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.

Balderdash or No?

man covered in dust

Let’s face it. There is a lot of “balderdash” or “urban legends” that circulate, particularly when it comes to religion. It seems there is hardly a week that goes by in which I do not receive some forwarded email from someone thinking they are doing me a favor by sending me an “inspiring” teaching on how the way Jesus folded the “napkin” after his resurrection alluded to his second coming, or how the blood of Jesus literally flowed down from the cross and onto the hidden Ark of the Covenant beneath the Temple Mount to make atonement for us. It’s just that way. Humans have an innate need for sensationalism to validate our paradigm. However, we need to know fact from fiction and need to always check our sources and be prepared to prove our outlandish propositions with evidence, if we make such claims.

This morning I came across a blog post from Lois Tverberg, which she recently posted as a response to another blog post from about a year ago which attempts to debunk the legitimacy of a popular rabbinic concept often used by Messianics in their teachings.

Back in April of last year, Trevin Wax (Managing Editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources) created a list of “urban legends” within Christianity. While the majority of these were great and need addressing, he included one that didn’t quite fit into the “balderdash” category. The concept he challenged was that of being “covered in the dust of your rabbi”, based off of Avot 1:4, which states:

Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah said: Let your house be a meetinghouse for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.

Fortunately, Lois Tverberg and one other brave soul chimed in with a very thorough (but gentle) rebuttle, but seemed to be completely lost in the 211 comments that erupted from Trevin’s post.

I’m not quite sure why Wax thought this to be an urban legend, particularly since it is based squarely on a reliable Jewish text from antiquity, unless he was merely going on the misunderstanding of other misinformed bloggers who only had one desire: to attack Rob Bell and his use of the concept in his teaching (Dust – which I highly recommend). I think the real breakdown in communication came in that of the attackers thinking the more “Hebraic” or “Messianic” interpretation of this mishnah to be literal, rather than idiomatic. They seem to attack the concept of literally caking on dust while following your rabbi, particularly the origin of the phrase, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi” (which is obviously a Rob Bell original).

This, however, is not the point of the mishnah. The point is that as disciples of our Master, we are to allow his teachings and his presence to “rub off” onto us so that we are better equipped to emulate him. We are to be constantly following him, constantly sitting at his feet in order learn from him, constantly looking for ways to imitate him. No, we shouldn’t grab a handful of dust and powder ourselves with it to feign our piety. We should, however, be getting a little dirty because of our concern for following our rabbi being greater than our concern for outward appearance.

Are you walking around squeaky clean, or are you beginning to collect the dust of your Rabbi?


ps. Dr. Tverberg – If you are reading this, I would be more than willing to post a review of your latest book, Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus, if I could get my pauperly hands on one (hint, hint).

Avot de’Rabbi Natan

I’ve recently been working my way through The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan), as translated by Judah Goldin. It has been interesting to see even more parallels to the Apostolic Writings from this ancient text. For those interested, Abot de’Rabbi Natan (ARN) is a minor tractate of the Talmud and is an ancient commentary on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers).

There is a version of it contained in the printed texts of the Babylonian Talmud, but this particular version is based on two versions of ARN which were translated and documented by Solomon Schechter more than a century ago. Schechter had not only translated and compared these two “non-canonical” versions of ARN, but had come upon a third as well. What is interesting to note is that these versions of ARN contain information from Pirkei Avot (PA) in a different form than what exists in the Talmud. The arrangements of the various mishnayot are not parallel to PA, and often it attributes sayings to persons other than whom PA claims as their source. I plan on incorporating some of the information within ARN in my ongoing commentary on PA. I can’t help but feel a sense of amazement at the parallels to the Apostolic Writings in several instances. Here’s a sneak peek at some of what I’ve come across already:

Regarding the statement “Thy belly is like a heap of wheat hedged in by lilies (Cant. 7:3)1 ” the following statements are made.

“Thy belly is like a heap of wheat refers to the minor commandments that are tender. Hedged in by lilies teaches this: when Israel put them into practice, they are led thereby to the life of the world to come. How so? One’s wife in her menses2 is alone with him at home. If he is so minded he cohabits with her; if he is otherwise minded he does not cohabit with her. Does then anyone see him, or does anyone know to tell him aught? He fears only Him who commanded against contact with a menstruant.

(Again,) one has suffered a pollution. If he is so minded he bathes; if he is otherwise minded he does not bathe. Does anyone see him, or does anyone know to tell him aught? He fears only Him who commands ritual immersion.

The same may be said of the law of dough offering; and the same may be said of the law of first shearings. These minor commandments, tender as lilies, when Israel put them into practice, lead them to the life of the world to come.”3

To me, this brings to mind the warning the Master gives his disciples in Luke’s Gospel:

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.
(Luke 12:1-5, NIV)

Food for thought…

  1. Abbreviation for Canticles or the Song of Solomon. This reference is 7:3 in a Jewish published Bible and 7:2 in a non-Jewish published Bible.
  2. Menstruation
  3. Goldin, Judah. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan. Yale University Press, New York, 1955, p. 18.