailey's knowledge of the scholarly literature is matched by his intimate understanding of ancient texts and cultures, and these together bring interpretative insights unavailable from any other writer. Here Bailey outlines how Jesus taught in his culture and day. He then focuses his energies on a brilliant and persuasive treatment of Luke 15 and shows how the 'Jacob Saga' of Genesis informed the dramatic framework of Jesus' most famous parable. Bailey is one of the 'great teachers' and through this volume we can listen to the wealth of his life of research."

Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"Kenneth Bailey has become the premier commentator in our generation on the cultural world behind Jesus' parables. And of all the parables, Bailey keeps returning to the prodigal son more than any other one. Here, in one very insight-filled yet readable layperson's book, is a more accessible form of much of his previous commentary on Luke 15, plus more--fascinating parallels with Genesis and the accounts of Jacob and Esau. Bailey is undoubtedly right that there is more of the full-orbed gospel of redemption in this parable than first meets the eye."

Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, Denver, Colorado




I: Introduction: What Does It Mean to Call Jesus a Theologian?
1. Jesus as a Metaphorical Theologian and the Rabbinic World
2. The Jesus Tradition and the Question of Authenticity
3. The Importance of Middle Eastern Culture for New Testament Interpretation
4. The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the "Travel Narrative" in Luke
5. The One and the Many in Parabolic Interpretation

II: The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 Compared with the Saga of Jacob in Genesis 27--35: The Setting In Luke 15
6. Three Stories, One Parable: Seeing the Three Stories of Luke 15 as a Unity
7. The Parable of the Lost Sheep: The First Warm-Up Story (Luke 15:3-7)
8. The Lost Coin--And Also Some Women (Luke 15:8-10)
9. To Find the Lost:The Parable of the Two Lost Sons (Luke 15:11-32)

III. The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 Compared with the Saga of Jacob in Genesis 27--35: The Saga and the Parable: Comparisons and Contrasts
10. Jacob Revisited: The Jacob Story in Early Jewish Tradition and in the Mind of Jesus
11. The Great Rebellion: The Family Before the Prodigal Leaves Home (Luke 15:11-13)
12. The Exile: The Prodigal in the Far Country (Luke 15:13-19)
13. Peace for the One Who is Far Off: The Father Finds the Prodigal (Luke 15:20-24)
14. Peace for the One Who is Near: The Father's Search for the Older Son (Luke 15:25-32)
15. Two Dancers in a Single Dance: Reflections on N.T. Wright's Interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son

IV: Significance of this Study for an Understanding of Jesus' Theology
16. A Summary of the Significance of the Comparisons Between Jacob and the Prodigal for Aspects of Jesus' Theology


Appendix: Index of the Various Types of Contrasts and Comparisons


Index of Authors


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Kenneth E. Bailey

Kenneth E. Bailey (1930–2016) was an acclaimed author and lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament studies. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he served as canon theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. The author of more than 150 articles in English and in Arabic, his writings include Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, The Good Shepherd, Open Hearts in Bethlehem (A Christmas Musical), and The Cross and the Prodigal.