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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to a wealth of mostly unknown literature
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...
Published on December 11, 2001 by Michael Erisman

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67 of 94 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Turned off by the 1st chapter's weak arguments
As a nontheist who thinks there was a historical Jesus, I often find myself caught between two extremes. On the one hand, I don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead, was the son of God, etc. But on the other hand, I simply am not convinced by mythicist arguments that there was no historical Jesus. Central to the debate between these two competing positions is the...
Published on December 28, 2000 by jlowder@infidels.org


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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to a wealth of mostly unknown literature, December 11, 2001
This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (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. The chapter is well done, and is mostly speculative, as the alleged source materials obviously are not available to us. Again, the information is presented well, and arguments and theories are postulated on both sides of the debate about their authenticity and relevance.
The last chapter focuses on the writings of mostly Gnostic origin, including the discovery of the Nag Hammadi writings. The book examines the authenticity and relevance of these writings and compares and contrasts them to the Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas is reprinted in full which is fascinating, as are parts of the Gospel of Peter, Secret Mark, the Ascent of James. A writing conspicuously absent from the book is the Barnabas text, although this writing is widely regarded as a fraud in most Biblical scholarly circles.
Overall, a very interesting read. The material was presented well, and was not dry but moved quickly and kept my attention throughout. A great start to this study of the wealth of information and writings about Jesus outside the New Testament.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly, June 21, 2006
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This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Paperback)
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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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource for non-canonical Jesus evidence, December 28, 2000
By 
Loren Rosson III (New Hampshire, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (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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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding Jesus in places unknown to many, May 7, 2001
By 
Timotheos Josephus (USA, Earth, Milky Way) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (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. At the very least, this book demonstrates far beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth truly existed and that he was simply not some sort of mythical figure created by early Christians. It doesn't prove Christianity is true, but it lays the foundation for further investigation into who this Jesus of Nazareth was.
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31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Van Voorst Gives Readers a Lot for their Money, August 12, 2004
This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Paperback)
Judging this book by its cover, you would expect a discussion of references to Jesus outside the New Testament. And that you do get. Jesus Outside the New Testament is the best introduction to all of the usual topics, from the Roman references--Thallus, Suetonius, Pliny, and most importantly Tacitus--to the Jewish sources--Josephus and the Talmud--to post New Testament Christian writings. The term "introduction," however, may be deceiving. Van Voorst deals with each subject in accessible depth, addressing often overlooked objections to such passages as Tacitus' references to Jesus (shown to be without merit). He takes these objections seriously and concedes their merit (admitting that Pliny is not "a witness to Jesus independent of Christianity") or refutes them decisively (showing that Josephus provides two "non-Christian witnesses to Jesus").

But what you may not realize you are getting with this book, based on its cover, is an effective one-chapter discussion of the Jesus Myth and a very informative discussion of the Gospel sources.

Indeed, Van Voorst is one of the few contemporary New Testament scholars to devote much time to the Jesus Myth. He devotes most of Chapter 1 to discussing the Jesus Myth, including a helpful overview of its historical development. At the end of the chapter, Van Voorst helpfully summarizes seven grounds upon which New Testament scholars and historians have continuously rejected the Jesus Myth:

1. Jesus Mythologists routinely misinterpret Paul's relative silence about some biographical details of the life of Jesus.

2. Jesus Mythologists are forced to offer radically late and unsupported datings of the Canonical Gospels.

3. Jesus Mythologists often claim that evidence of literary development and errors in the Gospels support the idea that Jesus did not exist. But as Van Voorst points out, "development does not necessarily mean wholesale invention, and difficulties do not prove non-existence."

4. Jesus Mythologists have failed to "explain to the satisfaction of historians why, if Christians invented the historical Jesus around the year 100, no pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus' historicity or even questioned it."

5. Jesus Mythologists rely partially on "well-known text-critical and source-critical problems" in ancient Non-Christian references to Jesus, but go beyond the evidence and difficulties by claiming that these sources have no value. They also ignore "the strong consensus that most of these passages are basically trustworthy."

6. Jesus Mythologists are not doing history, but polemics. "Wells and others seem to have advanced the non-historicity hypothesis not for objective reasons, but for highly tendentious, anti-religious purposes. It has been a weapon of those who oppose the Christian faith in almost any form, from radical Deists, to Free thought advocates, to radical secular humanists and activist atheists like Madalyn Murray O'Hair."

7. Jesus Mythologists have consistently failed to offer a better explanation for the origins of Christianity than the existence of Jesus as its founding figure. Though various mythical origins have been attempted, they are even more deficient in corroborative evidence than the existence of Jesus.

Mocking these points hardly advances the Jesus Myth's agenda. Nor does raising red herrings like evolutionary theory and supposed double standards (not evidenced in the book by any means). Van Voorst is summarizing a war already won, not refighting all of the battles. The Jesus Myth has been leveled again and again by scholars--particularly earlier in the previous century (by scholars like Maurice Gougel and Shirely Case). Subsequent scholarly trends have been even less kind. Van Voorst helpfully distills down the reasons that "[b]iblical scholars and classical historians now regard [the Jesus Myth] as effectively refuted."

Finally, a surprising but welcome feature of this book is that it devotes an entire chapter to "Jesus in the Sources of the Canonical Gospels." This chapter is packed with excellent discussions (and bibliographical references) about the sources of Matthew, Luke, and John. Each section lays out the likely contents of these sources in convenient charts and provides informed discussions of their origins. Perhaps the most insightful discussion is of "L"--Luke's unique material--which Van Voorst concludes was likely a "complete" pre-existing source of material about Jesus. Next he provides enlightening discussions of "M"--Matthew's unique material--and the Gospel of John's "Signs Source." He caps off the chapter with an excellent overview of the "Q" question, accepting the established consensus that it was a source for Matthew and Luke, but chiding the overly speculative reconstructions by scholars such as Burton Mack and John D. Crossan

This book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the study of the historical Jesus. I highly recommend it.
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67 of 94 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Turned off by the 1st chapter's weak arguments, December 28, 2000
This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Paperback)
As a nontheist who thinks there was a historical Jesus, I often find myself caught between two extremes. On the one hand, I don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead, was the son of God, etc. But on the other hand, I simply am not convinced by mythicist arguments that there was no historical Jesus. Central to the debate between these two competing positions is the issue of alleged extra-biblical references to the historicity of Jesus. That issue is the subject of Van Voorst's book, which he deals with in great detail. Van Voorst discusses alleged references to Jesus in virtually all of the non-Christian sources, as well as various Christian sources about Jesus outside of the New Testament. All of this combined makes the book the most comprehensive English lenguage review of alleged extra-Biblical references to Jesus written in recent memory.
With that said, I was frankly disappointed with the first chapter of the book, in which Van Voorst spends ten pages refuting the Christ-myth hypothesis. To his credit, Van Voorst is very familiar with the various books and essays which deny the existence of Jesus. He writes, "Some readers may be surprised or shocked that many books and essays--by my count, over one hundred--in the past two hundred years have fervently denied the very existence of Jesus" (p. 6). Nevertheless, he says, the Christ-myth hypothesis is not only rejected by virtually all New Testament scholars, but that the hypothesis has been almost completely ignored within the guild of New Testament scholarship since the 1940s. However, Van Voorst acknowledges that there is tremendous interest in the historicity of Jesus.
He has a very interesting and educational history of the Christ-myth movement. However, he apparently does not know that G.A. Wells, in his latest book THE JESUS MYTH, in which Wells *accepts* the historicity of Jesus based on the arguments of Burton Mack concerning Q. Van Voorst then, briefly, has occasion to criticize Michael Martin's defense of the mythicist hypothesis, given Martin's reliance on Wells.
Van Voorst then summarizes seven objections against Wells's (former) position that Jesus never existed. Many of these objections are downright comical.
1. "Wells misinterprets Paul's relative silence about some details in the life of Jesus: the exact time of his life; the exact places of his ministry, that Pontius Pilate condemned him, and so forth. As every good student of history knows, it is wrong to suppose that what is unmentioned or undetailed did not exist. Arguments from silence about ancient times, here about the supposed lack of biblical or extrabiblical references to Jesus, are especially perilous."
Lowder's comment: it seems to me there is a double-standard on the part of conservative Christians. When discussing the historicity of Jesus, Christians will tell us that no historian takes arguments from silence seriously. But when defending the empty tomb, Christians will conveniently engage in arguments from silence (e.g., "The tomb was empty because there is no evidence of the Jewish authorities denying it.") Yet the same facts appealed to by Christians in their arguments from silence for the empty tomb--like the lame argument that the Jews never denied the empty tomb--can itself be dismissed on the grounds that 'first-century Jews typically viewed the empty tomb story as so weak or bizarre that they ignored it completely." What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
2. Wells dates the gospels around 100, which is too late. Mark was written around 70 while Matthew and Luke were probably written in the 80s. Van Voorst may well be right about his dating. But so, too, might Wells. What I find objectionable about Van Voorst's objection is that he gives no argument for it. *Why* should we accept Van Voorst's dating scheme for the gospels? Van Voorst never says.
3. The development of the Gospel traditions and the historical difficulties within them "do not necessarily mean wholesale invention, and difficulties do not prove nonexistence." But, to the best of my knowledge, Wells never argues that development of traditions and historical difficulties *necessarily proves* the mythicist hypothesis.
4. This one is a real howler: "Wells cannot explain to the satisfaction of historians why, if Christians invented the historical Jesus around the year 100, no pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus' historicity or even questioned it." This is an argument from silence! I agree that there is no evidence that the historicity of Jesus was questioned in the first century. But that fact does not, by itself, make it probable that Jesus existed. Even on the assumption that Jesus never existed, Christianity was a minority religion viewed as a cult by outsiders. Had Jesus never existed, there is no reason to suppose that anyone would have made an effort to show that. Indeed, I think it is even doubtful that it would have occurred to anyone to question the historicity of Jesus!
5. Despite Wells' objections to the contrary, non-Christian witnesses to Jesus, especially Tacitus and Josephus, are basically trustworthy because there is a "strong consensus" saying so. Does this mean that from now on that evolutionists can argue that evolution is true simply because a "strong consensus" of biologists says it's true? This is a really lame argument.
6. Another howler: "Wells and others seem to have advanced the nonhistoricity hypothesis not for objective reasons, but for highly tendentious, antireligious purposes."
7. "Wells and his predecessors have failed to advance other, credible hypotheses to account for the birth of Christianity and the fashioning of a historical Christ." I think this objection has some force.
In conclusion, while I think Van Voorst's book is useful as a comprehensive overview of extra-Biblical references to Jesus, his direct attacks on the mythicist hypothesis are mainly ineffective. His best objection to the mythicist hypothesis is that some of the extra-Biblical sources *do* provide independent confirmation of Jesus, an issue which he deals with ably in the remainder of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Theology,Astronomy,And The Crucifixion Darkness, April 20, 2014
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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 very valuable and interesting, the author does present the
evidence of the chronicler Thallos in such a way so that an uninformed
reader might think that a mid-first century date for Thallos,and his knowledge
of the Christian passion tradition,are quite probable.
But attempts to extend Thallos' chronicle down to 52 C.E. are completely
conjectural,and a date of 92 is just as likely.But this Thallos is apparently
the same Thallos referred to by the Christian writer Theophilus c.180,so that
even Craig Evans,one of Van Voorst's secondary sources,acknowledges
that certain dates for the Thallos' allusion to the crucifixion darkness range
anywhere from 29 C.E.to 221 C.E.
For the assessment of Evans,who tends to exude the same atmosphere
of plausibility regarding a mid-first century date for Thallos,see "Studying
The Historical Jesus",edited by Craig Evans and Bruce Chilton,p.454-5.For
a more sober evaluation,see the revised Schurer:"History Of The Jewish
People In The Age Of Jesus Christ",vol.3,p.543-4.
Man Of Blood: On The Last Days At Jerusalem
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN EXCELLENT ANALYSIS OF THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS, June 13, 2013
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This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Paperback)
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... I have tried to present comprehensively the passages themselves in a contemporary translation, and introduce the most important issues in the current interpretation of these passages."

Of the fragment of Thallos used by Julius Africanus, he observes, "Julius argues that ... the eclipse [at the time of Jesus' death] was miraculous, 'a darkness induced by God.' Thallos could have mentioned the eclipse with no reference to Jesus. But it is more likely that Julius... was correct in reading it as a hostile reference to Jesus' death." (Pg. 20-21) Of the "Wise Jewish King" reference in Mara bar Serapion, he comments, "The results for study of the historical Jesus are slim. Mara's letter is not an independent witness to Jesus... it obviously links the life of 'the wise king' with his movement and its teachings, making it possible that Mara learned about the wise king from Christians... its assertion that the Jews killed Jesus is dubious at best." (Pg. 57)

Of Suetonius' reference in The Twelve Caesars to a 'Chrestus,' he says, "nothing in this sentence or its context explicitly indicates that Suetonius is writing about Christ or Christianity... The simplest understanding of this sentence is that Chrestus is an otherwise unknown agitator present in Rome... Moreover, in Nero 16.2 Suetonius spells the closely related word 'Christiani' correctly, and so he must have known that its founder was ChrIstus, not ChrEstus." (Pg. 32-33)

Of the famous apparent reference to Jesus in Josephus, he observes, "the wording of some sentences suggests that the whole passage may be a Christian forgery... Although several Christian apologists of the second and third centuries knew Josephus's works... they did not cite this passage despite its obvious usefulness. Less of an argument from silence is the evidence from Origen. Origen twice wrote that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ... At the very least, this means that he did not have a text of Josephus which contained the phrase, 'he was the Christ.'" (Pg. 91-92)

Of the hostile rabbinic references, he says, "All this raises the issue of how the rabbis gained this information about Jesus. Did they have independent chains of tradition on Jesus, passed from rabbinic master to rabbinic disciples, reaching back into the first century? The evidence points to a negative answer... the third century rabbis seem to have had no traditions about Jesus that originated in the first century." (Pg. 120) Similarly about the 'Toledot Yeshu' [Life of Jesus], "Because of its medieval date, its lack of a fixed form, its popular orientation, and its highly polemical purpose, the Toledot Yeshu is most unlikely to give us any independent, reliable information about Jesus. It may contain a few older traditions from ancient Jewish polemic ... but we learn nothing new or significant from it." (Pg. 128)

This is an excellent, up-to-date reference, that will be of great value to Christians (or others) studying Jesus and Christian origins.
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Overview of Evidence for Historical Jesus, April 23, 2005
By 
Mark Lee (Woodruff, UT USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Paperback)
This is your one-stop shopping place for reviewing the modern status of the historical Jesus discussion outside of the Bible. Areas covered include possible mentions of Jesus in contemporary classical authors (Thallos, Pliny, Seutonius, Tacitus, etc.) and Jewish writings (including Josephus and the Talmud). Each piece of evidence is offered and evaluated pro and con.

I used this book to clarify some points regarding the so-called "Testimonium" in Josephus' Antiquities. I found the information to be absolutely up-to-date and referencing the best scholarly arguments.

I've used Herford's "Christianity in Talmud and Midrash" as a source and found Van Voorst was able to assist me in coming to more sound conclusions about the many references Herford offered. If anything, I believe Van Voorst is a just a little too cautious. Still, a recommended book.
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must" for anyone in search of the historical Jesus., August 4, 2000
This review is from: Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Paperback)
Jesus Outside The New Testament: An Introduction To The Ancient Evidence is a fascinating study of considerable scholarship that surveys and introduces the reader to early Christian and non-Christian records (with fresh translations of all relevant texts) showing how and to what extent these ancient writings can be used to help reconstruct the historical Jesus. Robert E. Van Voorst (professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan) draws upon his immense expertise to present Roman, Jewish, pre-Christian and Post-Christian writings mentioning Jesus, and provides an invaluable contribution to students of Christianity and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the origins of Christian in general, and the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth in particular.
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