A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus

Reading the Gospels on the Ground

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"After teaching introductory classes on the Gospels for sixteen years, I can think of no better approach than what Bruce Fisk has given to students. . . . I enthusiastically endorse Hitchhiker's Guide as a valuable read for any student wanting a grasp of the Gospel compositions and the interpretive history behind them."--Timothy D. Howell, Review of Biblical Literature
This book offers a fresh and imaginative approach to Jesus studies and biblical criticism, providing a gripping fictional account of one student's journey to the Middle East to investigate the New Testament and the life of Jesus for himself.

Norm, a fictional college graduate, undertakes this journey to discover if he can study Jesus and follow him at the same time, and if curiosity will make him a better disciple or no disciple at all. As Norm hitchhikes simultaneously across the Gospels and the land, readers follow his faith journey as well, wondering if he will be able to reconcile his Christian faith with current critical scholarship. A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus offers readers a creative and engaging way to explore many of the major questions in Jesus studies today and affirms the importance of asking probing questions about Jesus and the Gospels.

The book's lavish, journal-style, two-color interior design--featuring maps, photos, doodles, sketches, and email exchanges between Norm and his professor--makes it interesting to read. Its classroom-tested material will appeal to professors and students in Jesus, Gospels, New Testament, and religion courses. In addition, thoughtful lay readers will enjoy this book.
Author's Preface
A Brief Word from Norm-the-Elder
1. Between Heaven and Earth
2. Ghosts at the River
3. Room at the Inn
4. Mist and Mystery
5. Time Imagined
6. Wall of Tears
7. This Side of the Tomb


"Bruce Fisk has possibly written the most creative, fascinating, and informed book on the Gospels in a generation. My students will love this book. Think Gerd Theissen's Shadow of the Galilean, but in this case the narrator isn't a first-century grain merchant but a hookah-smoking college student named Norm. Norm is an honest inquirer who goes in search of the realities behind the Gospels and all along trades correspondence with his liberal professor. The crisp narrative and the theological points Fisk scores are delicately and effectively knit together. In countless cases, I found myself amused and impressed with how Fisk could illustrate things. 'Genius' could well describe many of the pages in the book. Fisk is a first-rate scholar as well as a brilliant communicator. Every New Testament teacher owes it to his or her students to consider this as a fresh new text on the Gospels."--Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

"With warmth, wit, and penetrating insight, Fisk writes for all who find themselves fascinated by the enigmatic prophet from Nazareth yet unwilling to settle either for the naive certainties of 'simple faith' or for the latest 'assured results' of biblical criticism. A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus provides no pat answers, but in the spirit of faith seeking understanding, it compellingly poses all the right questions, setting the quest for Jesus in its proper context--the search for meaning in a world of beauty and strife, love and loss."--Ross Wagner, associate professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Students often find the academic study of the Gospels disorienting as they discover a previously unexplored world of literary, historical, and theological questions opening up before them. In A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus, Bruce Fisk proves himself a reliable guide--knowledgeable, candid, steady, and witty--through this territory. He takes no shortcuts or easy paths as he travels with his readers in the quest to discover faith in Jesus that takes intellectual questions seriously."--Marianne Meye Thompson, George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

"I've never seen (nor imagined!) anything like this book. Following trails with many twists and turns, readers traverse the territories of biblical scholarship, Judaism, Greco-Roman religion, and the Christian tradition in a journey of personal and spiritual reflection. It's an expedition that takes us to a deeper understanding of Scripture and Jesus Christ. Fisk has inaugurated a new genre in biblical studies that deftly combines academic study with the human experience. Readers will love it; scholars will wish they'd written it."--Kenton L. Sparks, professor of Hebrew Bible, Eastern University

"A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus is a wonderful travel guide for pilgrims perplexed by the multiple maps hawked by recent scholarship. But it is also an invitation for homebound believers to join a journey of discovery to the mysterious places where history meets hope. Bruce Fisk is a wise and imaginative tour guide, and this book will open new angles of vision for readers seeking to investigate the path of Jesus."--Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Divinity School, Duke University Divinity School

"This volume introduces students to New Testament scholarship by telling them a story--a lively romp that combines travelogue with quest narrative, spun in a style sparkling with wit and replete with idioms of the Facebook generation. Along the way, we are introduced to the key issues that occupy modern scholars, and we discover why those issues would matter to people in the world today, including contemporary college students. This is definitely a creative way of granting students access to modern and postmodern fields of New Testament study."--Mark Allan Powell, professor of New Testament, Trinity Lutheran Seminary

"This is really three books in one. It is a (very hip) college textbook written by an expert: an introduction to New Testament criticism, including the quest for the historical Jesus, the synoptic problem, and so on. It is also a kind of handbook to travel and politics in modern Israel. And finally, it is a novel with a protagonist named Norm on a personal quest for a faith that will hold up in the face of honest questions. I read an early draft of a few chapters of Fisk's book and was captivated, but I wondered if he could pull off all three of these books. He did, and what a satisfying read!"--Bruce Hindmarsh, James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College

The Author

  1. Bruce N. Fisk

    Bruce N. Fisk

    Bruce N. Fisk (PhD, Duke University) is professor of religious studies at Westmont College and the author of Do You Not Remember? Scripture, Story, and Exegesis in the Rewritten Bible of Pseudo-Philo and Interpretation Bible Studies: 1...

    Continue reading about Bruce N. Fisk


"[Fisk] offers us a lively account of a fictitious traveler, 'Norm the Younger.' Norm is daring and imaginative, and knows how to make the most of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Sometimes the lovable goof but more often a serious student of Jesus' life and times, readers take a part in Norm's travels in a delightful and always enlightening way. Cleverly intertwining contemporary observation with historic reminiscence, and never failing to reflect on the entire testimony of the Bible as it relates to Jesus' Jerusalem, Norm builds a convincing case for faith not just in the story, but in Him who made that story. This is a top-notch effort by a skilled scholar and writer."--Publishers Weekly

"Is it even legal for New Testament studies to be this much fun? . . . With his imagination in overdrive, Bruce Fisk . . . has created the fictional character Norm (Fisk's alter ego?) to guide readers through today's Holy Land and into the thickets of New Testament scholarship. Norm's trip is imaginary, but it reflects insights Fisk has garnered on his own frequent travels in Israel/Palestine. The happy result is a travelogue-textbook that gives a satisfying overview of recent historical Jesus scholarship and provides a colorful introduction to archaeological treasures of the Holy Land. . . . A Hitchhiker's Guide is the work of an effective teacher with creative pedagogy. Fisk's narrative, accompanied by actual readings from the scholars Norm ostensibly meets, will provide college students and others wanting a basic introduction to the Gospels a winsome way to learn. Anyone visiting Israel/Palestine or seeking a quick overview of historical Jesus studies will also benefit from Norm's journals. This semifictional approach to New Testament study is risky, but it works. Fisk is a careful academic who knows and mines his sources, and he presents a range of scholarly insights with respect and clarity."--J. Nelson Kraybill, Christian Century

"There are good books, and there are great books on the historical Jesus, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus falls into the latter category, on top of which it's a lot of fun to read. Bruce N. Fisk has done what I wasn't sure was possible at this juncture--make the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus interesting and entertaining again. . . . The book is also filled with helpful charts, interesting pictures, useful bibliography, and is very well written indeed. . . . [It] is well researched, interacts with many of the major players in the historical Jesus discussion, comes to carefully reasoned conclusions, and doesn't fudge the evidence. . . . This book is full of good critical thinking and discourse, and as such can serve as a good conversation starter. It has also got a lot of fresh new insights into key texts as well. . . . It could serve as a textbook for an upper level college course, especially for religion or Bible majors, and is just perfect for seminary courses meant to introduce the student to historical Jesus discussion, and why it matters. . . . This will be one of my books of choice for the new course I am preparing to teach on 'The Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith.'"--Ben Witherington III, The Bible and Culture blog

"An attractive introduction to the New Testament geared for young adult readers but one that might well appeal to readers of all ages who are fascinated by the allure of the Jesus of the gospels but also have probing questions about the context and nature of the gospels and the credibility of their message. . . . The book has numerous helpful illustrations of biblical sites as well as sidebars and graphs delving into issues of biblical interpretation. Endnotes and a helpful bibliography reveal the extensive and competent scholarship that underlies the seemingly casual style of this creative book."--Donald Senior, CP, The Bible Today

"The book is obviously designed for today's student world, and as such it works superbly. If I were teaching a course on Jesus and the gospels, this would be at the top of the reading list. . . . The major questions are well presented, with good endnotes and bibliography. . . . New Testament scholars, including myself, pop up as characters, saying what you might expect us to say. There are some well-written funny scenes, and some poignant and disturbing ones (including a confrontation between Jewish settlers and Palestinian villagers). Contemporary problems illustrate first century ones. . . . Fresh and convincing."--Tom Wright, Times Literary Supplement

"The contents of this book live up to the advertisement in the title. Fisk introduces the academic study of Jesus and the Gospels through the conceit of a college student's journal while traveling through Israel. . . . 'Norm' struggles to reconcile his faith with his findings in a journey that many will recognize as their own."--Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Christian Century

"Adopting the light-hearted style of a classic radio and TV series, Fisk takes on the identity of a college graduate who travels to the Middle East to find out what he can about Jesus, retracing his life story and meeting many possible guides along the way. . . . Here we have a good example of a conservative scholar wrestling honestly and capably with challenges to the orthodox Christian picture of the Jesus of the Gospels. The style is lively and not without humor. The relevant material, both ancient sources and modern scholarship, is helpfully presented through ample quotations. The Gospel texts are often compared in synoptic tables, and a particularly useful feature is the citing of OT texts that may be thought to have influenced the Gospel texts in both form and content. This book is a first-rate textbook for a class on the Gospels and Jesus, presenting the problems fairly and critically surveying the various answers that have been offered to them."--I. Howard Marshall, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"After teaching introductory classes on the Gospels for sixteen years, I can think of no better approach than what Bruce Fisk has given to students with his Hitchhiker's Guide. . . . Fisk considers the life of Jesus with honest, intellectual integrity. He does not set aside religious tradition but, instead, advances historical appraisals of valid features within biblical studies. By applying a narrative style to New Testament concepts, postmodern students feel at ease to explore new ideas. Fisk makes scholarship a fun journey through the eyes of Norm. . . . Fisk has an extensive note and bibliography section that completes the worth of this book. I enthusiastically endorse Hitchhiker's Guide as a valuable read for any student wanting a grasp of the Gospel compositions and the interpretive history behind them. Through the example of 'one student's adventure,' we can hope others will be challenged to do the same."--Timothy D. Howell, Review of Biblical Literature

"A novel and engaging book about the quest for the historical Jesus. . . . Fisk's creative and lively writing style draws the reader into the narrative. . . . Fisk challenges an attitude of naïve faith while also highlighting the limitations of historical research and reconstruction. This volume could be used in a class on the historical Jesus or the Gospels. It could also be given to pastors and educated laypersons who have struggled with the relationship between faith and the academy. However it may be used, Fisk is to be commended for writing it."--Jason Maston, Expository Times

"The strength in this book is the way that Fisk, while acknowledging there are numerous discrepancies in the gospels, shows that the first century gospel writers were more concerned with truth than historical accuracy. . . . While not pretending to know everything, A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus presents the most probable answers and transports the reader back to Jesus' era very effectively. Through descriptions of buildings and land formations as they are now and how they were described historically by scholars such as Josephus, the book creates a 360 degree understanding of what you are reading in the gospels and builds confidence in the reader's understanding of Jesus."--Callum Iles, Insights

"As a vividly sensory narrative Holy Land travelogue, . . . A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus [is] an engaging, challenging, rigorous read. . . . [It] is engrossing and packed with drama. If the title's reference to a famed comedic science fiction novel isn't evidence of Fisk's wit, his cribbing from Monty Python, The Matrix, and favorite folk singers evince a pithy sense of humor amid a heady subject. . . . As a memoir of an author unafraid to ask tough questions of the factual basis of his faith, . . . the book succeeds. Inventive layout and graphics make it aesthetically attractive as well."--Jamie Lee Rake, CBA Retailers + Resources

"The Hitchhiker's Guide is essentially a survey of modern Jesus study, bringing together a wide range of relevant research. . . . The plethora of information is well-researched and well-presented. The book is fun to read and easy to follow. The variety of literary devices demonstrates the author's creativity, imagination, and grasp of the material. . . . The Hitchhiker's Guide would greatly benefit college students or recent graduates who face the same challenge of critical scholarship that Norm does, as well as their concerned parents. The book could also serve as a good historical and theological compass for those who make their own journey to the Holy Land."--Chi-ying Wang, Trinity Journal

"Occasionally one comes across a book and reflects, 'I wish I had come up with that.' Bruce Fisk's A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus is such a book. Fisk offers an original and imaginative way of introducing the quest for the historical Jesus, particularly to the student who is more accustomed to the pews of the church than the halls of the academy, and unsure how to inhabit both spaces. . . . It is an entertaining read and pleasing to the eye, with margins wide enough for the reader to add notes. . . . Fisk's contribution is a great success overall. He resists the urge to offer simple answers to complex questions or to perform 'hermeneutical gymnastics' to make the pieces fit. . . . The book is best suited for undergraduates or beginning seminary students, perhaps for a Jesus and the gospels course. . . . It is a welcome and needed guide that is bound to help many students chart a path (rather than a fork) between the roads of discipleship and scholarship."--Nicholas J. Zola, Restoration Quarterly

"Fisk has produced a fun book; it feels real, alive, current without being over the top. . . . There is serious scholarship here. The extended journal entries are interspersed with email correspondence with the professor who first challenged Norm's simplistic understandings, attractive sidebars with significant quotes from key scholars and others, and tables. . . . All of this works for the serious reader/student. . . . [It is] deceivingly simple in its format, quite thorough in its treatment of the key issues. . . . So how might one use this book? I suppose it would work well in a course on Jesus, or the Gospels, or NT intro, if not as the main book on Jesus and the Gospels, certainly as a good supplemental text. It makes the key issues come to life, both because they are addressed honestly and because they are addressed 'on the ground.' (As a frequent leader of study tours, I am all for on-the-groundness in biblical studies.) The book would also be good reading for anyone seriously struggling with critical questions about Jesus and the Gospels, and it might be a good antidote for those who have had a radical introduction to the subject that seems to leave no place for faith."--Michael Gorman, Cross Talk - crux probat omnia blog

"This book deals with some of the questions college students would be dealing with as they are introduced to many of the forms of Higher Criticism. Because of that, this book would seem to be a good text book for a college introduction class on the Gospels. The format and style would seem to appeal to most students, even those who are being forced to take [the] course. The way that the author interweaves details of the Holy Land makes you feel, at times, like you are there. One thing is for sure, after reading this book any Bible student wants to visit the places described in these pages."--Joshua Walker, Bring the Books blog

"The book is full of humor, and its bibliography features an entry for Bob Dylan next to that for James D. G. Dunn, and one for Monty Python next to that for Jerome Murphy-O'Connor. If that doesn't tell you something about the book that is important, I don't know what will. It is engrossing, entertaining, and at times humorous, while still managing to communicate crucial information about and explore in a serious manner key aspects of the historian's quest for the historical Jesus. . . . In A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus, we are privy to the e-mails, casual conversations, and inner dialogues of the main character Norm, as he wrestles with the nature of history and our historical knowledge, topics like miracles, and much else. And as Norm finds himself reaching relatively few hard and fast conclusions, readers are left to draw their own conclusions and make up their own minds. I expect to use this book in teaching about the historical Jesus, and in taking students to Israel, as a book that will help them, challenge them, and give them essential food for thought as they themselves 'read the Gospels on the ground.'"--James McGrath, Exploring Our Matrix blog

"Bruce Fisk has written a very interesting travel guide for students making their way through the study of the historical Jesus. It's a fascinating and very creative book. Fisk is both master of the field of historical Jesus studies and a skillful teacher. . . . There's much to commend in this book. For those on a quest to satisfy doubts and questions that arise from historically considering Jesus and the Gospels, I can hardly think of a better place to start. For courses on Jesus and the Gospels, this is a 'must' for helping students process the methods and aims of historical study."--Tim Gombis, Faith Improvised blog

"Take one part autobiography, one part historical fiction, one part atlas, one part history of Jesus studies, one part political commentary, one part history of religion, one part 'use of the old in the new testament' guide, one part 'comparison of Synoptic Gospels,' one part introduction to Biblical archaeology, one part 'the Jerusalem equivalent to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' and one part 'Who's Who in historical Jesus scholarship'--and you have Bruce Fisk's stimulating A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus. . . . It is a book with really excellent content, and masterfully produced as well. . . . The brilliant thing about this book is that Fisk is the only one really qualified to write this kind of text, with extensive knowledge of the geography, history, and political climate of Jerusalem, as well as his many years teaching on Jesus. I suppose there are others who might come close to his knowledge, but few who have the creative and engaging writing skills that Fisk demonstrates. . . . Thanks, Bruce, for raising the bar on how Biblical scholars write engaging and illuminating textbooks for our students!"--Nijay Gupta, nijaygupta.wordpress.com

"A readable, accessible, intriguing, and one of a kind introduction into New Testament scholarship that is well suited for use in local congregations. The text is well footnoted and there is a lengthy bibliography for readers who wish to read more. And I suspect not a few readers will be inspired to read more. I can imagine college and adult groups enjoying this book and engaging in lively discussion with Norm and with each other."--Nancy Janisch, Conversation in Faith blog

"The book is factually accurate, scholastically motivated, and surprisingly approachable. Anyone familiar with the Quest, or familiar with the land of Israel will enjoy reliving their own attempts at discovering Jesus through fresh eyes. . . . This historical Jesus book [is] more readable than any other that I have encountered. . . . Would I recommend this book? Unhesitatingly. In fact, this book was so excellent that I actually made shelf space just to accommodate this masterful work (and that really is saying something). The only other historical Jesus writers who maintain biblical and historical fidelity whilst encouraging personal transformation to this degree are N. T. Wright (a la Jesus and the Victory of God) and Scot McKnight (A New Vision for Israel). Fisk's is ultimately more approachable than either of the above. Great for grad students. Great for upper-year college students, great for pilgrims."--Jon Snyder, Bookleenex blog

"In Bruce Fisk's A Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground, I have found a book that I can recommend to my students. This is not just an introduction to the Gospels and Jesus. It is a journey and Fisk proves to be a reliable guide for the reader. . . . The genius of Fisk's book is that it looks and reads like no other textbook you've seen. . . . I could not put it down once I started it. Although I was already familiar with much of the material, I found it be a different and enjoyable way to interact with it. I would have thought it only appropriate for undergrads, but am now convinced that it will be valuable for my seminary students as well. I not only recommend it . . . but will adopt it next time I teach my class on the gospels."--John Byron, The Biblical World blog

"The good thing about this book is that it's both educational and entertaining, clearly written by a Gen-Xer, and tackles the genre of the Introduction in a refreshing way. I hope Fisk writes a sequel Hitchhiker's Guide to Paul! I'm taking a group of students to Israel . . . and will very probably make this book the textbook for the course associated with the tour."--Michael Bird, Euangelion blog

"There are a few strengths worth highlighting: First, the unique presentation sets it apart. . . . It is all presented as a young man wrestling through these ideas. It is much more like my own personal exploration than simply a lifeless monologue. Second, the pictures were extremely helpful. . . . The cumulative pedagogical value of all of this is quite high. It presents information as people usually encounter it. Also the pictures only serve to highlight what is being learned, thus making it more 'real.' It is also more true to life in that by presenting the information as one person's journal it forces us to think of this study as a personal journey of faith. . . . . For the average introductory student I can see this text being of great value. . . . This is a helpful volume that will serve many people in the kingdom of God."--Jacob Sweeney, Jacob Sweeney's Blog

"Enjoyable and fun. . . . After reading the first chapter, I was hooked and knew that I would be placing the book on the required reading list for my course. When my copy first arrived, I read through the comments from an impressive list of academics and was a bit skeptical of what seemed like overly positive praise. Rereading those comments now, they are right on. . . . What makes this book so appealing is the way in which Fisk weaves together many different genres of literature: academic introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, guide book to the land of Jesus, a forthright picture of daily Israel/Palestinian relations, and example of holding faith and learning in tension. . . . Fisk's book is an engaging way to introduce students and others to the issues of historical Jesus studies. Norm will serve as a helpful guide through the literature, the land, and the learning."--Benjamin Reynolds, Divinity United blog

"Fisk has written a very entertaining introduction to the study of Jesus that touches on many important issues. . . . The book feel[s] like a real travel journal. . . . There are plenty of cultural references that should appeal to a wide range of readers. . . . Fisk succeeds in presenting some of the more difficult problems for modern people studying the Historical Jesus in an entertaining and compelling fashion. The book would make an excellent textbook for a Gospels class at the undergraduate level and a good introduction for a layperson wanting to get an understanding of some of the more difficult issues discussed by Historical Jesus scholars."--Phillip J. Long, Reading Acts blog