Last week, The Guardian published its review of the Pope’s book Jesus of Nazareth part two. It will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with this well-known media outlet, that to call this review critical is somewhat of an understatement – but it is worth looking at nonetheless.
Written by Geza Vermes, an Oxford professor of Jewish Studies who converted to Catholicism, became a priest, and then returned to Judaism, it begins with an analysis of volume one in which he says:
“We were offered an old-fashioned story in which the gospels were taken quasi-literally and interpreted not in their historical framework, but in light of any passage picked ad lib from the Old and New Testament or from two millennia of Christian thought.”
And volume two is given short shrift too:
“The pope’s treatment of ‘the figure and the words of the Lord’ consists of mountains of pious and largely familiar musings. He provides unquestioning Christians with plenty of solace. But today’s many disturbed seekers after religious truth – people who long for fresh knowledge, inspiration and intellectual stimulus – had better look elsewhere for spiritual help.”
An opposing view
It is in strange contrast to other Jewish scholars who have recommended the book. Jacob Neusner, Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism at Bard College in New York argues the opposite.
“This theological masterpiece courageously confronts head-on two centuries of historical exegesis and establishes a fresh way of reading the Gospels as both biography and theology in a coherent way.
“The quest for the historical Jesus, as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact. It is focused too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus.
“Here we find a compelling model for the presentation of the life of holy rabbi, Hillel or Aqiba, in the same context as we account for the life of Jesus.”
“Pointing the finger”
But the most interesting thing about the Guardian’s piece is the tone, rather than the content. This becomes clear when the Oxford scholar looks at how Pope Benedict approaches the contentious question of who killed Jesus. He writes:
“A decree of the Second Vatican Council prevents the pope from following 19 centuries of Catholic tradition and pointing the finger at the Jews.”
Even his admission of the Pope’s Biblical scholarship is delivered with the same negative intonation.
“200 years of labour has not been in vain and that small fragment of New Testament criticism seems to have penetrated the mighty stronghold of traditional Christianity.”
In the foreword to the first volume, Joseph Ratzinger asked readers for “The initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.” Regrettably, he did not get it from the Guardian.
If you want to read the rest of the review, click here.
If you have not already done so, you can order the book and read all the pre-publication extracts here. If you do have the book, we welcome your comments and reviews!
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