Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: Jesus of Nazareth

A little bit ironic, isn't it, that my previous book review was on The Courage to be Protestant, and this review is on the first book written and published by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI! It took an awful long time for me to get through this one, and I'm still unsure what to make of it.

Many are hailing it as a wonderful book which presents an amazing portrait of the Lord Jesus, but I wasn't so fussed on it. Perhaps in trying to sound eloquent, knowledgeable and scholarly, the Pope is hitting way above my head, but I didn't really enjoy the way he was trying too hard and quoting all these important Catholic (and Jewish) theologians. It may, however, be that the translation from German to English has made it less flowing and more difficult to read.

This book is just the first of a two-parter looking a the life of Jesus, with this volume going up to Peter's confession of Christ, and the next volume (whenever it comes out) covering the passion, crucifixion and resurrection. There were some interesting insights and helpful comments, but all in all, I think this was a bit of a disappointment of a book, slightly limited by the narrowness of Catholic theology.

Early on, as he was introducing his methodology, he wrote of how 'some thirty years ago... American scholars to develop the project of "canonical exegesis." The aim of this exegesis is to read individual texts within the totality of the one Scripture, which then sheds light on all the individual texts.' (p. xviii) While this may seem new and exciting to the Pope, the fact is that the Protestant churches have been doing this for five hundred years! Perhaps we should get the Pope along to some Proclamation Trust events and preaching conferences to learn how to do it!

My irony detector was turned on and soared when on one page he criticises a group for their beliefs because 'here, obviously, theory predominated over listening to the text' (p.53) and then seven pages later he engages in the same thing by insisting that Jesus declares a time of 'conversion and penance' in relation to Mark 1:15 - penance which definitely isn't in the text!

It's maybe not surprising that I don't agree with the pope on quite a few things, not least how we interpret the Bible, and what that looks like for Christian discipleship - this wasn't a book I enjoyed reading, and I wouldn't rush out to buy one for myself. I really wouldn't recommend it - there are much better books dealing with the life of Jesus and what that means for us, which are edifying and not just plain confusing or dodgy.


  1. It's very turgid in its prose which makes it especially hard to digest, but that is somehwat characteristic of German academic style. Certainly I agree that it's overrated.

  2. Shane, your comment was very helpful - I'm not overly familiar with German academic writing style, so perhaps this was why I struggled with it (alongside those other reasons!).

  3. Rev'd Sir,

    Perhaps the academic style of the Pope Emeritus does not suit your palate. I have to say that Joseph Ratzinger is an excellent theologian and I find that many reformed types appreciate Ratzinger's insights. He is much more impressive than most of the dodgy SPCK paperbacks, that are so popular in this present age.

    The PTS for example....

    I would be willing to enter into a discourse with you on the subject.

    Yours Ever

    The Earl-Bishop