Book Write-Up: Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

Lois Tverberg.  Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding.  Baker, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Lois Tverberg has a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and has been a college professor.  She has also studied biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek in Israel.

I initially thought that Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus would be about Jesus’ method of interpreting Scripture.  The book talks some about that.  Mainly, however, the book is about how Western presuppositions hinder Western Christians’ understanding and appreciation of the Bible.  As Tverberg states, many non-Westerners can identify with the world depicted in the Bible because it is like their world; what they have a hard time accepting is the Western culture that many Western missionaries promote.

What are some differences between Western culture and the culture of the Bible, according to Tverberg?  A lot of her focus in the book is on how Western individualism contrasts with the communalism that is displayed in the Bible.  Within the Bible, people emphasis family (recall all the “begats”) and tribe.  Jesus is not merely people’s personal Savior but is the redeemer of the world, the bringer of a new Kingdom.

Tverberg discusses other differences, as well.  Many Westerners like logic and reason, the sort that is displayed by the Apostle Paul.  The Hebrew language, however, is more illustrative and graphic.  Another difference that Tverberg notes is that there are Western Christian books about how the “Daniel diet” can make one thin, whereas the Daniel story itself says that it made Daniel and his friends fat (Daniel 1:15)!  Those are indeed different cultural presuppositions.

The book has plenty of interesting discussions.  For instance, Tverberg talks about how biblical forgiveness does not necessarily mean literal forgetting but is refusing to seek revenge; that may comfort those who have problems forgetting offenses against them.  She discusses how new kings would forgive transgressions, and argued that this is what Jesus was doing as Israel’s Messiah.  She argued that certain discussions of Scripture in the New Testament reflect the Jewish Scriptural lectionary.  She contrasts the Torah’s laws against murder with how other ancient Near Eastern cultures handled it.  And there are more rich discussions (i.e., creation in Genesis 1, the significance of the third day in Jesus’ resurrection and the Hebrew Bible, imputed righteousness in Judaism, etc.).

What is most impressive about this book is its engagement with scholarship.  Tverberg makes a special effort to draw from scholars.  In discussing the contrast between the Torah’s laws on murder and ancient Near Eastern policies, for example, she refers to a landmark article by Moshe Greenberg (“Some Postulates of Biblical Criminal Law”).  Nahum Sarna, Michael Fishbane, James Kugel, E.P. Sanders, and Sandra Richter also appear in the book, among others.  Tverberg does prefer certain scholars: she does not appear to care for the Jesus Seminar, and she seems to like the Jerusalem school, which holds that Jesus knew Hebrew.  She does not really sift through contrasting scholarly arguments, but she lets readers know that they are out there, as well as supports her own positions.  Her discussion of ancient Jewish education in the Torah perhaps could have been strengthened by quotations of what Josephus said about the subject (Ag. Ap. 1.60; 2.178, 204; Ant. 4.211); as the discussion stands, she relies on what rabbinic literature says children learned at certain ages, when some scholars argue that this is an idealized, not a realistic, picture.  Still, Tverberg is well-read, as her footnotes about the Hebrew language demonstrate, and she displays a firm grasp of Jewish history.  In addition, her illustrations demonstrate her effectiveness as a teacher.

I was not sure that I would enjoy the book before reading it.  After reading it, I would go so far as to say that the book could even be useful in college courses about the Bible.  I am open to reading other books that Tverberg has written.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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