While the public has easy access to religious literature on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, there is little opportunity for the general reader to assess the more sceptical works of biblical criticism. In "Jesus Outside the Gospels", Professor Hoffmann argues that very little is known about Jesus apart from the Gospels. He contends that the Gospels were intended to establish not the history of Jesus, but his divinity. The four books, attributed to men called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were written some two generations after the events they intended to describe. Hoffmann analyses and quotes extensively from non-biblical sources written 1,900 years ago, providing a picture of the man called Jesus that is quite different from the man portrayed in the Gospels. Sources analysed at length are the Talmud, Josephus, and Tacitus, as well as Gnostic and Apocryphal Gospels. Hoffmann holds to a controversial view that the Gospels are in reality the missionary propaganda of a first-century messianic cult and are far from objective biographies or historical annals. Hoffmann suggests that there is good reason to seek outside evidence for the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Following graduation from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Oxford, R. Joseph Hoffmann was tutor in Greek at Keble College and Senior Scholar at St Cross College, Oxford, and Wissenschaftlicher Assistent in Patristics and Classical Studies at the University of Heidelberg. He began his teaching career at the University of Michigan as Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies where he developed the undergraduate and graduate program in Christian origins. From 1991 to 1999, he was Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Church History at Westminster College, Oxford. Hoffmann has also taught at Cal State Sacramento, the American University of Beirut, and Wells College, where he was Campbell Professor of Religion and Human Values until 2006 and Distinguished Scholar at Goddard College in 2009. Beyond academe, he is well known for his advocacy of the humanist tradition. He was Chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion until 2010, a senior vice president of the Center for Inquiry until 2008, and a founding faculty member (1986) of the Humanist Institute. His most recent books include an edited volume entitled Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2006) and Sources of the Jesus Tradition (2010). He is also the author of The Secret Gospels (1996), Porphyry's Against the Christians (1994), and Jesus Outside the Gospels (1986).