The best books on ancient religious and literary texts and actual history

Who am I?

Lena Einhorn is a writer and filmmaker, with a background in medicine. She has portrayed Greta Garbo’s life before the breakthrough, in the novel Blekinge Street 32, and in Nina’s Journey, she told the story of her mother, one of the last to leave the Warsaw ghetto alive. Nina’s Journey also became a feature film, written and directed by Einhorn. The book received the National Book Award of Sweden, and the film received the National Film Award for best picture and best script, as well as a number of international awards. In 2019 the critically acclaimed autobiographical novel The Thin Ice came out.


I wrote...

A Shift in Time: How Historical Documents Reveal the Surprising Truth about Jesus

By Lena Einhorn,

Book cover of A Shift in Time: How Historical Documents Reveal the Surprising Truth about Jesus

What is my book about?

In the midst of research on the historical Jesus, I stumbled upon a surprising find. While reading through narratives of the Jewish revolt by first-century historian Flavius Josephus, I encountered a large number of conspicuous, but hitherto largely unrecognized, similarities to the New Testament. They're unrecognized most likely because they occur with a fairly consistent twenty-year delay. These parallels include an unnamed and mysterious messianic leader strikingly similar to the Jesus described in the Gospels—concerning proclamations, events, and settings. Only he’s not the peaceful miracle worker we know so well.

A Shift in Time explores the possibility that there may have been a conscious effort by those writing and compiling the New Testament to place Jesus’s ministry in an earlier, less violent time period than when it actually happened. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Jewish War

By Flavius Josephus,

Book cover of The Jewish War

Why this book?

This is the parallel companion book to the New Testament, for anyone who wants to try to discern "the true story behind the religious text." And it is also the biggest impediment to all historians and biblical scholars who have attempted to portray Jesus and his disciples as historical individuals. He simply does not seem to be there (if one excepts the paragraph "Testimonium Flavianum", which has been added or amended by later scribes). But perhaps he does... If one looks slightly beneath the surface....

The Jewish War

By Flavius Josephus,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Jewish War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Josephus' account of a war marked by treachery and atrocity is a superbly detailed and evocative record of the Jewish rebellion against Rome between AD 66 and 70. Originally a rebel leader, Josephus changed sides after he was captured to become a Rome-appointed negotiator, and so was uniquely placed to observe these turbulent events, from the siege of Jerusalem to the final heroic resistance and mass suicides at Masada. His account provides much of what we know about the history of the Jews under Roman rule, with vivid portraits of such key figures as the Emperor Vespasian and Herod the…


The New Testament

By David Bentley Hart (translator),

Book cover of The New Testament

Why this book?

The New Testament has been portrayed as a repetitive and largely ahistorical text, except for the presence of the names of certain individuals (Emperors Augustus and Tiberius, Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate, Jewish King Herod the Great, etc, etc). Otherwise, very little fits with known history of first-century Juda and Galilee. But when one reads this religious narrative, The New Testament, next to the narratives of Josephus—written around the same time—one starts discerning certain recurring patterns. And after a while one realizes that The New Testament is anything but boring. It is actually a fantastic text, skillfully written in layers, where the historical layer lies just beneath the surface. The New Testament is full of incomprehensible elements—unknown names just thrown into the narrative, seeming contradictions, etc—but it is in these strange elements that the clues lie. One needs, however, to have Josephus' historical texts (The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities) next to the biblical text in order to discern the storyline.

The New Testament

By David Bentley Hart (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Testament as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of our most celebrated writers on religion, a fresh, bold, and unsettling new translation of the New Testament

"The greatest achievement of Hart's translation is to restore the urgency of the original. . . . It is beautiful."-James Mumford, Standpoint

"This translation is a remarkable feat."-Lucy Beckett, Times Literary Supplement

David Bentley Hart undertook this new translation of the New Testament in the spirit of "etsi doctrina non daretur," "as if doctrine is not given." Reproducing the texts' often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts' impenetrability…


The Old Testament: Text and Context

By Victor H. Matthews, James C. Moyer,

Book cover of The Old Testament: Text and Context

Why this book?

It is not only the New Testament that is written in layers: an upper religious layer, a lower historical one. Also the Old Testament uses this construct, albeit less elaborately so. It is no coincidence that the subject of "history", as we know it, is a fairly recent one. If one goes far enough back in time, all we had, when it comes to longer narratives, are the mythical and religious epics. They likely filled many purposes, of telling stories of the fantastical and supernatural, of giving ethical advice, of uniting people, and of conveying history.

The Old Testament: Text and Context

By Victor H. Matthews, James C. Moyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Old Testament as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This substantially updated edition of a classroom standard provides students with an accessible introduction to the literature, history, and social context of the Old Testament. Written by two seasoned Old Testament professors, the book pays attention to methodology, archaeology, history, and literary genre and includes illustrations, sidebars, maps, and study questions.


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Why this book?

Well, what can one say. Except that this is great literature, eternal literature, that contains multiple layers. Just like the New Testament, Shakespeare's literature to some extent is a puzzle to be laid. About the underlying story. And about the author himself. Because... who was he, really, the bard?

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Complete Works of William Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This ebook contains Shakespeare's complete plays and complete poems in a new, easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate format. This is the most reader-friendly introduction to Shakespeare available today. 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare' collects all thirty-seven of the immortal Bard's comedies, tragedies, and historical plays in a Collectible Edition. This volume also features Shakespeare's complete poetry, including the sonnets. With this beautiful Collectible Edition, you can enjoy Shakespeare's enduring literary legacy again and again.


"Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford

By J. Thomas Looney,

Book cover of "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford

Why this book?

This is one of the many books that have delved into the old question of who William Shakespeare really was. And it is one of the more clever ones, drawing clear parallels between Shakespeare's texts, on the one hand, and the travels, experiences, opinions, and facilities of the main suspect, the Earl of Oxford, on the other. Looney’s book was the first one to propose and present exhaustive evidence that the Earl of Oxford was the sole author of all of Shakespeare’s works – a hypothesis that is now dominant among those who doubt the role of the relatively uneducated and untravelled “Stratford-man”.

"Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford

By J. Thomas Looney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Excerpt from "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (Classic Reprint)

About the Publisher

Forgotten Books publishes hundreds of thousands of rare and classic books.

This book is a reproduction of an important historical work. Forgotten Books uses state-of-the-art technology to digitally reconstruct the work, preserving the original format whilst repairing imperfections present in the aged copy. In rare cases, an imperfection in the original, such as a blemish or missing page, may be replicated in our edition. We do, however, repair the vast majority of imperfections successfully; any imperfections that remain are intentionally left to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New Testament, William Shakespeare, and religion?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New Testament, William Shakespeare, and religion.

New Testament Explore 33 books about New Testament
William Shakespeare Explore 130 books about William Shakespeare
Religion Explore 213 books about religion

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Roman Revolution, Marcus Aurelius, and The Iliad if you like this list.