Spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God. explorefaith.org


Explore God's Love Explore Your Faith Explore the Church Explore Who We Are  

> Bookshelf > Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI
Join our mailing list
Join our mailing list
Send this page to a friend

Support explorefaith.org

Give us your feedback

Bookshelf home

Modern Classics

Popular Fiction
Commentaries on Religion and Culture
explorefaith.org books
History of Faith
Author Interviews
Online Book Group
Living Your Faith
Memoirs and Biographies

Bookshelf Index


Jesus of Nazareth
by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI
Doubleday, 2007

review by Jon M. Sweeney

Doubting 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.”

Forget 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.

For 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.

That 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.

You 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.

The 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.

Even 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.

Chapters 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.

Now, 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.

Just Peace: A Message of Hope
To purchase a copy of JESUS OF NAZARETH, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith visitors and registered users.


(Return to Top)


Send this article to a friend.

Home | Explore God's Love | Explore Your Faith | Explore the Church | Who We Are
Reflections | Stepping Stones | Oasis | Lifelines | Bulletin Board | Search |Contact Us |
Copyright ©1999-2007 explorefaith.org