I was honored to receive an advanced copy of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week last month, so although it is just being released today, I have already completed it. I have written an article about the book for OSV which should appear shortly, but I also hope to write a few blog posts about it here as well.
It is hard to write anything about this book without sounding like a teenage girl gushing about Justin Bieber. Like the first Jesus of Nazareth book, this volume was outstanding, combining the Pope’s immense talents as a scholar, pastor and mystic. The Pope is able to stand toe-to-toe with any scholar, yet he always keeps a single-minded focus on directing his readers to a personal encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ.
I found many deep insights in this book, but perhaps the most stunning statement made by Pope Benedict is found on the very first page of the Foreword. Our Holy Father writes,
One thing is clear to me: in two hundred years of exegetical work, historical-critical exegesis has already yielded its essential fruit. (Emphasis added)
I had to read that sentence two and three times before I accepted that the Pope really wrote that. In this statement the Pope is challenging the very foundations of the biblical scholarship world. For two hundred years, there has been a race by academics to come up with the “latest” theory about Jesus, resulting in a plethora of contradictory and often ludicrous ideas about “who Jesus really was.” Yet behind this race is not a desire to really know the identity of Jesus, but to create the latest sensation in the academic world, which leads to book contracts and better jobs. If you write that Jesus is who the Church claims him to be, then your academic career will become sidetracked. But if you write (with scholarly authority) that he was a transvestite Muslim, then you are surely on your way to academic fame.
The Pope undercuts all of this. He sees the Historical-Critical Method as a tool with limited applications – and those applications have now yielded their “essential fruit.” In other words, the focus of studies of Jesus should no longer be driven by the Historical-Critical Method, but instead should be driven by a desire to know the Jesus confessed and proclaimed by the Church: the eternal Son of God who saves us from our sins.
And this is the Jesus presented to us in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. He is not a figment of some scholar’s imagination, but instead the God-man who millions throughout history have lived and died for. The pope is urging us to encounter this God-man in our own lives today.