REVIEW: Book explores Jewish world of Jesus
Lois Tverbert. Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life .
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. 230 pages, $18.99.
In a fast-paced, technology-driven, 21st century world, Christians easily lose sight of the footprints that our Savior left in the dusty streets of Palestine and calls each of us to follow.
Lois Tverberg offers some excellent insight into how modern-day Christians can peel back the layers of the centuries and glean a deeper understanding of our Lord’s personality and purpose.
“Walking in the Steps of Rabbi Jesus” is an engaging book by Tverberg, the co-founder of the En-Gedi Resource Center, a ministry that provides resources on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. She also has written or co-written several books designed to help readers understand the Jewish context and language into which Jesus was born.
As Tverberg is a lifelong learner and writer rather than a Bible scholar or preacher, her style is refreshing, straightforward, relational and easy to swallow but supported by plenty of biblical meat. She essentially believes that we “can grow as (Jesus’) disciples when we hear his words in their Jewish context and learn how to better live them out.”
Tverberg’s primary tool to help the reader understand Jesus’ context is a series of word and language studies. She does an excellent job of bringing clarity to what may otherwise be opaque verses that are often misunderstood. In addition, her familiarity with the Hebrew language and rabbinic teachings help her to shed new light on hidden gems of knowledge in passages that are familiar to most students of the Bible.
For instance, Tverberg unpacks the meaning of the Hebrew word Shema (translated in Deuteronomy 6:4 as “Hear, O Israel”). She leads the reader through an intriguing discourse on the Jewish understanding of the word “hear” and concludes that to the Jewish listeners “to hear is to do, to be obedient.”
She writes, “The logic of Hebrew (and other languages) realizes that an action should result from what is in our minds. … If you ‘hear’ someone,’ you will obey their words.”
She contrasts this with some modern Christians’ thinking that sees “actions as ‘dead works’ that are irrelevant, even opposed to faith” and correctly concludes that Jesus’ audience would have then (and should today) understood that “hearing” Christ means obeying his commands.
The author’s section on the Hebrew word hesed provides another breath of fresh air for those of us who seek to love like God loves.
Tverberg explains that hesed (often translated as “mercy” or “loving kindness”) is based on a “covenantal relationship,” a “rock-solid faithfulness that endures to eternity.” She puts modern-day skin on the word by explaining, “Hesed is a mom who spends day after thankless day spoon-feeding and wiping up after a disabled child. … It’s not about the thrill of romance, but the security of faithfulness.”
She reminds us that in our world of microwaved relationships and rampant divorce, God’s children should reflect his steadfast, faithful love.
Chapter 7, titled “How to Have a Kosher Mouth,” is one of the most practical, eye-opening chapters on sins of the tongue that you will read. Her discussion of slander, gossip and an evil tongue go far to establish her thesis that not “only is reigning in your tongue the key to happy relationships, it will also purify your soul.”
Because of her affinity for rabbinical teaching, Tverberg occasionally gives non-inspired traditional teaching more respect than it deserves. In these instances, it seems that she has wandered from the path of the Lord in whose mouth there was no guile and has veered too far into traditional rabbinic teaching.
Whether you are a new Christian or have been reading the Bible all your life, you will learn many valuable lessons from the Jewishness of Jesus as Tverberg presents him.
Although there are a few theological errors with which the conscientious Bible student would be forced to disagree, those take up a very small portion of the text and do little to distract from her primary points.
Tverberg’s insight into the life of Jesus shows that our sanitized, hyper-connected, speed-obsessed world has much to learn from the dusty streets of first-century Palestine.
KYLE BUTT has worked in the Bible Department at Apologetics Press for 13 years. The Montgomery, Ala., organization, supported by Churches of Christ, is online at www.apologeticspress.org. Butt has authored or co-authored more than 20 books, including “Behold: The Lamb of God: Exploring the Historicity, Deity, and Personality of Christ.”