A number of books have been published on the theme of reconstructing the context of Jesus’ world. Some of them are very technical and sometimes too difficult to follow, while others are simply devotional and without a necessary depth. The newest book by Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, I suggest, maintains a middle ground. The author, a devout Christian and thorough biblical scholar, succeeded in writing a book that will captivate the attention of both clergy and laity. With the help of Jewish thought, the author brings to the surface fascinating details concerning the familiar sayings of Jesus.
The overall theme of the book is stated as “hearing Jesus’ words in their Eastern context yields insight for applying them to our lives today. The book is specifically oriented toward discipleship, asking what difference does it make that Jesus was Jewish for how we ‘walk’ as his disciples nowadays?”* Tverberg’s previous book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus received many positive reviews. But, in this new book, the author goes even deeper in exploring the Jewish background of Jesus’ sayings.
In the very first line of the book, the author raises an important question:
“What would it be like to listen to Jesus’ earth-shattering words through the ears of first-century disciples?” (13). But her survey of Jesus’ words is not limited to first-century disciples. The subtitle for her book is How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life. Even though it may sound a bit too promising, her masterful transitions from the first century to the twenty-first century deserve particular attention. The author examines some Jewish ideas that can certainly deepen the understanding of Jesus’ words and present fresh and practical insights for followers of Jesus today.
Tverberg takes Jesus’ sayings and carefully peels away the layers of tradition that sometimes prevent us from seeing the real meaning of the text. For instance, when she talks about “loving your neighbor as yourself,” she suggests that “instead of comparing the two kinds of love, it can compare yourself with your neighbor: ‘Love your neighbor who is similar to yourself’ ” (60). The author also analyzes such sayings of Jesus as “hallowed be your name” (86) and presents fascinating details regarding the meaning of the expression. When exploring Jewish thought, Tverberg finds the keys for interpreting Jesus’ words on judging others, chutzpah (boldness) in prayer, obeying the Sabbath, and the importance of the Scriptures. In addition to contemplating the words of Jesus, the author points out the importance of studying and understanding the Bible in its entirety and demonstrates its beauty. Finally, the usage of contemporary and relevant illustrations makes the book truly practical and appealing to all.
Overall, I highly recommend Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus for all who want to be inspired by the study of Jesus in His cultural context. This book is highly readable and filled with tremendous insights on Jesus and His sayings in His Jewish context.
—Reviewed by Oleg Kostyuk, MA, host of Cross Connection, Hope Channel.
* Lois Tverberg, “Next Book Close to Done,” Our Rabbi Jesus (blog) April 11, 2011, ourrabbijesus.com/2011/04/11/nextbook-close-to-done.