A review of The Other Jesus: Stories from World Religions by Todd Outcalt, Rowman & Littlefield
By Dan Gangler
INDIANAPOLIS – What most of us know about Jesus the Christ of Nazareth, we know from the four Gospels of the New Testament Scriptures. However, according to Biblical scholarship, there is much ancient literature about Jesus in non-canonical Christian texts, as well as sacred and other texts from other religions worldwide.
The Rev. Todd Outcalt, author of The Other Jesus: Stories from World Religions, accepted the challenge of collecting samples of these texts from a variety of major world religions including Jewish, Muslim including Sufi, Taoism, Buddhism and other religions, which he compiled in his book. He also shows parallels between selected texts and the New Testament Scriptures.
Outcalt, a practical scholar and seasoned author, leads Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, as its senior pastor.
In his book, he begins with non-canonical Christian texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, and compares and contrasts them to canonical Gospel texts. He also includes texts from some of the early church fathers, such as Clement, Irenaeus, Origen and other historic leaders of Christianity, and their comments about the being of Jesus including so-called sayings of Jesus.
Following this foundational work, Outcalt systematically moves through the major faiths chronologically with stories about Jesus captured in the literature of the world’s major religions. He begins with Judaism with the works of Josephus and his Antiquities of the Jews and then continues to move on with noted rabbis through history parallel to early Christianity.
I found the book was a slow, sometimes tedious read, but well worth the venture. He assists the reader in placing parallel texts side-by-side rather than just referring the reader to them, so the book becomes a just sampling of what Outcalt calls “the other Jesus.”
I was profoundly enlightened and impressed with Outcalt’s tedious work to present a Muslim view of the person and teachings of Jesus. Outcalt believes “any exploration of Jesus in Islam must begin here (with the Qur’an) – as the Qur’an contains much information about Jesus, who is known as Isa. Likewise, Islam gives Jesus a place of high honor and respect – he is regarded as the most important prophet prior to the arrival of Muhammad (the last prophet)…” Outcalt lists sixteen specific texts of the Qur’an referring to Jesus.
He continues with the stories of Jesus present in the internal discourses of Islam known as Hadith. “Hadith is conversation attributed to Muhammad,” he writes. In Hadith, one finds Jesus alongside Moses, David, Solomon, Job and even John the Baptizer. In Islam, “Jesus was looked to as a prophet of love and reconciliation.” If the book stopped here, it would be worth the read, however, he continues with Taoism, Buddhism and other religions.
Outcalt begins and ends his book in the context of Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus and Schweitzer’s frustration in trying to find a historical Jesus. What is highlighted in this book is a Jesus far beyond the confines of what most Christians are used to experiencing from a humble servant to the all-powerful Creator. Outcalt writes: “These ideas, coupled with concepts from other cultures and times create a rich tapestry of iconography. Jesus – unlike any personality in history – can be many things to many people… There is a sense in which Jesus cannot be contained in any of these singular concepts – but raises above them and through them.”
In the last chapter, Outcalt goes beyond texts to include prose and poetry of this man Jesus, who transcends both time and cultures to be an inclusive individual known throughout time and history. The Other Jesus pushes one to rethink the breadth and scope of both belief and knowledge to come to know more about Jesus of Nazareth.
The Other Jesus is a highly recommended read for not only pastors and other leaders of the faith, but also for laity who are interested in expanding their scope of Jesus beyond the Gospel they are accustomed to reading. It’s not a light bedtime read, but well worth a deep and repeated reading.
We’re familiar with the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament, but many people are surprised to learn that a wealth of stories and traditions about Jesus have always existed alongside the usual Biblical sources. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism – among other religions – have created their own tales about Jesus, sometimes out of necessary self-preservation and reaction to the claims of the church, but more often through thoughtful and artistic adaptation. The Other Jesus explores these varied traditions and offers a fresh exploration of Jesus – new perspectives that challenge long-accepted beliefs about his place in history and his impact on other religions.