Seeing Jesus as a Jew

Review of Trevan G. Hatch, A Stranger in Jerusalem: Seeing Jesus as a Jew (Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & Stock, 2019)

I don’t know Trevan personally, but we have interacted on Facebook, and he is a fine scholar. He is the biblical and religious studies specialist at the Harold B. Lee Library and an adjunct professor for Ancient Scripture at BYU. With Leonard Greenspoon of Creighton he is working on a new book: “The Learning of the Jews”: What Judaism Can Teach Latter-day Saints.

I was interested to read A Stranger in Jerusalem (the title alludes to the Road to Emmaus experience where his own disciples didn’t recognize him) in part because I think we need more of that realism in our study of the New Testament. We tend to read it with the end already in mind; the Christian Church is already established, and Jesus sits on the right hand of God in yonder heavens. But when we approach it from that perspective we by definition are going to misunderstand what we read.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Introduction: Joshua, Not Jesus

  1. From Bethlehem to Baptism. Childhood and Family in Ancient Judea and Galilee.
  2. Establishing Authority. Jesus as Moses and Elisha.
  3. Mighty in Deed. Jesus as a Jewish Prophet and Miracle Worker.
  4. The Kings of the Jews. “Messiahs” in the First Century.
  5. “Who Do Men Say That I Am?” Jesus as a Messianic Candidate.
  6. His Friend Judas. Why Didn’t He Betray His Messiah?
  7. Jesus’ Enemies? Why Didn’t the Pharisees Betray Their Friend Jesus?
  8. Christ Killers? Why Didn’t “The Jews” Reject and Kill Jesus?
  9. I Know You Are But What Am I? The Greco-Roman Art of Name-Calling.
  10. Why the Conflict and Hostile Rhetoric?
  11. Judaism and Jesus. Concluding Thoughts and Considerations.

The first chapter was sort of along the lines I was expecting. There we learn that as a first century Jewish man Jesus likely would have had medium short hair and a short beard (not the long, flowing locks we’re accustomed to from our art). He probably would have been about 5’2″. (Trevan pointed out that according to older manuscripts Goliath would have been about 6’5″, which doesn’t sound like much today but would have been huge for the time. I had to chuckle because I am…wait for it…6’5″.)

But after that first orienting chapter the material gets much more bigger picture, and I found it all really very interesting. For example, we think of Jesus and the Pharisees as bitter opponents, but Trevan makes what I found to be a persuasive argument that they were actually on friendly terms, and indeed, it is possible that Jesus was himself a Pharisee. The only thing they seem to disagree about is table-service (that is, Pharisees made a huge deal of not eating with non-Jews, an issue that will crop up repeatedly in the NT). Jesus’ position was the whole need no physician, but the sick. That was a sticking point, but otherwise they seemed to have friendly relations.

(As an aside, I have a friend who at an academic conference approached a group of prominent Jewish scholars to join them for lunch, and they politely demurred. That focus on table-service remains to this very day.)

The Gospels of Matthew and John do contain anti-Pharisee material. Trevan argues cogently that this is a function of the changed situation as the first century progressed, first with the ruling of the Jerusalem Conference and then with the Jewish-Roman War in 66-70.

The above is just a brief taste of the kind of thing Trevan explores in this book. I found it to be really interesting and persuasive as well. I give the volume a thumb’s up.




  1. Ryan Mullen says:

    “The above is just a brief taste…” Too brief!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah I lost the beginning of a first draft because WordPress wasn’t saving drafts for some reason, so once I got to a decent length I published cause I didn’t want to risk losing another draft!

  3. Thanks for this. I’m interested in reading it now.

  4. Thanks, Kev. I’m very sympathetic to this kind of work.

  5. Makes sense that He would be a Pharisee; the objections remind me of the more current objections, “you can’t be (LDS, Christian, etc), you don’t do [X]”

  6. Eric Facer says:

    Sounds quite interesting, though it is a bit pricey.

  7. Yes, to this: “[W]e need more of that realism in our study of the New Testament. We tend to read it with the end already in mind; the Christian Church is already established, and Jesus sits on the right hand of God in yonder heavens.”

    Going through the the book of Acts this year was very telling in this regard. All the up’s and down’s occurring in the nascent church seemed to be lost by my fellow LDS travelers because of that bias.

    Anyhow, thanks for the review, Goliath!

  8. Sidebottom says:

    Is there any original research here or just a survey of existing literature? The snippets I can read online read like a Bart Ehrman book (for all the good and bad that accompanies that).

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I should clarify that this book is intended for a general audience and is not specifically aimed at an LDS audience.

  10. Trevan Hatch says:

    I wrote the book with my students in mind, so it is very conversational. I definitely do not simply summarize secondary scholarship. I have many new takes or original contributions sprinkled throughout the book.
    One of my reviewers called it the best book on the New Testament ever written by a Latter-day Saint. I’m not sure about all that, but I do think that someone like you (based on your comment) would like this book.
    I’m being interviewed by “the #1 religion broadcaster in America” next week. He’s interviewed Ehrman, A.J. Levine, John Dominic Crossan, NT Wright etc. etc., so it’s a bit nerve wracking.

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