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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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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book's aim is promising: to evaluate the evidence we have, outside of the Christian scriptures themselves, for the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Van Voorst is a capable guide to this territory, which ranges from citations in Roman correspondence to the early Christian writings often called the "New Testament Apocrypha." His lucid and judicious account of the state of scholarship will be most helpful to seminary students and others beginning to engage this material. Unfortunately if inevitably, the different sources are treated unevenly, with the very well-known classical quotations from Tacitus, Pliny and the like receiving extensive treatment while the more lengthy--and debated--proto-gnostic texts receive scant attention. Van Voorst devotes a surprising amount of energy to refuting the idea that Jesus never existed. He also includes a long and inconclusive chapter about what we can learn from the assumed sources of the New Testament itself, which is more a tutorial in 20th-century scholarship than evidence from "outside" the New Testament. Seminary professors will want to consider assigning this book, but those looking for revelations about Jesus of Nazareth will be disappointed, since after much scholarly muckraking the author himself concludes that the New Testament is our best evidence after all. Better to turn to works like John Meier's A Marginal Jew for more fully considered and provocative accounts of the historical Jesus. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Van Voorst has written a comprehensive, rigorously focused survey of the evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as manifested by the written sources other than the New Testament. He has translated all relevant passages into contemporary English and presents the most important issues in their interpretation. After a brief survey of the history and principles of historical Jesus research, he takes up the evidence from Classical writers, Jewish writers, the "sources" of the gospels, and Christian writings after the New Testament. He finds that while some of the Classical and Jewish writings are not useful or reliable, others are surprisingly helpful albeit quite sketchy in details. The "sources" are controversial, while the writings subsequent to the New Testament are derived from the New Testament and therefore of no value as historical witnesses. Van Voorst (The Ascents of James) is an established, careful scholar who has adopted a critical but responsible middle-of-the-road stance. This very well-organized and -written book fills a comparative void left by the deluge of historical Jesus books. It will be valuable for those interested in the historical grounding of their faith.DEugene O. Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Studying the Historical Jesus
  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (April 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802843689
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802843685
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #750,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Van Voorst pursued doctoral study in religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York City while he served as a minister in the Reformed Church in America. In 1989 he became a professor of religion at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania. In 1997 he was a visiting professor in the University of Oxford, where he researched and lectured on the relationship of Christianity and Judaism.

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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is a great start into the research of all the writings about Jesus outside the New Testament Canon we all know. The book is written well, and is researched thoroughly. The footnotes alone are worth the read, but be prepared to want to buy several more books as a result of the excellent research.
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.
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Robert van Voorst's book Jesus Outside the New Testament is one of the most scholarly looks at ancient evidence about the life of Jesus. He systematically probes every reference to Jesus from outside the New Testament, and then subjects them to a thorough analysis from every angle. Watching him at work is a true guide for any scholar.

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.
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Format: Paperback
This book deals with evidence for, and perceptions of, Jesus outside the New Testament. Van Voorst has assembled all the extracanonical evidence one could ask for, and he analyzes their value in studying the historical Jesus. He lays out the Agrapha, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Infancy Gospels, "Secret Mark", and much more. He considers the hypothetical sources used by New Testament authors -- Q, Signs Gospel, M, and L. He takes you on a tour through the classical writings of Thallos, Pliny the Younger, Seutonius, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, and Celsus (which portray Jesus as an overall troublemaker), and then the Jewish writings of Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Rabbinic tradition (which yield, or mask, a magician and deceiver). However much you agree or disagree with the author's conclusions, this is an invaluable resource which "gathers together disparate texts that are otherwise difficult to find in one place" (noted by John Meier).

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.
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Format: Paperback
Much to the dismay of those who'd prefer otherwise, Jesus is mentioned in several sources outside of the biblical New Testament. Robert Van Voorst does a top-notch job of evaluating each non-biblical reference on its own merits. Before assuming Van Voorst is another Christian apologist bent on finding things where none are to be found, it should be made known that he critically examines each writing to determine whether or not it has any historical worth.
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.
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