As a Messianic Jew, I’ve been heartened by the interest I’ve seen among some lay people to connect with the Jewish foundations of their faith. Academics have access to scholarly works, and the tools to thoughtfully assess them, but there aren’t a lot of sound materials out there that can help connect a popular audience with the Jewish Jesus in his first-century context. A search of the internet for Hebrew roots material can be an odyssey through teachings ranging from solid to fringe to outright heresy. Let the buyer beware.
Author Lois Tverberg has attempted to meet that need for materials for the popular audience with a trio of books written for a mainstream Christian audience. The first in the series, co-authored with Ann Spangler, entitled Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, focuses on the teaching ministry of Jesus as it would have been experienced in the prevailing culture of his day. Walking in The Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How The Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life offers historical and spiritual background to some of the words and ideas Jesus used when he instructed both his disciples and the crowds who sought him out during his ministry years. The newest book in the series, Reading The Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How A Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding, introduces readers to the way in which first-century Jews engaged with Scripture. (Hint: no one used fill-in-the-blank Bible study booklets or pre-packed video lessons for discipleship back then!)
Tverberg’s conservative Norwegian Lutheran upbringing gave her a very Reformation-centric (which is to say, Greco-Roman) approach to the Christian faith. This was further bolstered by her training as a scientist – she has a Ph.D. in biology and taught at the college level for many years. More than two decades ago, Tverberg sat under the instruction of popular Bible teacher Ray Vander Laan, who first introduced her to the Jewishness of her faith. That introduction opened up a new world to her, and for many years, she’s been applying her well-honed research skills to creating materials for lay people that are both informative and life-application-oriented. Her strength as a writer comes as she seeks to translate and contextualize ancient culture for modern readers.For instance, in Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, she tackles the “Me, Myself, and Jesus” individualism we in modern Western culture have in our approach to Scripture. She notes,
Most of us read our Bibles as a collection of stories of individuals and their personal encounters with God. We swim through a sea of dull details, aiming for islands of solitary, one-on-one conversations with God because they are all we relate to…A reader from a communal culture, however, would notice that Scripture frames itself collectively, in terms of the family of Abraham and the kingdom of Christ.
As hard as Westerners find it to relate to collective cultures, we actually do think more communally in the business world. Consider what happens when you’re hired into a company. You’re handed a box of business cards emblazoned with your name and the corporate logo, and sometimes a company shirt too. Suddenly you’re expected to become the face of the company to the world. If you do a bad job, the company’s reputation will suffer and yours will too. Ultimately, your fate is tied to the company – if it prospers, so do you, and if it fails, you’ll also fail.
A Bible study group I’ve attended used Walking in The Dust of Rabbi Jesus as a summer read, and it served as fodder for some very meaningful discussion along with some lovely “ah-ha!” lightbulb-goes-on moments among those gathered. I think those moments echo Tverberg’s obvious delight in her subject matter as much as they do in her careful research. These books could be easily adapted to work with teens in congregations with a serious commitment to upping Bible literacy among their members. These books are a handy reference for pastors, but they aren’t just for leaders – I believe they’d benefit any Christian interested in an solid introduction to the Hebrew roots of their faith.