I am extremely grateful to IVP for sending me a review copy of Open Hearts in Bethlehem: A Christmas Drama. Ever since I read his Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, I have had an enormous appreciation for Kenneth Bailey’s scholarship on the cultural background to the New Testament. And his most famous contribution is probably his work on the cultural background to Luke’s infancy story. That work is summarized and complemented in the introduction to the drama, and the result is what is arguably the most persuasive presentation of his case to date.
The booklet includes not just scholarly background and rational presented in a manner that anyone can understand, but also staging details, program notes, and other such useful things.
The drama itself does not attempt to figure out the historical difficulties related to the placement of Quirinius’ census during the time of Herod the Great. It is simply an attempt to tell the story as Luke offers it, filling in dialogue and characters not merely in the interest of fleshing out the story, but also in order to convey realistic cultural contextual data that gives meaning to the story. There are mentions of things such as Herod’s paranoia, rabbis’ views of shepherds, and Judas the Galilean!there is a CD which includes the music with words as well as instrumental so that it can be used as backing for those in the drama. IVP also sells the musical scores for the songs.
I found the drama to be informative as well as emotionally powerful. When the shepherds explain the significance of the angels’ message that they would find the baby lying in a manger, it is simply wonderful, a fitting climax to the story in which Bailey has rightly placed the manger where it would normally be found in a peasant home in that time and part of the world: in a family home. Mary’s quiet words about what this sign means ensure the message comes across clearly (p.78):
I know what it means.
It means that this Messiah
was not born just for priests and kings
but for all of us common folk as well.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in the cultural background of the Lukan infancy story get a copy of this, as well as anyone who is looking for something different for their church Christmas pageant. It does what the best of other pageants do – entertain and emotionally touch the audience – while also being genuinely educational.
I look forward to hearing from anyone who performs it. To make a recording of a performance you need permission from IVP. But if anyone gets that permission and makes a recording, I hope they will share the recording online and share a link to it here!