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Week Three | Greek Brain, Hebrew Brain

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Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Chapters 5 & 6
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a little girl growing up in church singing about being one of the many sons of Abraham, I couldn’t help but be confused. 

  1. I’m a daughter
  2. My Father’s name isn’t Abraham
  3. My Sunday school peers were not my siblings

I don’t remember when the truth of the lyrics to Father Abraham was made clear to me, maybe high school?  But with Lois’ help in this week’s reading, and learning that the definition of the Hebrew word “Ben” means a son or descendant, it all makes a lot more sense!

Though I enjoyed doing the dizzying motions, the song lyrics weren’t logical for my young brain growing up in the Ohio Valley, much like a Western thinker struggling to make sense of Biblical linguistics. But had I grown up in the Middle East, this concept probably would have been a lot more clear.

Abstract vs. Concrete

The Western education system is based on the transfer of knowledge through abstract reasoning, which produces the ability to problem solve, take tests, and create artwork. In our Western classrooms, we are taught that educated and sophisticated-sounding arguments are ones that give solid evidence and factual information. 

“Middle Easterners, in contrast [to Westerners “high falutin’ mumbo-jumbo”], often use parables, metaphors, and proverbs as sophisticated forms of communication.”

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 89, with additions by Gilbert Blythe of Anne of Green Gables

Perhaps the questions I asked at such a young age while singing Father Abraham helped to spark my desire to pursue my degree in Educational Ministries. In one of my favorite courses, I studied how to develop a curriculum for Sunday School and Children’s Church and practiced the different techniques of instructing a classroom full of little ones. I can still picture all of my college-aged peers trying to act like elementary-aged children.  I can say with full confidence that children of all ages love puppets, Play-Doh, and snacks.  

But no amount of practice with my college peers could have ever fully prepared me for the experiences in a real classroom full of kids. Trying to teach stories from the Bible to young children in our Western world presented some challenges, such as trying to explain songs like Father Abraham to little, literal, logical thinkers. 

I don’t think I’ll ever forget when one of my students absolutely refused to sing one of the songs. He walked away from the group, obviously upset, and sat down against the wall in the back of the room. Thankfully, I was not the only adult present, so I was able to go sit with him.  When I asked him why he didn’t want to sing with his friends, I was shocked but smiled with understanding when he said, “The song is lying! None of that is true!”

I thought back to my own questions I had growing up and did my best to help him understand what the song was actually talking about. I’m very happy to say it clicked. He learned something that day while teaching me an important lesson, too. 

It still fascinates me how so often our children’s storybook Bibles and even our adult devotional books portray Bible stories as if they were make-believe, like any other fairytale or a story that happened just down the road in your average American neighborhood.  Ever since my young, literal, logical-thinking student showed me I had a lot more explaining to do, I’ve been much more intentional about teaching the Jewishness of Jesus. After all, He is a Jewish Rabbi not make-believe. 

It is vital for us in our Western culture to remember that we’re used to exchanging ideas and concepts, but this isn’t the educational style of the Middle Eastern culture or even for Jesus and His followers. 

“Instead of employing abstractions, Hebrew expects listeners to infer meaning from its concrete imagery.  If you’re not aware of this, you can easily gloss right past some of its most profound statements… there’s nothing wrong with the Greek habit of speaking in abstractions.  It’s merely a different way of communicating.  What’s important is that we become translators between these two ways of thinking.” 

Lois Tverberg, pg. 94 and 95, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

Family Rules: We Are Family

I absolutely loved being in the classroom with my students. I had so much fun exercising my creative-thinking muscles when kids asked amazing questions. It has always been evident that God has gifted me with a special understanding of children. Kids gravitate toward me, and well, I gravitate toward them too. 

I’ll admit I was devastated when my physical and mental health forced me out of the classroom environment. Honestly, one of the hardest things was when I experienced a bit of an identity crisis.     

If I was no longer a Christian Daycare Director, Preschool Teacher, Christian Elementary School Teacher, Children’s Church Leader, or even Church Nursery Volunteer, then who was I

“We [as Westerners] think in terms of our individual tastes and achievements, not in terms of our genealogical tree.” 

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 119, emphasis added

To this day, I still get a knot in my throat trying to introduce myself to someone for the first time. It is absolutely impossible to avoid the question about what we do. 

But if we take a second to remember that what we do is not who we are, we might actually get to know one another a lot better. 

Oh, how I wish this Western culture would adopt a more Middle Eastern style of introductions. Just think how much easier it would be for us to introduce ourselves and how much pressure would be lifted by lowering personal expectations just by sharing our family’s accomplishments instead of our individual ones.

“Before our industrial age, families and clans defined the world, not businesses or, believe it or not, individuals.” 

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 119, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

While the Biblical narrative does offer some hints as to the occupations of some individuals, the key point that we must learn to understand the overarching narrative is to which families each character belonged.

“Until you grasp how family relationships framed life as the ancient world understood it, you won’t get the point of many major biblical themes.” 

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 114, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

I love how Lois points out that really the overall ‘plot’ of the entire Bible shows how God fulfills His promise to Abraham and how, through his nation, He blesses the whole world. 

Hehe.  Maybe next time, instead of scrambling for personal achievements, I’ll introduce myself by saying, “Well, you see, Father Abraham had sons, which actually means descendants, and because of Rabbi Jesus, I am one of them.  Do you want to be one, too?”

I might just try that! 

1. The Hebrew word ben means a son or descendant.
2. The Western education system is based on the transfer of knowledge through abstract reasoning.
3. Middle Easterners often use parables, metaphors, and proverbs as sophisticated forms of communication.
4. The overall “plot” of the entire Bible shows how God fulfills His promise to Abraham and how, through his nation, He blesses the whole world.

How does the family-first culture impact your view of familiar characters we read about in Scripture?

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Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus | Lois Tverberg

A 7-week study considering what it might be like to sit down beside Jesus as He explained the Bible and find fresh, practical insights for following our Rabbi’s teachings from a Jewish point of view.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks Gloria for adding your personal examples to the chapter content. It’s enlightening to realize we just think different, not better or worse. We have to approach scripture with both styles.

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