Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Much like language itself, the stories we read in the Bible are laconic–they do not tell us everything that we would like to know. The Bible’s laconic stories speak into life in many contexts with meaning and power. Understanding their original meaning can, however, be difficult without detailed knowledge about their original context. Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, explores Jesus’ original context through a study of Jewish thought, both in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish writings (29).
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus is organized into three sections: (1) Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words, (2) Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus, and (3) Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus. Chapters are brief and accessible enough to use devotionally. The chapters end in questions that can be used for small group discussion. Tverberg’s writing style is as engaging as her content is deep.
In chapter 2, for example, Tverberg focuses on Jesus’ interpretation of the Shema. We know it as the great or double-love commandment (Matthew 2:35-43). Love God; love neighbor. Hebrew, Tverberg reminds us, is word poor and meaning rich. In Hebrew, Shema means both to hear and obey. The Jewish version of the Shema, which has been recited daily since before the first century, as a prayer is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The second part of Jesus’ Shema (love of neighbor) is, however, found in Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew understanding of love is covered in chapter 3 and the Hebrew understanding of neighbor is covered in chapter 4. If you really want to understand the parable of the Good Samaritan, Tverberg intimates, read 2 Chronicles 28:1-15.
As a seminarian, I was amazed how accessible Tverberg made matters of faith that I struggled to learn over the past several years. Citing Abraham Herschel, Tverberg writes: The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God. How you pray reveals what you believe about God (125). Until I understood this, my prayers were simply random words. I read Herschel, but I understood Tverberg.
Tverberg understands Jesus not only as Messiah, but as one steeped in Jewish wisdom. Confronted with two commandments in tension, which one do you obey?
Who might want to read Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus? This is an excellent text for devotions and for small group discussion. Pastors will find a number of chapters that will preach. Seminary students might find it an interesting introduction to Hebrew thinking. Any Christian serious about understanding their faith will enjoy and benefit from this book.