by Kenneth E. Bailey
Many thanks to the always-generous folks at IVP for this review copy.
The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey
When I took the OT backgrounds seminar a couple of years ago, one of the most interesting discussions concerned shepherds in ancient Israel. Our prof was not only well versed in the Hebrew Bible’s language and story, but also in raising farm animals, particularly sheep. I remember being completely enthralled by his lecture—it brought psalm 23 to life like I’ve never experienced before. When I cracked open Bailey’s book on the good shepherd motif in the Bible, I had high hopes. Because the bar had already been set fairly high, I was quite hopeful that Bailey’s experiences in the Middle East would bring the texts to life the same way that happened in my OT seminar. I am pleased to say that while Bailey’s book did not necessarily exceed my expectations, he sufficiently met them.
As the subtitle indicates, Bailey traces the theme of “the good shepherd” from its most prominent and popular occurrence, in Psalm 23, to the NT book of 1 Peter. What’s interesting about Bailey’s discussion of these passages is the way he shows the connection between Psalm 23 and the other texts in which the good shepherd motif is used. The connections are not always plainly obvious, but through his careful exegesis, Bailey demonstrates that the twenty-third psalm, at least thematically speaking, was prevalent throughout the history of Israel, particularly during times of hardship. Bailey does not present Psalm 23 as paradigmatic necessarily so that all subsequent references to Yahweh (and later Jesus) as the good shepherd are stringently dependent on it, but again, that the psalm portrayed Yahweh in such a way that later voices employed its themes to speak words of comfort to different contexts.
While the whole of the book is enriching and informative, by far the most enjoyable parts (for me) were the preliminary sections—the preface, intro, and first chapter. It’s here that Bailey digs down into the well of his own experiences as well as that of others who have spent part/most/all of their lives tending to sheep in the Middle East. The first-hand accounts of shepherds who lived where biblical figures lived (or in proximity) was fascinating, not unlike the seminar I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Having read through some of Bailey’s work on 1 Corinthians, I knew what to expect and what I expected I got—a well written and highly informative work, one that I would recommend to anyone who treasures the twenty-third psalm and the passages where one can hear its echoes.
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