The historical-critical method of looking at the Gospels is central to the Pope’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth II (being released tomorrow), but as Dom Henry Wansbrough explains, the Holy Father is proposing a new way of understanding them.
Pope Benedict claims in his book to use and build on the historical-critical method. However, his real aim is to produce a “faith hermeneutic”. What does this mean? It is superbly illustrated by the opening chapter on the Entry into Jerusalem. Benedict looks not only at the incident itself but forwards and backwards.
The example of a donkey
He looks backwards in that he delves profoundly into the overtones of the description which would be familiar to the original hearers of the account. The most obvious allusion is to the humble king who chooses a donkey as his mount, no warlike steed. This excludes any interpretation which sees Jesus’ entry into the city as a political revolutionary movement. But there is plenty that is kingly: the donkey itself is an allusion to the royal blessing on Judah in Genesis 49.
The requisitioning of transport is a royal right. Jesus is set on the donkey by his followers just as Solomon was set on his mount by his followers at his coronation. More than kingly, the praise of the children is reminiscent of Psalm 8, the praise to God “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.” None of this could be seen at the time, but the account is no flat and factual recital, and all these overtones are described as ‘hidden in the prophetic vision’.
A vision of the future
He looks forward too, to the Church’s liturgy. The ‘Hosanna’ is an ‘anticipation of the great outpouring of praise’, for the ‘Hosanna’ enters the Church’s liturgy in the earliest liturgical document of all, the Didache. The entry into Jerusalem was not forgotten as “a thing of the past. Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.” This is what is meant by “a faith hermeneutic.”
Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB is Chairman of the Trustees of the Catholic Biblical Association and served on the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
You can pre-order the book and read all the pre-publication extracts here.
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