Pontiff's Book on Christ Marks Many Firsts

Scholars Discuss Novelties of “Jesus of Nazareth”

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By Anna Maria Basquez

ROME, MARCH 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s latest book marks the first time a Pope has written so extensively on the life of Christ, as well as the first time a Pontiff has engaged modern historical scholarship, says the president of the publisher of the English-language translation of the Holy Father’s new book.

“Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week — From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” was presented Thursday in the Vatican. The Vatican Publishing House published the book in Italian, and Ignatius Press published it in English. It was also released by various publishers in German, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Polish.

Mark Brumley, president and CEO at Ignatius, said in comments to ZENIT that there are a number of factors that may make the book historic.

“There are a number of ‘firsts’ here. It’s the first time a Pope has written a book with this much depth on Jesus; it’s the first time the Pope has engaged modern historical scholarship; and this is the first time the Pope has balanced out the method of historical scholarship with a broader theological approach to the Bible,” Brumley said. “Those are three significant firsts.”

Biblical renewal

On Wednesday, Ignatius organized a conference call with leading theologians and clergy to discuss the volume.

Brant Pitre, Catholic theologian and professor of sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, noted during the discussion that the Holy Father’s new book answers the Second Vatican Council’s call for biblical renewal.

“One of the other renewals which […] sometimes gets less press, that the Vatican II, called for was a Biblical renewal to really make sacred Scripture the soul of sacred theology, and to unite history and faith in the interpretation of sacred Scripture,” Pitre said. “In the same way that Paul VI was the one who implemented the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, and you can say John Paul II really built upon the social teachings of Vatican II and other writings, so too Benedict XVI is really the Pope of the second Vatican Council when it comes to sacred Scripture.

“He sees himself exclusively as implementing the directives of Vatican II with regard to how Catholics read the Bible, how we interpret Scripture, both with history, language, culture and literature, but uniting those to tradition, to dogma and to the canon and the sacred Scripture.”

Vatican II

Father Thomas Weinandy, executive director for the Secretariat of Doctrine at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told ZENIT that Benedict XVI’s book is a “new genre” of Pontifical writing.

“This is the first time to my knowledge that a Pope, during his pontificate, has written now two books on Jesus in a scholarly yet contemplative manner and published them,” Weinandy said.

He noted that the Pontiff wrote the book as both a pastor and a scholar, “speaking as a theologian, but trying at the same time to address the scholarly community, and also to address the ordinary person so they would come to know the true Gospel, the mystery of faith better.”

Protestant biblical scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky and at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said during the teleconference that he did not think the book could have been written before Vatican II.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Jesus scholarship and writing books about Jesus, and one of the things I have seen in the (guild) of biblical scholars worldwide is that Catholic and Protestant (exegy) have come closer and closer together in their understanding of both historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, and then worked together to better understanding,” Witherington explained. “And I think this book is a very significant book that does precisely that, it helps us both with our knowledge and understanding of Jesus from a historical and critical point of view, but also with our faith. You see knowledge and vital piety in this book, and it’s a very welcome sight indeed.”


Pitre said in his comments during the discussion that he thought the implications of the book “are broad both for ecumenical directives in terms of unity between the Christians and finding common ground in Scripture, but also in calling for a real return to Scripture in the lives of Catholic faithful.”

Brumley added: “Reading this book helps Christians, especially Protestants and Catholics, and Christians and Jews, and believers and unbelievers overcome unnecessary differences, differences that arise from misunderstandings, misreading, and I would say even within our own Christian tradition misreading of the Gospel passages.

“The (Holy Father) did a great job of summarizing one of those misreadings, but also — our differences will be clearer. And I think that actually serves the cause of unity.”

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On the Net:

“Jesus of Nazareth”: www.ignatius.com/Products/JN2-H/jesus-of-nazareth.aspx    



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