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A Surprisingly Messianic Tradition in the Ancient Synagogue

As I began researching my latest book Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, I realized that a basic question was a puzzle to me. How was the Bible read and preached in the first-century synagogue?



Every Sabbath for thousands of years, the synagogue service has focused on the reading of the Torah and the Prophets. This is mentioned in Acts 13:15. For dozens of centuries, the tradition has been to read through the Torah over a year, and to read a corresponding passage from the Prophets.

Is that what Jesus would have known? Yes and no. The Torah and Prophets were read each week, but the current liturgy was developed around 400 years later in synagogues in Babylon. Before that, an older, earlier tradition existed that was largely unknown to scholars until about a century ago.


The Triennial Reading Tradition

In the earliest period, the readings were spread over approximately three and a half years, differing slightly from town to town. Also, synagogues did not have a single leader who preached every week, like a rabbi or pastor does today.

Instead, one adult member of the congregation (or an educated visitor) would be invited to read the Torah portion. He would then choose a prophetic passage that fit the Torah reading, and would give a brief meditation on how the passages relate to each other.…

Q & A with Lois Tverberg About Writing and her New Book

With the release of Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, I’ve put together my responses to some interview questions about myself and my writing as it relates to the new book.



You’ve written a couple of other books before this one that have similar titles – Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus and Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus. How do they relate to your new book?

Sitting at the Feet was about the Jewish customs that deepen our understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry, like the biblical feasts, the Jewish prayers, and the relationship of rabbi and disciple.

Walking in the Dust was about the Jewish context of Jesus’ teachings. Many of the things he said make much more sense when you know the conversation that was going on around him. Disciples are supposed to “walk in the ways” of their rabbi and obey his teaching. So I chose some of Jesus’ teachings that have a Jewish context that sheds light on their meaning.

My newest book, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, pulls back a bit and starts by looking at cultural issues that get in the way as we read the Bible in the modern, Western world.

Among the things I asked myself as I wrote were, what cultural tools can I give readers to read the Bible more authentically?