525 of 545 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2007
A few months ago someone asked me what book I would recommend that they give to their adult children who no longer practiced the faith, without hesitation I named this book as the one. At the time I had only read some excerpts available online from Germany and Italy. It was an act of faith then, now that I have the book I know that my recommendation was justified.
This is a great book, magisterial (even though the pope doesn't want it thought of in that way). It is not just another book about Jesus, it a revolutionary book about Jesus...in that it recaptures why people have had their lives changed by their belief in Jesus for over 2,000 years.
What makes this book so special? It is like a modern Summa (those who know St. Thomas Aquinas will understand me here) in that it answers modern questions of doubt, skepticism and even inquiry on not only who Jesus is, but why Jesus is the most important person anyone has ever or can ever know.
The pope's methodology is to take a scene from the Bible, like the Lord's baptism and then to draw on that scene from the entire Bible, to show what modern scholarship has done to help us to understand the historical context of the scene, tell us how the early Church fathers interpreted the scene, how would it have been viewed in Judaism (he uses the reflections of a Rabbi when discussing the Sermon on the Mount) and then to give the reader the meaning of this event for them. Along the way he answers questions to the many objections modern people bring to their encounter with Jesus.
As someone who has studied theology for a number of years and been exposed to every screwball theology out there, I found this book to be a corrective lens to refocus and correct my vision of who Jesus is and what following him means. What impresses me (and I'm not easily impressed) is that the Pope takes on the "screwball (my term, not his)" theologies in such a way as to making them seem silly (although he is incredibly charitable in his approach).
This book will have a great effect on renewing the Church and centering it on an image of Christ that is Biblical and credible, erasing years of poor and faulty preaching and teaching.
If you are not Catholic, but a Christian you will love this book too. In fact I predict you will be come a big fan of Joseph Ratzinger and will want to read his many published works to encounter someone rooted in Scripture and conversant with modern attacks on it. If you are a non Christian I think you will find in the book an excellent introduction to what Christians believe about the God-man from Nazareth. To all you parents out there who sent your kids to Catholic schools and now wish they would practice their faith, give them this book and reintroduce them to Jesus of Nazareth.
Once you've read this, you'll want to check out the Pope's take on the Apostles, in an excellent follow-up to this book:
The Apostles: The Origin of the Church and Their Co-Workers
I am the author of The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You
368 of 381 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2007
The Pope, by his very position, tends to be a polarizing agent. From a young age, I caught whispers of Antichrist conspiracy theories in throwaway Christian tracts. Later, I read Morris West's unsurpassed "Shoes of the Fisherman," and discovered a wholly honorable and thought-provoking aspect of the Pope's position. With these warring extremes in mind, I simply had to read "Jesus of Nazareth" for myself, to discover if Benedict XVI was bringing anything new or worthwhile to the table of spiritual discussion.
To my pleasant surprise, I found this statement in the book's foreward: "it struck me as the most urgent priority to present the figure and the message of Jesus...and so to help foster the growth of a living relationship with him." Indeed, the rest of this tome does revolve around the divinity of Jesus and how that applies in our present times, both personally and publicly. While referring often to Church fathers and tradition, Benedict XVI addresses liberal theology's questions, as well as some of Nietzsche's dilemmas. He goes even further, addressing the real issues of the human heart in our modern age.
In a erudite manner, "Jesus of Nazareth" provides a text full of deep thinking and honest wrestling, while remaining accessible and immensely readable. It circles the central issues of Jesus' identity and message, puts out the fires with patient confidence, then hones in on biblical truth. He builds New Testament passages on Old Testament understanding, shows immense respect for Judaism, and offers a worldwide view of Christ's redemptive message. Although I still have issues with some of Catholicism's structural tenets (unwed priests, for example), I can find nothing but solid Christian doctrine in this book. If it's true that things trickle down from the top, then this is a good sign for a large portion of Christ's figurative Bride on earth.
117 of 121 people found the following review helpful
Exactly how do you go about reviewing a book by a scripture scholar and theologian of the magnitude of the Holy Father? Well the task is easier than I thought it would be. For one this isn't a book addressed to a limited audience of scripture scholars and exegetes, but one that everybody can benefit from. I have read several of his books and I found this one the easiest to read. I am tempted to say something as cliche as "If you only read one book this year ..." if I didn't find this phrase personally quite scary and I suspect the Holy Father would have the same view on this.
"Jesus of Nazareth" is not a life of Jesus in the style of Romano Guardini's "The Lord", Frank Sheed's "To know Christ Jesus", or Archbishop Sheen's "Life of Christ." The Pope does not set to piece together the Gospels and present the story of Christ in specific chronological order. After the foreword and introduction the first of ten chapters deals with the Baptism of the Lord and ends with the Transfiguration and discussion of Son of Man, Son of God and Jesus' I Am statements. After reading the introduction and getting to the last chapter I was surprised to find that it is obvious that the Holy Father will be continuing the subject in a subsequent book. He mentions a part two in the introduction and I had originally thought that this was a delineation in his current book.
The main part of the book runs 358 pages and over the four days I read it I stayed up late into the night because I did not want to stop reading it. The foreword and introduction covers information such as his approach in writing this book and how problematic many previous works attempting to get at the "real Jesus" have been in the past. Throughout the book he comments on approaches like what the Jesus Seminar took and there is even one rather humorous short quip towards the end of the book on this that made me laugh when I read it. In the foreword he says "they are much more like photographs of the authors and the ideals they hold." No doubt you will not be surprised to learn that the Pope believes the "Jesus of History" and the "Jesus of the Gospels" are not two separate things.
"...The main implication of this form my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospel. Of modern exegesis tells us about literary genres, about authorial intention, and about the fact that the Gospels were written in the context, and speak within the living milieu, of communities. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to incorporate all of this, and yet I wanted to portray the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, "historical" in the strict sense of the word. ..."
My own humble opinion is that is has achieved this in spades. At another point he writes "This book is my personal search 'for the face of the Lord.'" and he certainly has illuminated the face of Jesus in his writing. One of the common themes in this book and really in his whole life is "listening" to the scriptures. Those who know him have reported that he is a good listener in that he allows others to make a case. His listening of scripture is not just to a specific verse, but all of scripture and throughout the book he shows this capability in showing specific scriptures as being in harmony with the whole. He has criticism of some theories that fail to pass this test where exegetes try to pass off a theory that just doesn't fit the whole of scripture. At the Transfiguration God the Father instructed the three Apostles, and really all of us, to listen to his Beloved Son. Pope Benedict takes this seriously as he fleshes out Jesus of Nazareth.
This book is packed with information and his insights into scripture. He is also quite willing to use modern biblical scholarship and tools such as the historical-critical method when it is properly guided and not used as an end to themselves to justify a exegetes original pretext. He is also quite willing to take the insights of some he identifies as liberal scholars and he take the good of what they have to offer and in many cases to tease the truth of their idea and to more fully develop it. In the chapter on the Sermon of the Mount he talks about the book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus by Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner which he says he was greatly helped by and he also tries to answer some of the questions raised. Over and over again it is quite evident he is quite aware of the modern currents of biblical studies and accepts some hypothesis where he thinks they are plausible and also to critique those ideas which are false.
The chapter on the Our Father prayer is worth the price of the book alone. This is not just an academic exegesis of the Our Father prayer line-by-line, but a deep meditation into this prayer. Often we can repeat a prayer so often that it looses its freshness and his meditation on this prayer can shock us back into reality of what the prayer that Jesus gave us really means and indicates. The chapter on the message of the parables starts out by working through the definition of a parable and what it is and then he focuses on meditations on three specific parables. Also fascinating is the chapter on the principle messages of John's Gospel. Up to this point he had been mostly working with the texts of the synoptic Gospels and he principally explores the use of water in John's Gospel and then then explores other elements.
What is wonderful about the Pope Benedict's book is the way he combines scripture scholarship, meditation, and insights. Often he laments the problems of poor translation of the original texts and then explores the actual meaning giving a greater depth to verses that you might normally pass by. The book is soaked with scripture references as you would expect and I often resorted to my Logos Bible Software to be able to note these references and his translation of some of the words.
The text of the book is the most important part, but I was also quite happy with the physical printing of this book. The paper is very high quality as is the binding and cover of the book. In short this is a great book that will be fruitful for anybody. In the meantime please pray for the Pope and for him to have sufficient time to write its follow up.
199 of 216 people found the following review helpful
Five INSPIRATIONAL Stars! Pope Benedict XVI has brought decades of scholarly examinations of and meditations on Jesus Christ to fruition with this incredible book. Under his pen, the Catholic faith opens like a flower which can be clearly understood by any Christian. This book is not written from the standpoint of 'Papal Infallibility' or in concert with "the magisterium", but is "an expression of my personal search for the face of the Lord", says the Pope.
This is volume one, with the Pope giving a detailed examination of the periods from the Baptism of the Lord to Peter's confession of faith and the Transfiguration: His public ministry. At last, we have Jesus Christ as the Pope sees Him and explains Him to us! What a wonderful gift to the world from the new Pontiff ! And you may encounter some fascinating insights and lower order revelations herein that you may never have heard before. This book shows the pontiff not as someone closed off in his own world as sometimes rumored, but a person who is scripturally grounded, widely-read, intellectually astute and agile. He quotes the Bible continuously, uses tradition, as well as other theological sources and authors. Working with both the historical Jesus, as well as the biblical Jesus, the Pope informs us that we can't have one viewpoint of Jesus without the other and the historical Jesus is very crucial to the faith, actually underpining our faith. Without the historical viewpoint, he says, the faith would become something other than what we have.
The Pope's initial consideration of the figure of Jesus begins with a discussion of Moses and the limitations of his very close relationship with God. Then he gets right to the main point: Jesus as the Son "lives before the face of God" and "in the most intimate unity with the Father". And, Benedict says, we who walk with Jesus are in communion with God the Father because of it. That is the capstone of everything a believer needs as a jumping off point to becoming a believer of Christ. The rest, from the genealogical breakdown of the "three groups of fourteen generations", the true meaning and place of Israel for the rest of us believers, the emergence of the Trinitarian God, 'refuting' the Baptism event as an "evocational experience" where Jesus suddenly realizes who He is, the true meaning of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, why He was tempted, the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, the Synoptic Gospels and John's Gospel, are all beautifully examined and explained. And it does not end as a book drawing summary conclusions, but as a volume, with more to come. This is an essential book for all Catholics and a great resource for all who believe in Jesus. It's a wonderful read by a man who was the Church's leading theologian before he became Pope. My Highest Recommendation! Five EXCELLENT Stars!!
(This review is based on an unabridged digital download in secure eReader format. Save a tree, download your books.)
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2007
First off, this is not a biography of Christ. If you are expecting something like Sheen's Life of Christ or Sheed's To Know Christ Jesus, think again. This is more of a meditation on events in the Lord's life. The Pope looks at the Baptism of the Lord, the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, the Transfiguration and Peter's profession of Faith and gives his thoughts on them.
This is a surprisingly personal book, the Holy Father makes it clear that this is not an encyclical. It does not add to the magisterium. This is his own personal search and meditations on the Lord and it's beautiful. Pope Benedict was and still is a teacher and he breaks everything down very simply so that even the dullest of theology students can get what he's saying.
85 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2007
As a previous reviewer wrote, I was unable to put this book down.
In this book, Joseph Ratzinger articulates that the 'historical Jesus' and the 'scriptural Jesus' are one and the same.
Ratzinger masterfully shows that the Jesus in the Gospels was not just a gifted teacher, or a social reformer, or a religious progressive - instead, Jesus revealed that he himself was God. Ratzinger demonstrates that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount - which moderns think to be a mere ethical discourse - is instead so radical and disturbing, that it could only come from God himself. Moreover, Ratzinger describes how the Cross and Resurrection were prefigured and integral to Jesus' teaching ministry, rather than an unfortunate addendum.
Some particular insights that I learned:
1) Jesus as the new Moses
2) Jesus himself as the Kingdom
3) Jesus as the new Torah
The book has some possible weaknesses. First, it is somewhere between an academic work and a popular account - and one wonders whether it assumes too much background knowledge of Jesus and the Bible to be accessible to much of the post-Christian West. Second, the author very briefly states that Old Testament 'righteousness' refers to fidelity to the Torah, the written Word of God; and that New Testament 'faith' refers to fidelity to the new Torah, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God - including fidelity to his preaching ministry. This statement provides a unique synthesis of St. Paul's 'justification by faith' and Jesus' preaching in the Gospels. However, Ratzinger does not further explore this synthesis when discussing the Beatitudes, Sermon on the Mount, etc.
Regardless, after reading this book, one comes to a deeper understanding of the scandal of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus overwhelms every man-made religion and philosophy, he tears down all our walls and vanities, he humbles every human heart. After encountering Jesus, we are forced to either run away, back to our comfortable myths; or else, to fall to our knees, and confess that 'JESUS IS LORD'.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2007
This fine work by Pope Benedict XVI, a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger, is an instant classic. In this first of a two volume study, the Pope defends, in 370 pages, the position that the Jesus of Faith is the Historical Jesus.
It is absolutely crucial to read the 14 page foreword, as Benedict lays out his approach to the subject. The problem as the Pope sees it, is "... the impression that we have that there is very little certain knowledge of Jesus and only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we have of him" (xii). While discussing his methodology Benedict says "The main implication of this for my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospels" (xxi). He then makes the point that "Unless there had been something extraordinary in what happened... there is no way to explain why he was crucified and why he made such an impact. As early as twenty or so years after Jesus' death, the great Christ-hymn of the Letter to the Philippians offers us a fully developed Christology stating that Jesus was equal to God, but emptied himself to become man, and humbled himself to die on the cross, and that to him now belongs the worship of all creation..." (xxii).
The rhetorical question Benedict asks is, how could this understanding develop in only twenty years, if the Jesus of History was not the Jesus of Faith?
"Jesus of Nazareth" Benedict says "is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search for the face of the Lord. Everyone is free then to contradict me" (xxiii).
Following the foreword is an introduction, and then ten chapters, commencing with the Baptism of Jesus and going to the Transfiguration. It is not presented completely chronologically. For example chapter eight, at 69 pages the longest chapter by far, is titled "The Principal Images of John's Gospel." Benedict starts by discussing "The Johannine Question" - who was the author and how reliable is it historically? He then writes a section entitled "The Principal Johannine Images", going into the theology of the fourth Gospel.
Throughout the chapters there are extended sections which seem to be almost homilies. If I were a priest or deacon I would dig deeply into Jesus of Nazareth as a homiletical source.
The Pope makes use of many scholars, ancient and contemporary, Catholic and non-Catholic, as he builds his various analyses in the different chapters. For example, there is a wonderful dialogue in chapter four, The Sermon on the Mount, as Benedict compares the Catholic take on the Jesus of the Sermon, with Rabbi Jacob Neusner in his book published seven years ago "A Rabbi Talks with Jesus." It is captivating.
Benedict is masterly at relating the various biblical scenes under discussion to the total context of the Bible and to how they would be viewed from the perspective of the Judaism of the time.
The book is accessible to people with limited knowledge of scripture or theology. It is not a dense book - although certainly several sections require a close read - and the Pope shows quite a few flashes of humor.
So highly recommended. I am sure this work will stir discussion and debate amongst people interested in Christianity, but who don't want a heavy dose of dogma or scholarly minutiae. As a work aiming for a popular audience, Jesus of Nazareth succeeds admirably. I am looking forward to the second volume.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2007
This is a book written by an expert theologian and communicator. The first impression is one of honesty of the author. There is no sign of manipulation of an innocent reader, neither is there an attempt to present a picture of "Jesus for a modern person" achieved by simplifying, omitting or ignoring the hard questions which a thinking reader must face in our times. The reader - whether a commited Christian, or an atheist, will be enriched by reading it. The former because his understanding of the Bible, the teaching of the Catholic Church and the problems of contemporary society will become deeper and more comprehensive, the latter because he will be better equipped for a non trivial dialog with his Christian friends. I can not wait for the second part.
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2007
I have read several books by Cardinal Ratzinger and found them very hard to read. Jesus of Nazareth is a keeper. Not only did I understand what he wrote, he left me in awe with his way of writing. The Holy Father is indeed the speaker of christians. I suspect that not only will Catholics purchase this book, but many non-catholics will do so as well.
Jesus of Nazareth will be a classic in Pope Benedict's lifetime.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
JESUS OF NAZARETH is the first book written by Pope Benedict XVI since he assumed the title. It is not a historical or biographical work, but rather a theological reflection on who Jesus was and is: his teachings, ministry and essence as the Son of God, whose paschal sacrifice won for us our redemption. It is the first of several planned books and is both clearly and eloquently written.
Beginning with an initial reflection on the Mystery of Jesus, Pope Benedict reflects upon different aspects of Jesus in each chapter:
1) The Baptism of Jesus
2) The Temptation of Jesus
3) The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
4) The Sermon on the Mount
5) The Lord's Prayer
6) The Disciples
7) The Message of the Parables
8) The Principal Images of John's Gospel
9) Two Milestones in Jesus' Way: Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
10) Jesus Declares His Identity
All of the reflections, which stand alone and can be read thematically or sequentially, are well done. The two chapters that I found to be exceptional were those on "The Disciples" and "The Message of the Parables." One caveat: While the book is beautifully written, it is best not to read it in short bits; rather one should devote time in a quiet space for proper reflection upon at least one chapter in its entirety.
With respect to other reviews, it appears that there are those who are reviewing the "man" rather than the book itself. As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict is unwavering in his assertion that the Catholic Church represents the fullness of Christianity - this is clear from his other writings and proclamations. While that should be expected, it is also important to note that Benedict has been, and continues to be, an ardent advocate for religious freedom. These two concepts are not incompatible. Still others argue that he is not using the John Dominic Crossan model as shown in "The Historical Jesus . . ." (in itself a fine work). This is true! The books are written for entirely different purposes.
JESUS OF NAZARETH is a fine resource for both study and reflective prayer. It is not the definitive work on Jesus: that description is reserved to the Sacred Scriptures. However, it is a marvelous brief study of the essence of Jesus.