by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict
by Jon M. Sweeney
Jesus in print has been fashionable for almost 150 years now. In
1863, French scholar Ernest Renan caused near-riots with his book,
The Life of Jesus. Renan was a man of the Enlightenment;
he was the Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris
of his day—all rolled into one. With impeccable scholarship,
Renan re-appraised the miraculous Messiah and attempted to “bring
him down to earth.”
for a few minutes that the author of this new book, Jesus of
Nazareth, is also the Pope, the man who a billion people regard
as God’s voice on earth. Who was Jesus, anyway? Was he a man,
like me? Was he God walking around with skin? Scores of novels,
films, and scholarly books have explored the subtleties of these
questions. Jesus of Nazareth is not just the latest among
them; it is one of the best.
the last two centuries it has become commonplace understanding that
the writers of the four gospels of the New Testament were not necessarily
written by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And the gospels
were most likely not written by any of the original disciples of
Christ; in fact, they were all most likely composed after the letters
of St. Paul.
much is agreed upon by just about everybody, including the author
of Jesus of Nazareth. But here’s the kicker: Too
many scholars have then argued that there is an enormous difference
between the Jesus of history (the man with skin) and the Christ
of faith (who Christians worship and adore). Not so, says our author.
probably remember the phrase—and popular movie—The
Greatest Story Ever Told? Well, forget the saccharine screenplay;
this was the greatest story ever told, and not just because
Christians believe it. The author of Jesus of Nazareth
knows that no one is ever persuaded that God is real because of
rational arguments alone. But he does lay out plainly how the very
inconsistencies and contradictions that critics have pointed to
for centuries in the gospel accounts are the same clear signals
that this story is no fairy tale.
New Testament is no Dan Brown conspiracy. If you were attempting
to deceive people into believing that Jesus was something he was
not, would you allow your tellings of his tales to be rife with
inconsistencies, mysteries that seem inexplicable, and passages
that clearly read as propaganda? Of course not. This story is great
because it is abundant, and tremendous, and because its main character
is unique. This story is true because most of the evidence points
to it being true.
though this book is difficult reading, it is well-written. Each
chapter deserves mention, but space constraints makes that difficult,
here. Chapter 4 is the longest, bringing the themes of the Sermon
on the Mount to the forefront in ways that illuminate the bridge
between Jesus and Torah, the New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures.
Jesus understood himself to be the Word.
5-7 address the Lord’s Prayer, the role of the disciples in
determining the identity of Jesus, and the parables. Chapter 8 deals
with the Gospel of John, challenging the long-held scholarly idea
that the fourth gospel took its worldview from the ancient Gnostics.
return to the fact that this book was written by the current Pope.
It must be said, in closing, that Jesus of Nazareth is
probably the best book written by a pope since about the time of
Gregory the Great in the early seventh century. That doesn’t
explain why it’s currently on all of the bestseller lists,
but it should.
Jon M. Sweeney is the author
of several books including The
Lure of Saints: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition,
just released in paperback, and Light
in the Dark Ages; The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi,
a selection of History Book Club and Book-of-the-Month Club. He
writes regularly for explorefaith, and lives in Vermont.
To purchase a copy of JESUS
OF NAZARETH, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service
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