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Jesus of Arabia: Christ through Middle Eastern eyes by Andrew Thompson

by
03 August 2018

Stephen Griffith asks whether Christ is still a stumbling-blok

ANDREW THOMPSON clearly loves the world of the Gulf and has a sympathy and affection for the Muslim world that he has encountered over a long ministry there. Originally written for readers in the Gulf to offer them a sympathetic (to Muslims) view of Jesus, he offers this book to a wider readership as one more tile in the mosaic of interfaith friendship, as a book to start a conversation.

Two men in particular inform the narrative. Kenneth Bailey travelled widely and saw how traditional Middle Easterners responded to the teaching of Jesus: his writings are deeply insightful. Sir Mark Allen is best known for being implicated in the arrest and torture of Abdelhakim Belhaj, and author of a light book on the Arabs.

There are many insights into the Gospels and their picture of Jesus, but I found the assumption that 20th-century Gulf Arab culture is close to that of first-century Galilee a problem. The Greater Syria in which Jesus lived was two millennia ago and not at all like the Gulf, even of the last century. The Levant still has a significant number of Arab Christians, and it is wrong to assume that Arab means Muslim. Has there really been a consistency of thought across the whole Arab world over two thousand years? I doubt it, but there is a constant refrain “It was just the same in the days of Jesus.” There are simply too many generalisations.

By introducing the Jesus of the Gospels, Thompson gives him a familiarity for Gulf Arabs, but the seditious challenge of Jesus to the status quo of his day is a challenge to the Islam of the region today, and here is consistently underplayed.

I found this affectionate book deeply frustrating.

The Revd Stephen Griffith is a retired Anglican priest. He specialises in Syria and the Syriac community in Turabdin.

Jesus of Arabia: Christ through Middle Eastern eyes
Andrew Thompson
Rowman & Littlefield £22.95
(978-1-5381-0944-1)

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