Here is the scoop:
Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (PTME) is classic Kenneth E. Bailey. You have lucid exposition, plenty of rhetorical analysis, usage of Syriac and other ancient sources, sound cultural analysis and excellent application. In fact, it probably will stand out as one of the better resources available on 1 Corinthians in years to come. The list of positive reviews on the back of this book reads like a who's who in Biblical studies.
I just am not sold 100%. Don't get me wrong--PTME is great. It is a real achievement. But so many things send up warning flags to me as I read it. Here are a few:
1) Rhetorical analysis of the Bible, by nature, is tricky business. Almost anything can fit some poetic structure. It becomes almost too easy to say, "Paul is speaking in *insert some form of poetic prose here*. Kenneth Bailey does this throughout the ENTIRE book. I am just not sold. There are more than a few times where I just do not see the parallelism. I think he stretches it too far.
2) His uses of Jewish tradition often seem to be anachronisms, read back into the text.
3) Bailey tends to take his experiences in the Middle East and read them back into the text. He does this, for instance, in his analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 when he mentions men praying with their head uncovered. It's a good stab at a tricky passage, I suppose. But I feel extremely uncomfortable reading my experience today back into a nearly 2000 year old document.
So get the book. There is so much gold to find within the pages and so many fresh insights that there is no reason not to pick it up. However, when you do, read cautiously and with discernment.
*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a review.*