Sunday, May 20, 2007

THE POPE'S NEW BOOK ON JESUS is reviewed by Geza Vermes in The Times:
Jesus of Nazareth
The scholar Ratzinger bravely declares that he and not the Pope is the author of the book and that everyone is free to contradict him

By Pope Benedict XVI, reviewed by Geza Vermes

I LEARNT ABOUT the imminent appearance of Pope Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus at the University of Princeton about four weeks ago. I attended there an international conference on methodology in the quest of the historical Jesus where I was to give the opening address. The title, Jesus of Nazareth, not “Jesus, the Son of God” or something similar, seemed to imply that the Pope was one of us, a seeker after historical truth. Indeed, his preface explicitly states that his study incorporates modern historical criticism, and is intended to portray Jesus as an “historical” figure “in the strict sense of the word”. I must confess, however, that my initial reaction was overoptimistic.

There follows a summary of historical-Jesus scholarship from the nineteenth century to the present. Then there is a discussion of the book. Here's an excerpt:
Yet I must protest against the reiterated papal claim that the divine Christ of faith – the product of his musings – and the historical Jesus – the Galilean itinerant healer, exorcist and preacher – are one and the same. In the absence of a stringent linguistic, literary and historical analysis of the Gospels, especially of their many contradictory statements, the identification is without foundation. One must declare groundless Benedict’s appeal to “canonical exegesis”, an exercise in biblical theology whereby any text from the Old or the New Testament can serve to explain any other biblical text. Such an approach to biblical studies would force back Catholic Bible experts, already the objects of frequent papal disapproval in Jesus of Nazareth, to a preCopernican stage of history.

As a final comment, may I, after a lifetime of study of Judaism and early Christianity and in the light of hundreds of letters inspired by my books, voice the conviction that the powerful, inspirational and, above all, real figure of the historical Jesus is able to exercise a profound influence on our age, especially on people who are no longer impressed by traditional Christianity. While scholarly exegesis removes some of the mystery enveloping the church’s Christ, it does not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Contrary to Pope Benedict’s forebodings, the world would welcome this authentic Jesus.
Read it all.

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