Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, by Lois Tverberg, PhD. Zondervan, 2012.
Disclosure: I received a complementary review copy of this book from the publisher.
Lois Tverberg is a biologist, but in our circles she is better know for another occupation: a writer who explores the Jewish context of Jesus’ life. As a Lutheran (at least in background), Tverberg is a writer well-suited to explain the Jewish context of Yeshua to Christian readers. As a scientist she has the energy and passion for research that are required to find connections between rabbinic literature and the gospels. Her portrayal has much substance because of her dedication to learning.
What I like most about this book is its focus on and clear exposition of the ethics of Yeshua.
Tverberg gives an example early into the book that is a great corrective to what, in my opinion, is an over-emphasis in some forms of Christianity on right belief as opposed to right practice:
. . . our culture tends to exalt our intellect as critical and discount our actions. Some of us Christians even see actions as ‘dead works’ that are irrelevant, even opposed to faith. You often see this unhappy disconnect online, when Christians respond to what they consider theological error with rude, ugly insults, feeling innocent of wrongdoing as long as they are outing a ‘heretic.’ Knowing the right thing is paramount; obeying Christ’s command to ‘love your neighbor’ is irrelevant.
One thing I love when I find a good book on Yeshua is to see how the author will develop the topic, to see what they include and what priority they give to certain things. Tverberg has done well in choosing examples of Yeshua’s ethical teachings.
- She begins in a place often overlooked. When asked, “What was the greatest commandment according to Jesus?” many people make a subtle error. They jump right to the “love God” command. But close readers know that Mark and Mark alone gives the full context (Mark 12:28-31). Yeshua began with the “Hear O Israel” command, the Shema, before the love God command.
- Tverberg explains the significance of the word Shema and rightly makes it a starting point for understanding Yeshua who said, “For him who has ears to hear.” She explains to readers who may be unaware the significance of “hear in order to obey” as a key to following Yeshua.
- From there she proceeds to the “love God” command and adds depth from the Jewish practice of looking for meaning in the exact working of Torah. She draws on the mystery of the final word in the love God command, which might be rendered love God “with all your muchness.” She points out that we do not have to choose between three interpretations, but can accept all three as layers: with all your strength, with all your intelligence, and also with all your increase (meaning income, so that you love God by giving to those in need).
- In the next section, on the “love neighbor” command, Tverberg helps us explore the debate about whether “neighbor” means only the one like us. She shows how Yeshua’s teaching cuts through the excuses not to love the outsider and the enemy.
- Next, she explains the good eye (Matt 6:22-23). Few people have any idea of this Jewish concept though it has been in the gospels for two thousand years.
- And then she shows the concept behind doing things as Yeshua said “in my name” (Matt 10:41-42). What does “in Yeshua’s name” mean in the original Jewish context of the phrase?
- Appropriately she goes on the kosher mouth concept which Yeshua taught (Luke 6:45).
- And Yeshua said there are ethics involved in the way we judge others (Luke 6:36-37).
- Very few understand the Jewish principle behind the parable of the persistent widow, but Tverberg aptly explains it (Luke 18:2-5).
- And Yeshua taught what Tverberg calls “thinking with both hands,” a means of weighing commandments (Luke 6:9).
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus is an easy to read — but harder to live — crash course in the ethics of Yeshua. From Shema to love God to love neighbor to the good eye to living in his name to the kosher mouth to balanced judgment to chutzpah in prayer to weighing the commandments — Tverberg’s course is a great sampling of Yeshua’s way of life. It is a book to read and re-read, to Shema it, not just to hear it.
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