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Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) Paperback – April 13, 2000
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More About the Author
Now a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, Dr. Van Voorst researches and teaches primarily in the New Testament and early Christianity, and secondarily on world religions. He writes frequently in a variety of scholarly journals and has contributed articles to leading reference works, including the New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon Press). In the spring of 2012 he was interviewed for a Discovery Channel documentary on Jesus, and in December of 2012 he was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR) on the birth of Jesus. In November of 2014 he gave a series of lectures to Ph.D. students in Christianity at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. In 2015 Dr. Van Voorst served as an adjunct professor of classics at Hope College. He is the author or co-author of twelve books, including textbooks in religious studies drawing on his teaching experience.
His "Anthology of World Scriptures," now in revision for its ninth edition, is the most widely-used anthology in religious studies classes in the United States. One of his research monographs, "Jesus Outside the New Testament," examines traditions about Jesus from pagan, Jewish, and Christian documents before and after the New Testament and has been published in Italian. His "Reading the New Testament Today" textbook has been translated and published in China, where it is used in Chinese universities that have programs in religious studies. He recently authored a new college textbook introducing world religions with the 4LTR Press imprint of Cengage Learning, entitled "RELG: World." A second edition of RELG: World was published in January of 2014. The third edition of his "Readings in Christianity" textbook was published in December of 2014.
Dr. Van Voorst is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and Tyndale Fellowship, an international association of researchers based in the University of Cambridge, England. He also serves on the board of the West Michigan Academic Consortium for Inter-religious Understanding. He has been named for twenty years to "Who's Who in America" and "Who's Who in the World" (both Marquis publications) for his contributions to the field of religious studies.
Top Customer Reviews
The author starts with an overview of some classical writings including "Pliny the Younger", "Celsus", and "Tacitus". The second chapter goes into some of the classic Jewish literature that also refers to Jesus including the well-known Josephus passages. While some of this was new material for me, there were no real surprises. The information is presented well, with several commentary opinions regarding the passages. The author presents the information in a mostly neutral fashion and will often present both supporting and opposing views on the writings and their significance.
The sections on the Canonical Gospels were excellent. The focus is on the missing "source material" for the core Gospels. The Luke source, identified as "L", the "M" source which is reasoned to be part of the source for the unique material in the Gospel of Matthew, and the "Q" source for the sayings in Matthew and Luke. In Luke this source material is referred to directly in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke: "Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled among us...I too decided, after investing carefully from the first, to write an orderly account for you...". This implies that there were "many" others who wrote down information about the life of Jesus and the Gospel message. The other sources. "M" and "Q" are not as directly implied in the Gospels.Read more ›
In the classical area, Van Voorst examines the traditional Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Celsus writings, but he also includes such lesser known authors such as Thallos, Serapion, and Lucian of Samosata. In the Jewish writings he covers just about every reference there is to Yeshu, ben Stada, Balaam, and "the certain one". It's a tour d'force.
Curiously enough, while Van Voorst is unsurpassed in his presentation and interpretation of material, it's his conclusions that I find wanting. For example, he discusses all the reasons why the mention of Jesus in Josephus is regarded as a later addition, then concludes that he "present(s) an independent account of Jesus" (p. 103). His main reason for discarding all the contrary evidence is his disbelief that the later interpolators could describe Jesus in less than glowing terms. Hardly convincing for me. Similarly, he concludes that references to Balaam cannot be references to Jesus because Balaam was traditionally the "prototype of the deceitful prophet from outside Israel" (p. 116) and Jesus, after all, was a Jew. True, but to the people who wrote the Talmud, even in Tannaitic times, Jesus was accused of being deceitful and was then outside Israel. So the use of Balaam can be accepted as referring to Jesus.
My disagreemeents with Van Voorst's conclusions notwithstanding, this is an excellent book and belongs on the shelf of any scholar. Much of the material is generally unavailable elsewhere, and Van Vorost scholarship is exceptional.
But the author's conclusions are in fact sound, and they serve as a corrective to the theories of those who have been thriving on extra-canonical evidence at the expense of the New Testament. To be sure, there is value in these sources, but that value is fairly limited. Taken in conjunction with John Meier's "Marginal Jew" (vol I) and Donald Akenson's "Saint Saul", the trilogy refutes any reconstruction of Jesus which relies heavily on apocryphal testimony.
Van Voorst covers the famous Testimonium Flavianum found in the work of Josephus (and the lesser known "James, the brother of Jesus" reference) and concludes that there is a core statement originally written by Josephus in the Testimonium Flavianum which has been tampered with by Christian scribes. This is the predominant view in scholarly circles today and Van Voorst does a fine job of giving the reasoning behind such a conclusion. The references to Jesus in other non-Christian writers such as Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, Mara Bar Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, the Talmud, and others are covered on an individual basis to determine the background behind each one. Van Voorst makes an attempt to examine the intent of the writer and possible sources utilized by them to gather their information.
The book also covers mentions of Jesus made in the Gospel of Thomas and various sayings attributed to Jesus by the early church fathers that are not found in the New Testament. Van Voorst gives a good, basic overview of Q and its contents which a beginner would find very helpful.
Overall, this book is highly recommended to those seeking information on the references to Jesus found outside the New Testament in non-Christian writings.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Highly in-depth survey and very honest and straightforward. For believers in Jesus it is important for contesting the infamous opinions that He never existed. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Fabio
fascinating and informative, not much biased material; a thorough overview.Published 10 months ago by richard j nix
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the extra-canonical
sources for the historical Jesus and I gave it a 3-star rating because though
I thought it was... Read more
The author wrote in the Preface to this 2000 book, "This book examines the ancient evidence from outside the New Testament for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus... Read morePublished on June 13, 2013 by Steven H Propp
I bought this book with a genuine curiosity, a real interest to discover what evidence there may be for the existence of the character Jesus Christ as portrayed in the gospels. Read morePublished on January 19, 2012 by nbfsinger
This is THE best book on the subject. For an academic scholar, Van Voorst writes really well, and does a good job at holding your attention. Read morePublished on September 1, 2006 by Dr. Marc Axelrod
This is your one-stop shopping place for reviewing the modern status of the historical Jesus discussion outside of the Bible. Read morePublished on April 23, 2005 by Mark Lee
Judging this book by its cover, you would expect a discussion of references to Jesus outside the New Testament. And that you do get. Read morePublished on August 12, 2004 by C. Price