Book Review: Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus

Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus - Lois TverbergWalking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus:
How the words of Jesus can change your life
by Lois Tverberg
Zondervan, 2012

As a follow-up to Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus is Lois Tverberg’s newest offering in regard to understanding the life and message of Yeshua from a Hebraic perspective. The book is divided up into three sections that are all tied together by a central theme – the call to both hear and do the words of Yeshua, by example of the central creed of Judaism found within the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4ff).

Her first section is entitled “Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words with New Ears” and gives us the background behind Yeshua’s emphasis on the Shema as a teaching tool, reflecting on concepts such as turning knowledge into obedience and love into action.

Her second section is entitled, “Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus” and focuses on the practical applications of many of the teachings of Yeshua.

Her concluding section is entitled, “Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus” and is sort of the springboard of encouragement for “continued education” within the realm of biblical studies.

With Walking in the Dust… Tverberg does very successfully what many people attempt, but are not able to achieve. She filters through volumes of detailed, technical information and delivers them to her readers with fluid, engrossing narrative in a language that is warm and vibrant, being able to explain difficult biblical or rabbinic concepts with ease. Her choice for this is conscious, seeing many in the Hebrew roots movement pushing people away with their exclusive vocabulary. Her desire for her writings is that she wants to be what she terms “a bridge, not an island.”

“Sometimes in their enthusiasm, they take on a whole new [Hebrew] vocabulary that creates barriers between themselves and others. My thinking is that if you’ve discovered insights that bring you closer to God, you’re obligated to share them. To do so you need to be a bridge, not an island. So I deliberately use a more widely known vocabulary” (p.83).

In regard to digging into difficult texts or what she terms as “boring background information”, she gives the following advice:

“One thing that might help is to admit that the Bible actually is a difficult, ancient text. Growing up on Sunday school cartoons and flannelgraphs, you might get the impression that the Bible is supposed to be like Chopsticks, a childhood melody that’s playable with a few minutes of practice. It’s actually more like a Rachmaninoff concerto, with crashing chords and minor themes that linger through many movements. It might take years of practice to play well, but with even a lifetime of performances, its rich strains never get old” (p.151).

By way of practical application, Tverberg shares a personal story of a time her studies led her to changing her prayer life in regard to a personal need. I won’t share her story with you, but I will use her experience to lead into a story of my own, which was a direct result from learning from this book. After sharing a personal story in her section on chutzpah (bold tenacity) in prayer, she makes the following statement:

“I’m almost embarrassed to share this story when so many desperate prayers seem to go unanswered. But it taught me that God didn’t really need me to fervently imagine a certain outcome before he’d respond. Any time God answers prayer, he does so out of sheer grace, not because our prayers ‘earned’ a response. God is good, powerful, and loving, and whatever he gave, I could still be assured of this most important fact of all” (p.126).

While many teachers and preachers tend to focus on the aspect of the chutzpah found within the parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:2-5), Tverberg takes a different approach. Though she touches on the Jewish chutzpah represented in the parable, she couples this with Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Mathew 7:9-11 in which the goodness of God, our Heavenly Father, is contrasted against the goodness of an earthly father. She deftly connects these two passages with their overlapping use of kol v’chomer (a fortiori) argumentation, with the emphasis on the goodness of God. Because, as Jesus states, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11) In these passages, the chutzpah is not the singular point of Jesus’ teaching. In these he reminds us to not give up because of the fact that our heavenly Father is so good and loving that He will surely hear our prayers.

When she realized this, she changed her prayers to “Lord, I know that you are good and that you have heard my prayer, and I can trust your answer to my prayer, whether or not you…” (p.126). Her example lead me to do the same, and the answer to something I had being praying about for a while came only a few hours after I had altered my heart and my thinking in relationship to the goodness of God in relationship to my prayer.

Tverberg rightly observes that, “The ultimate goal of pagan prayers was to manipulate the gods into serving one’s own personal prosperity. When you think about it, there really is not much difference between ancient pagans and teachers today who claim that you can use prayer to ‘claim your blessings’ or ‘speak prosperity into your life.’ Any time you try to coerce God into doing your bidding, so that he’ll pad your pocketbook and expand your stock assets, you’re treating God the same way that pagans treat their gods, as a tool to serve their own ends… The key seems to be that you humbly come to him as your heavenly Father, rather than ordering him around as your servant” (p.126-127).

Her insights are more than mere academic acrobatics. They are filled with practical application and ramifications. If you would like to begin understanding what it means to follow Jesus from a Hebrew perspective, Walking in the Dust is a delightful place to start this journey.

This second offering on the Jewish context of Jesus from Tverberg is sure to be a favorite in its rich, easily-accessible teachings, its deep insights and its physical beauty. Whether as part of a daily study, a small group study discussion or a gift to a friend, this book is well worth the investment and will provide much discussion on our role as disciples of Yeshua.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review from the author.

Book Review: The Concealed Light

The Concealed Light by Tsvi SadanThe Concealed Light:
Names of Messiah In Jewish Sources
by Tzvi Sadan
Vine of David, 2012

Ordering Info

They say that quite often big things come in small packages. This is definitely the case with Tsvi Sadan’s, The Concealed Light. It is the most recent publication put forth by Vine of David, a ministry arm of First Fruits of Zion that specializes in early Messianic Judaism and the development of Messianic liturgical resources. Committed to excellence in both academic integrity and aesthetic presentation, Vine of David pushes the envelope in their latest offering. First, let me introduce you to Dr. Sadan.

“Dr. Tsvi Sadan is uniquely qualified as the author of this book. Born in Israel, where he currently resides, he holds a Ph.D. in Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has researched Jewish and Christian views of the Messiah for more than twenty years. Tsvi has taken on the task of becoming familiar with traditional Jewish materials. In this book he draws on this knowledge to give a picture of the Messiah found in Jewish literature but known to few Jews and fewer Christians.” 1 He also had an article published in the latest issue of Messiah Journal, entitled Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community.

Now, let us move into the actual book.

Acher (Different), Even (Stone), Adoni (My Lord), Or (Light), Ar’yeh (Lion)… The list goes on from Alef (א) to Tav (ת). These are the names of the Messiah of Israel according to what the sages have derived from the Holy Writ. In this beautifully crafted book, you will find one hundred and one names in all, each presented in Hebrew with their English translations, explained in laymen’s terms by native Israeli and Hebrew scholar Tsvi Sadan. In The Concealed Light, Sadan goes deep into familiar rabbinic sources, such as the Talmud, Midrash Rabbah, Sifrei, Pesikta Rabbati, Zohar, etc. to pull obscure references to Messianic titles expounded upon by the sages, and clearly explain the significance of each one. But then he takes it one step further by delving into little known sources such as Sefer Yeshu’ot Meshicho and the Perushei Siddur HaTefillah laRokeach—many of which are only available in Hebrew—to bring out even more insights into the Messianic identity as affirmed by Judaism.

Here is a sampling of the amazing research he has pulled together for this:

Orphan

“‘We have become orphans without a father (Lamentations 5:3 NAS). … God said to Israel: ‘You have said to me, “We have become orphans without a father”; therefore the redeemer I will bring from among you has no father, for it is said … “Today I have begotten You””’ (Psalm 2:7). [He] “concluded from this that their Messiah … has no human father” (Sefer Yeshu’ot Meshicho). (page 116)

Olive

“‘Oil … for the light’ (Exodus 27:20)—this is King Messiah, who is also called ‘Green Olive Tree’ (Jeremiah 11:16). [He is called] ‘pure oil’ (Exodus 27:20) because he will light up the darkness for Israel, as it says: ‘That You may say to the prisoners, Go forth’ (Isaiah 49:9), and it also says, ‘The Gentiles shall come to your light’ (Isaiah 60:3)” (Otzar Midrashim, 138). (page 75)

Gold

“On ‘one day which is known to the LORD’ (Zechariah 14:7)—that day is a day of vengeance, when the Holy One, blessed be he, intends to wreak vengeance upon other nations. When he does, then ‘I will make a man more precious than gold’—this is King Messiah, who will transcend and be more precious than all the inhabitants of the world, all of whom will worship and bow down before him, as is written: ‘Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him … The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents’ (Psalm 72:9-10)” (Zohar, Vayera, 107b). (page 186-187)

Glorious

In an outstanding Jewish commentary from the ninth century CE on Psalm 36:9, “In Your light we see light,” the author offers an imaginary conversation between God, Satan, and Messiah which reflects his own understanding of who is Messiah and what is his role. In this conversation, Satan attempts to deter God from honoring Messiah. Challenged, God asks Messiah what he intends to do in light of the suffering inflicted upon him because of those whom he came to save, and the Messiah answers:

“Master of worlds, with the joy of my soul and the pleasure of my heart, I accept upon myself that none from Israel will perish and that not only the living will be saved in my day but also those hidden in the soil…and not only those will be saved, but all hosts whom you have thought to create but have not. This is what I desire, this is what I accept upon me” (Pesikta Rabbati, 36). (page 120-121)

This is just a small sampling of what this little package has to offer. In a sense, it is somewhat akin to Raphael Patai’s The Messiah Texts, in that it culls from a large volume of sources to offer us the very best gems. Couple this along with Sadan’s fluid elucidation, and you have a very palatable work. For Christians, this is a wonderful introduction to the Jewish concepts of Messiah and will help bridge the gap between the very limited understanding of the role of Messiah within Christianity and the dynamic range of insights found within Judaism.

In addition to the quality of the text itself, Vine of David has done a brilliant job of packaging this gem to make it outwardly appealing as well. With its darkly contrasted tone-on-tone cover, deckled page edges and beautiful typesetting, The Concealed Light is not only a unique reference source, but could also double as a daily devotional or inspirational coffee table book. With its list of resources, which will inspire further research from the more scholarly, and its quick reference list of the various messianic titles in English, The Concealed Light will definitely be an attention grabber wherever it goes. I highly recommend it as an addition to your reference library, book club discussion or coffee table adornments. This book is available to purchase online from the Vine of David bookstore.

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this book from Vine of David.

  1. Taken from the book jacket.

Book Review: The Tehran Initiative

The Tehran InitiativeThe Tehran Initiative
by Joel C. Rosenberg
480 Pages
Tyndale House Publishers

The Tehran Initiative by Joel Rosenberg is an action-packed, fast-paced, political thriller written from an evangelical Christian perspective. I received a complimentary advance copy from Tyndale House Publishers.

I have to be honest. I have heard many of my friends speak of Rosenberg’s books for the last few years, and always with a passion. However, until this point, I have never read anything of his, primarily because reading fiction has not been a priority in light of all of the biblical studies with which I try to keep up. Reading The Tehran Initiative has definitely given me an appetite for more Rosenberg works.

In The Tehran Initiative, Iran has just successfully completed its first nuclear tests, there have just been presidential assassination attempts, and the Islamic Messiah (the 12th Imam, or the “Mahdi”) is garnering alliances across the Middle East and abroad in order to build the ultimate caliphate, a one-world government united under the umbrella of Islam. Under the direction of the Mahdi, Israel (the “Little Satan”) is on the brink of nuclear extinction or at the minimum a second holocaust, along with the United States (the Great Satan). CIA agent David Shirazi is pulled deep into the midst of the swirling chaos and comes face to face with his greatest fears, and begins to wrestle between his Islamic upbringing and the persistent Christian influences of those he has encountered.

Even though The Tehran Initiative is a novel, it will definitely make a person want to learn more about the current events in the Middle East and the global Islamic agenda. If you enjoy a fast-paced, plausible, reality-based fiction novel with an evangelical perspective, Rosenberg is your ticket.

If you would like to hear Rosenberg speak first-hand about The Tehran Initiative, follow this link:

http://tyndale.com/The-Tehran-Initiative/9781414319353

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Temple

In The Shadow of the Temple coverIn the Shadow of the Temple :
Jewish influences on early Christianity
by Oskar Skaursaune

455 Pages
InterVarsity Press, 2002

Until reading this book, I was totally unaware of Skarsaune and his literary offerings. Now, I realize how deprived I have been.

In In the Shadow of the Temple, Skarsaune begins his account of the development of Christianity by first peering into the last two centuries of the Second Temple period, beginning with the Hasmonean dynasty and the subsequent influence of Hellenism upon Jewish religion and culture. From there he sets the stage to masterfully guide us through the first few centuries of the development of Christianity, culminating in “The Constantinian Revolution” of the early fourth century.

Throughout each chapter he weaves the story of the early believers with the fibers of secular historical records (such as Pliny the Elder & Tacitus), Jewish writings (Talmud, Apocrypha, etc.), and the writings of both Jewish and non-Jewish believers (Didache, 1 Clement, etc.). Skarsaune examines as much of the evidences as possible in order to place each piece of the puzzle with care. He is very articulate without being verbose. Following are some highlights from this work.

The impact of this way of looking at first-century Jewish and Christian history has been enormous, and is still felt in New Testament scholarship. There is no doubt, however, that a basic “change of paradigm” is taking place. For one thing, Jewish scholars have argued with great conviction that Jesus should not be placed outside Pharisaism, but within it: when Jesus debates with Pharisees, his own positions can be shown to agree with those of other Pharisaic authorities. In other words, Pharisaism itself was complex; it comprised different opinions; it could comprise those of Jesus. Jesus’ debates with Pharisaic opponents is therefore an intra-Pharisaic debate…It is meaningless and grossly anachronistic to picture Jesus, Peter or Paul as debating with “Judaism” or its representatives, as if they themselves were outside and represented something else, a non-Jewish position. 1

In this quote, Skarsaune rightly recognizes the intra-house debate between Jesus and the Pharisees of his days, rather than viewing Jesus as an outsider as is typically the case. Jesus has not come to topple the biblical religion in order to establish a new one through subversive tactics. He is in the order of the prophets of old, condemning hypocrisy and calling his people back to repentance through proper relationship to the Torah given at Sinai.

In another insightful passage, Skarsaune hits upon another often overlooked truth in regard to the standard model of prayer for the early believers:

In the days of Jesus the wording and sequence of the elements of the synagogue service had attained such stability that we are fully justified in speaking of a synagogal liturgy. The echoes of the synagogal prayers in the Lord’s Prayer and other early Christian prayers demonstrate that this liturgy was well known to Jesus and the early disciples. We should not think that the early Christians were antiliturgical in their worship gatherings. It is no accident that in Acts 2:42 Luke does not say that the early community “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching … and prayer,” but to “the prayers,” which suggests fixed patterns. All the evidence points to the synagogal liturgy as a source for those prayers. 2

When examining the letters of Ignatius 3, Skarsaune aptly notes:

One gets the impression that Ignatius’s relationship to the Old Testament was mainly a literary one. For him, the Old Testament was a book, not a living past which, through traditions and observances, determined his own life and thinking. It is this, more than anything else, that betrays the Gentile Christian. The position of Ignatius may perhaps best be characterized as New Testament orthodoxy. It was the apostolic writings that made him value the Old Testament and love the prophets. The authority of the Old Testament is undisputed, but it is derived from the authority of the gospel.

This was probably one of the most characteristic differences between Jewish believers and believers coming from an entirely Gentile background. It was not a question of doctrinal differences but rather a difference of mentality. For both groups the Old Testament was an authoritative book, and the church of the Gentiles was later to defend the Old Testament bravely and at considerable cost against attacks from within the church and without. But to them the Old Testament was and remained a book, describing a history that was past and finished. To the Jewish believers, it was so much more. Through innumerable cords of tradition, festivals, daily practices, religious concepts, etc., the Jewish believers were bound up with the Old Testament; it was part of their lives.

What we observe in Ignatius may perhaps best be described as a loss of Jewish context. 4

In this observation, I believe Skarsaune has hit upon one of the primary dysfunctions of modern Christian faith. We have built our house of faith from the top down, rather than from the bottom up due to our subconscious disconnect with the Tanach (the “Old Testament”) and the patriarchs. Yes, Jesus is the pinnacle of our faith. But in order to truly understand his work, we must first have an intimate relationship with the broad foundation of the Tanach, which was laid out in order to elucidate that which would come after it. Without this understanding, the majority of the Scriptures (i.e. the “Old Testament”) becomes exactly as Ignatius views it, as “a history that was past and finished.”

To conclude, the present work from Skarsaune is one which should be in the library of anyone who is serious about understanding the development of Christianity in the first few centuries, and how the apron strings began to be cut (whether for the good or for the bad) from Mother Judaism. Skarsaune does an excellent job at reducing and articulating a plethora of information into layman’s terms in a way which is easily comprehendible and manageable. I look forward to collecting his other offerings as well.

  1.  In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (105–106, 107). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  2. Ibid., p. 125.
  3. was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle.
  4. Ibid., p. 217

J-BOM Review for “The Lost” forthcoming

Yes – I know I’m behind. But it’s been a crazy month, and The Lost: A Search for Six in Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn is a hefty book, both in size and in depth. This reminds me of Tevia (Fiddler on the Roof), as Derek was saying that I was behind on my reviews, I was shouting out “I von’t be late!” Well… I’m late. :-)

I wish I could devote all of my time to academics & such, but it just doesn’t happen when you run your own business and have 4 small children. So, I’ve come to the resolve to just “being late” from time to time, as much as I hate it. I’ve already started my review, but it probably won’t be finished for a few more days. Thanks for bearing with me. Shalom!