Was Jesus a “Jew”? (Yonatan Adler, 2/19/24, Yale University Press)

Was Jesus a “Jew”? The internet has been abuzz over this curious question in recent months. Many of those involved in the discussion have claimed that there were simply no “Jews” at all so long ago. Some have opined that Jesus was a “Judean,” an identity-category they suppose was entirely different from what we know of as “Jews.” Others have argued that Jesus was neither this nor that, but was rather a “Galilean.” Still others have claimed that he was none of the above, but instead a “Palestinian.”

The current debate had something of an earlier iteration under the Third Reich, where German scholars found themselves forced to wrestle with the apparent Jewishness of the Son of God. Nazi academics found a solution to this thorny problem by demonstrating through historical “scholarship” that Jesus was descended not from Jews … but from pure “Aryans” who migrated into Galilee from Persia!1

By this point it should be clear that all these spurious claims say more about certain deep-seated beliefs about modern-day Jews than they do about any historical reality. And that historical reality could not be clearer. For at least 2,700 years, the ancestors of today’s Jews have self-identified, and have been identified by others, with the Hebrew name “Yehudim” or its equivalent in other languages.