When Lois Tverberg first heard about a seminar at her church on the Jewish background to the Bible, she dismissed the field of study as “painfully boring”.
Living in Michigan and holding a PhD in biology, Lois wasn’t interested in archeology or what she called “dry background” to the Bible.
But fifteen years later, Lois has not only discovered what she describes as a “fascinating” topic, but completed two books on the subject. The second, released last month is called, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.
It was a title Lois was initially unsure of. “At first I thought it sounded like an over [statement]; one of those high pressure titles. But it’s actually what has happened in my own life. I wrote specifically about things that had changed how I live because of understanding this context.”
When asked for an example, Lois picks what she describes as one of the most “impossible” verses in all of scripture.
“Jesus words about do not judge. To me that has always been world’s most impossible sermon. It’s like love your enemies, it sounds great, it preaches well, but we’ll just file it under the ‘I’m not going to worry about that one’. I’m not sure where to start with it, it’s just impossible.”
“What I wrote about in my chapter called Taking My Thumb Off The Scale, is…Judge means discern, not just condemn. But Judge everyone on a scale of merit, meaning give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s when you say things like, ‘OK maybe he’s having problems at home, maybe he grew up in an abusive home’. It’s when you try to find a way to look at the best side of people.”
“That line is 'judge everybody with the measure weighing in their favour'. You hear Jesus talk about the way you measure will be measured to you. So I write a chapter about how you live that out. What does it look like to judge favourably?”
It’s clear that Lois is passionate about looking at Jesus historical and Jewish context. She describes the experience of studying like someone taking a firehose and “blasting water” over the dry Biblical text with life “sprouting up everywhere”.
But Lois doesn’t come from a Jewish background, and neither does she view her work as apologetics to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
"My book is written by a gentile evangelical Christian for gentile evangelical Christians. I’m unapologetic in the way I’m not trying to prove Jesus’s divinity. The way I start this book is to say 'I’m writing to you as a Christian, I’m going to assume that Jesus is who he said he is, and yet lets look at his Jewish context instead of doing the Jesus vs Judaism thing.'"
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus
By Lois Tverberg
Lois says many in the church have not heard teaching on the Hebrew background to Jesus, but is reluctant to blame or criticise those who teach on a Sunday.
“What I find is people are angry at their pastor or the people who taught them, so it becomes a reaction of anger at the rest of Christianity as people will say ‘my pastor was lying to me all the time’. My judge favourably comes in right there as I can’t imagine your pastor is preparing for a sermon and says ‘man I could give them all these great insights about their Jewish context, no I’d better not.’ Maybe it’s just that he doesn’t know!”
Recognising that some have taken such teaching further than Lois would be comfortable with, the author says she want to keep “one foot in both worlds”
“I have some wonderful friends and people in ministry who will start taking on a vocabulary where you start calling Jesus Yeshua and instead of Sabbath it’s Shabbat and you start using words that no one else understands."
"For a lot of people a little change in vocabulary starts sending out red flags because there’s every kind of crazy new thing out there and I can understand why people are careful. I try to speak in a way that makes sense to regular mainline conservative Christians which is what is around me.”
To demonstrate how radical and important the field of study is, Lois points out very few Christians know what the Sh'ma is.
"Yet when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is he starts by quoting the Sh'ma. To me that says something. We’ve never heard of something that Jesus says is absolutely central! So [in the book] I spend some chapters unpacking the Hebrew words of the Sh'ma."
“I also write about praying the huspa which is about the cultural attitude of being a little more in your face both with God and with each other. You hear it in Jesus and you see it with Abraham bargaining with God and how that can challenge us to pray more boldly.”
One of Lois' favourite chapters is about The Prodigal Son. “It changed my way of looking at God when I read it from a middle eastern perspective," she says. Another chapter The Secrets God Keeps explains how the Jewish mindset was able to accapt two seemingly contradictory ideas together as one.
“Through our western rationality we really want to iron everything out perfectly. Instead we find we have to toss out some things. I talk about the Jewish ways of being able to say on one hand and on the other hand. There’s a whole chapter called Thinking With Both Hands. I’m trying to explain eastern thinking and how Jesus thinks within it.”
It’s a subject that Lois says is attracting much attention. She tells me that Christianity Today recently featured a large interview with a Jewish scholar and sales of Marvin Wilson’s textbook on the subject, Our Father Abraham have increased every year since its publication over 20 years ago.
But while many scholars are delving into detail, Lois wants to write for the Christian mainstream. Choosing to write on a popular level, Lois first book, Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus was co written with Ann Spangler and looks at the culture around Jesus. New book Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus picks up where the previous book finished by aiming to make sense of Jesus words by putting them in his Jewish context.
April 17th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes