Pope Benedict’s new book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week has been out since last Thursday, and the responses have been somewhat predictable, though I don’t necessarily mean that negatively. From my perspective as an Old Testament scholar, it’s a bit, though not entirely, like reading back through the James Barr – Brevard Childs scenario.
I got my copy of the book on Thursday evening and finished it on Saturday evening (Sidenote: I’ve said this elsewhere, but I love the typeface Ignatius Press uses – it is very easy on my eyes). Now, I plan on taking some time to go back through to think more deeply about some of the passages that struck me in a first reading. I’ve been trying to get to my computer to write something, but it just hasn’t worked out. To begin, I’ll try to boil this down as simply as possible:
If you can appreciate a canonical reading of the gospels, you will appreciate the book (for more on Pope Benedict’s methodology in exegesis, I’d recommend Scott Hahn’s Covenant and Communion, which is a fairly quick read). If, however, you cannot appreciate a canonical reading of the gospels, you probably will not appreciate the book. These are pretty broad, sweeping generalizations that do not completely hold throughout; however, this is just a short blog post, so generalizations will have to do ;-).
Either way, whether one agrees with the approach that Pope Benedict takes or not, I would argue that Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week is important reading. Benedict XVI is the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world, and as such, is arguably one of the most important religious figures in the world. He has written a book about arguably the most important religious figure in the history of the world. Thus, someone who wants to feel like they are well-informed about Christianity in the modern world should consider reading the book.
From my own perspective, I try to follow the advice of the Pontifical Biblical Commission document – “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.” This document recommends reading texts from a variety of different perspective: text critical, source critical, form critical, canonical, etc. (see Section I). Thus, I believe I can pick up books from authors of a variety of different perspectives and potentially gain something. As such, I appreciate readings that focus on the final form of a text, whether a literary approach like that of Robert Alter, or a more canonical approach like the one taken by Pope Benedict.
At a more personal level, I feel as though Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week was enriching for me from the perspective of my faith formation. One thing that I do agree with in Geza Vermes’ critique of the book is that the book is somewhat like an extended homily. For him that seems to be a weakness of the book. Yet from my own perspective, I was very much in need of this extended homily. I hope to post on some of my favorite sections from the book throughout this week.