My first book for October was Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert Van Voorst. I have been looking for a book that explored life of Jesus from a historical perspective since my RCIA experience. With the trip to Israel and Jerusalem looming, I bought this book in September. I finished the book while we were on the trip.
Chapter two examines the writings of Roman authors such as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger, who made brief references to Jesus in their works. I was frankly surprised how few Roman references actually exist. The one thing that is clear from the Roman record is that Pontius Pilate crucified Jesus of Nazareth.
Chapter three explores references to Jesus in Jewish writings, including the Mishnah and Talmud. My summary of the Jewish writings is that Mary was impregnated by a Roman Soldier and Jesus went to Egypt and learned magic. Obviously, the Jewish writers were interested in painting Jesus as a false prophet.
Chaprter four looks at theories about the origins of the Gospels. One of the most popular is that they are based on earlier documents that have not survived. This theory is known as the documentary hypothesis. This theory proposes that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke share a common source, which is known as Q. Q is believed to have been a collection of sayings of Jesus. In addition to Q, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are also thought to have used another source, which is known as M. M is believed to have been a collection of material about the birth and infancy of Jesus.
Chapter five examines Jesus in Christian writings after the New Testament. It includes the full text of the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945.
Overall, I was surprised by how few Roman contemporary references there were to Jesus. There are references in the surviving documents to other documents that haven't been found. Combined with the discussion about Q and M, it makes me wonder what percent of the writings from two thousand years ago have survived and what else might be discovered in the future. I enjoyed the book as part of our journey walking in the footsteps of Jesus in Israel, but don't recommend it to the causal reader.