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Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) Paperback – April 13, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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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: Eerdmans (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: #1,110,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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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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