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Jesus: A Pilgrimage
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 11, 2014
Jesus: A Pilgrimage begins with an introduction that clearly lays out what the book is and more importantly, what the book is not. I point this out because, I generally go in with preconceived notions of what I expect or want from a book. Fr. Martin is quick to point out that this book is not a theological discussion on who Jesus is, nor is it a Bible commentary. This book, however, is a look at Jesus, as we see Him in the Gospels, through the viewpoint of Fr. Martin's education, experience, and a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If we keep this in mind when reading the book, we can give it a proper review.

Each chapter is laid out in the same format. Fr. Martin first mentions the place he is going to visit. He then describes the journey there. Details from this include the actual process of travelling to the location, scenery along the way, and bits of the culture and environment he encountered. Then, comes the heart of each chapter - his reflections. Mixed with theology, history, tradition, and Fr. Martin's wisdom and wit, we put ourselves in the exact moment and location of Jesus and try and picture what it must have been like for both Jesus and those around Him. We then end with the Scripture passage which served as the basis for the site Fr. Martin visited.

The most interesting chapter in this book to me was entitled, "Nazareth." In this chapter Fr. Martin talks about the "Hidden Life" of Jesus. This term refers to the period of Jesus' life, age 12-30, that is absent in the Bible. Fr. Martin, like many, are drawn to this period of Jesus' life because they imagine it is a lot like our lives. "None of us is going to be preaching and performing miracles - at least not as Jesus did - but all of us live everyday lives, as Jesus did in Nazareth, being taught and cared for by our parents, loving and squabbling with our families, playing with our friends, learning what it means to be an adult, and in time earning a living." I never thought of Jesus in this light, but it does make sense. In this chapter, I also learned about just how small and poor Nazareth was. Knowing this, it really puts into perspective the disparaging remarks people make regarding Nazareth. It also shows you the environment Jesus grew up in, and influenced his parables.

Fr. Martin is an excellent storyteller. He does a fine job painting pictures of the places he visited, and he draws out details in the Gospels that one could easily miss. There were, however, parts of this book that I didn't enjoy. The beginning annoyed me a little when he waffled about wanting to go to the Holy Land. (Really what Christian, wouldn't want to see the place of Jesus?!) I also got bored in the beginning reading about the trek to get to each of their destinations, and would think to myself, "Hurry up and get there." However, I eventually accepted that that was the nature of this book as a personal pilgrimage. It would be incomplete to ignore the journey and focus solely on the destination. Those complaints aside, I still enjoyed the book. It was quite interesting to see Jesus, the Gospel passages, and the modern day Holy Land through the eyes of Fr. Martin.

This book was provided to me for free by Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review.
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on March 19, 2014
I've read several of Fr. Martin's books and this one is possibly the best one of all. I've always wanted to visit Israel and take in the sites and reading this book, I feel like I'm there with him. He writes with such humor, wit and insight that it is hard to put this book down. Like the author says, this isn't a theology book, but a book about his travels seen through the lens of his faith (as a Catholic and Jesuit priest) - but his writing is "down to earth" and accessible. He isn't writing it just for Catholics or Christians necessarily, so I think anyone with an interest in the Jesus of history and/or Jesus of faith will find something to like here. I've never met Fr. Martin but I think he would be an excellent teacher and a fun person to travel with - and all of that comes out in this book. I just wish he could write books more quickly so we didn't have to wait so long between them - ha ha!
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on March 15, 2014
It's difficult to fit this marvelous book comfortably into any one genre. Some of it is personal memoir of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land the author made with a fellow-Jesuit (for example, the author's search for a site, the Bay of Parables, whose location stumps everyone except a German Benedictine). Part of it is exegesis, with an exploration of the sometimes hidden meaning of the New Testament's original Greek (did you know, for example, that the Greek word, existasthai, for "to be amazed" that Mark uses to describe those who have just witnessed one of Jesus's healings means "to stand outside oneself," to be so amazed that one's yanked out of one's intellectual skin? Part of it is pastoral/devotional reflection on events recorded in scripture. (In reflecting on the Eucharist, for example, Martin muses on how Jesus moved his "body" from place to place to give himself to others, and how we're called to do likewise--to go where we can feed people.)

In the hands of a less skilled and less insightful author, combining these three genres between a single volume could be a train wreck. But Martin pulls off the job seamlessly. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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on December 2, 2017
Let me make the most important point first: if you are a Christian, Catholic or Protestant, and you want a closer relationship with Jesus, read this book. And, if you are not a Christian, but find the story of Jesus and Jesus' teachings to be thought-provoking, and you want to know more about this Jesus, read this book. You will not be disappointed.

This is the first book of Father Martin's that I've read. (I liked it so much, I bought his later work, "Seven Last Words," and look forward to reading it). What I expected was a well-written, pious series of meditations on the life of Jesus. Well, "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" is definitely well written. And the meditations on the life of Jesus are pious, but they are much more than that. Father Martin's reflections on the central events of the Gospels are profoundly practical. Reading this book can, and almost certainly will, make you a better person and a better follower of Jesus, and the book's theological insights are balanced by very practical wisdom on how the Gospels can be applied to the challenges and problems of your daily life.

I would characterize this book as proceeding simultaneously on three levels. Although written in clear prose that is accessible to the average layperson, the book's structure is rather complex. On one level, "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" is a vivid account of Father Martin's pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His description of the holy sites he visited is particularly well done. The details and imagery are what one would expect from a good novelist. I could visualize the places he was describing, and in so doing, I could visualize how Jesus experienced these towns, seas, mountains, and great cities. For those of us who probably will never get to visit the Holy Land, Father Martin's book is probably as close as we can get to actually visiting the places that Jesus saw and experienced in His life.

On a second level, "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" is also a scholarly work on the life of the historical Jesus. I wasn't expecting the serious scholarship that characterizes this book. Father Martin has read the major works published in recent decades on the historical Jesus, and he uses this scholarship to deepen our encounter with Jesus the man, and Jesus, the Son of God. The footnotes and bibliography in "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" clearly demonstrate that this is a book by a serious scholar. I've already bought a few of the books that Father Martin references, and I hope to read much more about the historical Jesus in coming years.

On the third level, "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" contains a series of deeply personal, beautiful, and quite practical meditations on the central events of the life of Jesus. It is this aspect of the book that makes it a classic. Father Martin shares his own experiences and how they deepened his understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how we can become better followers of Jesus. As a spiritual advisor, Father Martin is a blessing to those of us who are struggling with the challenges of life: addiction, despair, doubt, inability to forgive, and the dark night of the soul when it feels as if God has abandoned us.

If all of this sounds like pretty heavy reading, well, it is in a way. This is not an easy book. One must read slowly and reflect thoughtfully while reading this book. So, you have to do some work as a reader of this book. However, the work is well worth it. But don't be put off. Father Martin also has--hooray!--a sense of humor and a writing style that makes it seem as if he is sitting in your home talking with you. I'm not sure how Father Martin pulls it off, but reading "Jesus: A Pilgrimage," one is aware that this is a scholarly work about the historical Jesus AND a well-written description of the Holy Land AND a collection of wise spiritual insights, but you never feel as if you're being preached at or lectured to. Rather you feel as if you're having a wonderful chat with a good friend. And you feel sad when you've come to the end of it, which I always think is a sign of a truly wonderful book.
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on March 18, 2014
I have laughed out loud, been moved to contemplative prayer on aspects of Jesus' life and brought to tears, and I'm not completely finished with this book. I have read several of Father Jim's books, and he continues in this one to write in easy to read but informative prose. I find it hard to put down. The book weaves his joyful enthusiasm for the Gospel with his personal travel to the Holy Land with a brother Jesuit. I felt like I was there with him in the crowded, noisy Church of the Nativity, riding with the cab driver in Bethlehem and also at the peaceful Bay of Parables. Father Jim is down to earth, intelligent, inspiring and funny and this book reflects all of that. If you don't have a copy, what are you waiting for?
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on December 24, 2017
This book gave me much to ponder. My favorite chapters, though, were chapters 14 and 15. The 14th was about the man who was possessed by "Legion". His demons were tied by the author to our demons and how they possess us. The 15th was about Lazarus which he tied to our focus on the inconsequential when speaking to God. On page 326, he writes what he would have liked to say to Martha; " 'Just look beside you: its Jesus! Surrender yourself to what he is about to do, and stop focusing on the smell.' " In fact, now I say (to myself) "but he stinketh" when I get distracted by something that God could easily handle if I would just focus. It helps me realize that I am blocking God. There are other ideas in that chapter that are so very helpful, intriguing and yet simply written, so that anyone could understand them in their profundity.
I rarely keep books because I move from place to place for different reasons. Books are heavy and require space that I don't always have, so very few are kept but this one is a keeper.
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on March 18, 2014
I found this book to be both an easy read and a difficult one! There were aspects of the book (such as the descriptions of the scenery etc) that were quick to read but other parts - how those scenes relate to the Gospels and how we might incorporate the teachings into our lives today that took a bit more thought and time to fully "consume". Overall I loved this book and believe that I learned a great deal from it. Additionally, I think the visual imagery Fr. Jim included will help me a great deal in my prayer life.
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on May 4, 2015
I don't think I can say enough good things about this book. I've liked everything I've ever seen from Fr. James Martin but he really outdid himself with this. He took a trip to the Holy Land, and in this book he reflects on that trip. But it's not just a travelogue. He traces the life of Jesus in time order by giving each site a chapter of its own.

Each chapter begins with his personal experience on the site as well as discussions of its historicity or lack thereof. He talks about archaeological evidence and "historical Jesus" scholarship.

Then he takes the stories themselves and tries to imagine what's missing around the edges--and surely anyone must admit there are gaps in the stories, things that don't quite make sense. WHY would he say that? What was the context? Things are missing that we, as modern readers, really want to know. He's very clear that this is speculation, and often he offers several possibilities.

Then and only then he breaks open the meaning of the Gospel stories for daily life. This structure makes for a sizable book, but it was so worth reading. It made Jesus real to me in a way no religion class, scripture study or preaching ever has.
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I am not generally a fan of books on spirituality. Theology and religious history, yes. Spirituality, no. And yet, Fr. Martin’s books strike a nice balance between the theology and history, and the meaning it has in his life, which he then eases into an examination of the reader’s life. For someone like me, it is the best kind of spiritual writing.

In this book, Fr. Martin examines the life of Jesus based on his reading of various gospel stories and a recent pilgrimage visit—his first, actually—to the Holy Land. The chapters basically follow the same general pattern. Fr. Martin and his traveling companion, George, visit a site in the Holy Land from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to the Sea of Galilee. We get a slice of their trip, the meaning it has to Fr. Martin, the connection to the gospels, a bit of theology, and the ways in which this part of Jesus’ life might have a more general spiritual meaning for the reader. Each chapter then finishes with the related gospel passage. It is a nice development.

On the other hand, if I’m being honest, Fr. Martin is not always the most effective writer. His decision to order the book by following events in the life of Jesus as opposed to the order of the places he went during his pilgrimage means that the book as a whole has an odd through line. It jumps around. It is better read as individual chapters, like meditations. Also, Fr. Martin’s constant reminders of how hot it was in the Holy Land come across as rather shallow and distracting.

Still, Fr. Martin is brilliant at weaving in anecdotes from his own experience to illustrate a point he is trying to make. It is a wonderful way to make the lessons of Jesus meaningful to a modern audience. And he has enough variety and experience in the “real world”—he didn’t become a Jesuit until after he’d worked a corporate job for a number of years—that he can sustain a number of different points. He is passionate and knowledgeable without being preachy.

I don’t know if this is the kind of book that will make converts; however, for someone with a Christian background or someone interested in Christianity, this book helps with understanding why Jesus has such a powerful effect on so many. It is the kind of book that can take almost anyone deeper into understanding their faith. That makes it very worthwhile.
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on October 5, 2017
I have never travelled to Jerusalem and have always wondered what it will be like to physically, emotionally and spiritually experience the places that I have come to be familiar with in the Bible?

Well, this book has been a most enlightening read for me.. as I was bought along by the author on his wonderful pilgrimage of the places that Jesus walked, prayed, ministered, and performed his miracles.. I love the fact that the author would also share the relevant bible passages for each setting, and to bridge each historical locality with a current experience discussion, thereby providing a devotional aspect to the book.

Although I was sorry to see the pilgrimage end, the book has also opened up a new journey for me... teaching me to read the bible anew now from another deeper perspective...
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