State-of-the-art radiotherapy treatment planning systems provide reliable estimates of the therapeutic radiation but are known to underestimate or neglect the stray radiation exposures. Most commonly, stray radiation exposures are reconstructed using empirical formulas or lookup tables. The purpose of this study was to develop the basic physics of a model capable of calculating the total absorbed dose both inside and outside of the therapeutic radiation beam for external beam photon therapy. The model was developed using measurements of total absorbed dose in a water-box phantom from a 6 MV medical linear accelerator to calculate dose profiles in both the in-plane and cross-plane direction for a variety of square field sizes and depths in water. The water-box phantom facilitated development of the basic physical aspects of the model. RMS discrepancies between measured and calculated total absorbed dose values in water were less than 9.3% for all fields studied. Computation times for 10 million dose points within a homogeneous phantom were approximately 4 min. These results suggest that the basic physics of the model are sufficiently simple, fast, and accurate to serve as a foundation for a variety of clinical and research applications, some of which may require that the model be extended or simplified based on the needs of the user. A potentially important advantage of a physics-based approach is that the model is more readily adaptable to a wide variety of treatment units and treatment techniques than with empirical models.