Scholars: "Jesus of Nazareth" Adds Interactive Dimension to Lent

Vatican Launches 2nd Volume of Pope’s Life of Christ

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By Anna Maria Basquez

ROME, MARCH 10, 2011 ( The Vatican officially released Benedict XVI’s latest publication just after the last of the ashes had been distributed to Catholics worldwide to begin the Lenten season.

Advance sales of «Jesus of Nazareth Part II: Holy Week — From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,» reportedly topped one million within 10 hours of the release, according to

The book is Benedict XVI’s second volume on the life of Christ. Leading Scripture scholars from various denominations attended a teleconference organized by Ignatius Press on Ash Wednesday to discuss the book, during which it was said that the volume adds another dimension of interactivity with Scripture for Lent.

«The timing is significant,» said Father Thomas Weinandy, executive director for the Secretariat of Doctrine at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. «The book is on the Passion narrative of the Gospel. What it brings new to the Lenten experience is that you have the Pope who, you can tell from the book, has contemplated the Scriptures for a long time over the course of his life and has come to a very deep understanding of the Scriptures.

«All these mysteries of our faith the Pope is writing (about) in such a way to give us greater insight into these mysteries, but at the same time, he wants us to come into relationship with the mystery itself so that we come in contact with the Jesus who died for us or the Jesus who was raised from dead for us.

«The Pope wants to give us theological insight, but in doing so he wants us to have a deeper relationship with the Jesus with whom we are speaking and contemplating.»

Father Joseph Fessio, founder and publisher of Ignatius Press, who published the book in English, said it exemplifies the Pope’s goal to take results of historical criticism and scientific history done on Jesus and the Bible in the late 19th century and compliment it with an understanding «based on faith and awareness of what the disciples of Jesus have thought and said over the centuries.»

«He’s trying to present the figure, and the message of Jesus […] in a way that can lead to a personal encounter with him,» Father Fessio added. «It exemplifies the way he’s reading, with the eyes of faith, the scriptural passages.»

Some recommended an accompanying study guide that will be available in two weeks to help with daily reflection.

A slow read

Weinandy said he recommends reading the book slowly — perhaps one or two sections at a time along with daily meditations.

Doctor Brant Pitre, Catholic theologian and professor of sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary said: «This year, there is no need to look for good Lenten reading: Benedict XVI’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is a perfect guide to the mysteries of the life of Jesus that Catholics know so well from the Mass, but which they are often longing to know more deeply.»

«It’s the best book I’ve read on Jesus in years,» said Doctor Craig Evans, Protestant Scripture scholar and professor at Acadia University in Canada. «A couple of things that stood out to me too was the sensitivity, and I think historical accuracy, in the assessment of the factors leading up to the Jewish revolt, the destruction of the temple. I think Benedict is quite right in seeing how the policy of the aristocratic priesthood was just almost fated to result in that catastrophe.»

«It’s a great book,» he added, «a remarkable achievement would be a benefit to everyone and anyone who reads it.»

Mark Brumley, Ignatius Press CEO, co-authored the study guide.

He suggested an approach to reading the book: «Read a bit of the book and reflect on it in light of a personal call for repentance and the main goal of the Holy Father which is a personal encounter of the world.

«As I read the first chapter of the book, I should reflect on, what does it mean for my personal conversion and how does the Lord call me to change my life and in what way and to think about how I encounter Jesus better. The study guide includes questions for reflection and for understanding as the readers read the book.»«If someone thinks the book is too far above them,» he added, «the study guide is there to help overcome that distance.»

Back to Scripture

One panelist suggested during the teleconference that the book could have been written by a Protestant.

«Even though it was said that it could have been written by a Protestant, it would have been a very unusual Protestant,» Father Fessio commented in an e-mail to ZENIT. «While Benedict is simply going back to Scripture and presenting its meaning and deep unity, he does it from within Catholic tradition. But since that tradition in fact gives us the real interpretation of the texts themselves, intelligent Protestants can appreciate and agree with what the Pope says.

«However, when the Pope talks about the kind of unity Christ intended when he prayed that ‘all may be one,’ a careful reading will show that he clearly believes that Jesus desired a single visible, Church.»

Another topic Benedict XVI addresses is that of peace. He writes: «At a later date, though, it would become clear that peace, in the final analysis, cannot be established at the expense of truth.»

Father Fessio said the passage is in reference to Pilate, who he said «knew Jesus wasn’t guilty, but was willing to permit the Jews to have their way even though it meant sacrificing an innocent man. Pilate did this for the sake of ‘peace,’ of preserving order during the Passover season.

«Benedict certainly believes in law and order. But, and this is a crucial qualification, it must be based on truth, not on expediency. There are many modern day examples of the problem. The most obvious one is abortion. Most countries have ‘laws’ permitting the slaughter of innocent unborn children. Pilate lives. Christ is daily executed.»

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