With the return of blog posts, I am also going to try to return to doing book reviews in a timely fashion.
Pope Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” ; Ignatius Press, 2011, is part two in what ultimately became a trilogy of books by Pope Benedict on the life of Jesus.
In this remarkable trilogy, Pope Benedict makes it quite clear that he is not trying to write an entirely scholarly work, or a definitive life of Jesus, but rather “…the figure and the message of Jesus. (p. xvi).”
In this part two, you have a book that is one part scholarly and one part personal reflections. It can be, and is, used by academics, but it could just as easily be used as a source of prayer and meditation on the life of Jesus.
In part one of “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict looks at Jesus’ life from his baptism in the Jordan until the Transfiguration. As the title of part two makes clear, this book looks at the final week of Jesus’ life, from the entering of the city on what we would call Palm Sunday, through the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and finally the accounts of the Resurrection.
Pope Benedict examines these events with a scholarly eye, using critical exegesis and the historical-critical method to delve deep into the Gospel texts. While critically examining the texts, he sees these events from a theological viewpoint, and sees the connections between Jesus, the church, and us in sometimes an almost poetic fashion.
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This should not surprise us, however, as, again in the Foreword, he describes his appreciation scholarly exegesis but says that if it wants to continue to be relevant, it must again become “a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character (p. xiv).”
Pope Benedict attacks all of the main questions that arise at the heart of “Who is Jesus?” Was he just a wandering preacher? Did he claim to be divine, or was that added later by his followers, who distorted his message to help start a “new religion”?
Why was he put to death, and who did it? Did he really rise from the dead? He answers these questions using the Bible, both Old and New Testament, the writings of the Church Fathers, the teachings of the church throughout the centuries, as well as modern biblical scholars and exegetes.
He does not hide from any of question, but rather answers them in a way that is scholarly and pastoral. He may not convince many unbelievers, but to those that are wavering he can provide confidence that yes, Jesus declared himself to be God, was crucified, and rose again for us. For those firm in their belief, he provides a source of prayer and meditation.
Many seminarians have said this book helped them in their spiritual growth, and this is where I think “Jesus of Nazareth,” is strongest. It’s a scholarly work that doubles as a tool for spiritual guidance and reflection from one of the more brilliant intellectuals of our time.
A paragraph from the Amazon.com book page for “Jesus of Nazareth,” sums up the book well:
“Benedict brings to his study the vast learning of a brilliant scholar, the passionate searching of a great mind, and the deep compassion of a pastor’s heart. In the end, he dares readers to grapple with the meaning of Jesus’ life, teaching, death, and resurrection. “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” challenges both believers and unbelievers to decide who Jesus of Nazareth is and what he means for them.”
As always, if you have any ideas or comments for things I could change, please let me know. If you have any books that you have read or have read the books I mention, please leave a comment. We here at Salzmann also want to know what people are reading. Remarks are always appreciated – anything I can do to make this better I will strive my best to accomplish.
(Schrauth is director of the Salzmann Library at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis.)