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Jesus von Nazareth (Book I), by Joseph Ratzinger Tom Send a noteboard - 12/02/2012 12:52:30 AM
I haven't reviewed any books that I've read this year because (1) I've been too damn busy and (2) I haven't read any fiction this year, and writing reviews for non-fiction books is frequently difficult to manage effectively.

However, I still may go back and write reviews of the other books that I've read. I did manage to read a significant amount in early January because work was still just picking up after the holidays, but honestly, this is the first day in three weeks I haven't been working overly full days, and it's really because I need to take at least one day and do "nothing".

As a result, I managed to finish reading the first volume of Ratzinger's Jesus von Nazareth. It's been translated by the Vatican into many different languages and I'm fairly certain most people could find it in their native language (barring any native speakers of, say, Nahuatl, Basque or Tibetan, or similar languages). I don't really consider that the two volumes which have come out (a third is promised) to be part of a "series" - they're pretty much standalone books. I do plan on going on to Volume II immediately after writing this review, though.

The books are essentially theology, though the format is such that one might call the books a "theological biography". Despite this designation, I would personally hesitate to call the books "biography", because no attempt is made at examining the historicity of Jesus or the Gospels. The books, like others written by Ratzinger, assume that the reader is a believer at some level and examine the Gospels from a Catholic perspective.

I decided to read the books because I did enjoy Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity and Volume I at least did not fail to impress in a similar fashion. Ratzinger's insight and understanding of theology is impressive, and his exegesis is thoughtful and deep. Moreover, I do not think that Protestants or Orthodox Christians would find much with which they would be inclined to disagree in the exegesis - the thornier issues that divide the various denominations of Christianity are largely ignored, perhaps because most of them are thorny for lack of Scriptural guidance. Regardless, the result is a book that I think many would find an enjoyable read.

Certainly, an atheist or agnostic will only find the books interesting to the extent that theology is a personal hobby or vocation, or to the extent that agnostics in particular are willing to entertain the possibility that Christianity is a valid reflection of a spiritual reality. On the other hand, I think that Jewish readers would find the book compelling, because it at many points addresses the Jewish context of the Gospels with a level of erudition and respect that I have rarely seen.

There were a few points where I found myself wishing that I had an opportunity to press Ratzinger on some of the points that he made. For example, if disciples of Jesus were assuming that he was Elijah or Jeremiah, or that John the Baptist was Elijah returned, does that not, in and of itself, imply that reincarnation or metempsychosis of some sort was entertained as a possibility by Jews in the time of Jesus? If so, why then must we wait for the Pauline letters for a refutation of that concept?

I was also somewhat surprised at Ratzinger's exegesis of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. While I know that Ratzinger is deeply antagonistic to "liberation theology" and anything that approaches Marxism (an antagonism which, incidentally, I share), his statement that Lazarus, stabbed and left dead on the doorstep of the rich man, is a metaphor for Christ and the Church, dead on the doorstep of a "rich" and "complacent" Israel, seems to be wilfully ignoring the direct statement about wealth and poverty. There were several other places where Ratzinger studiously turns what seems to be a socioeconomic message into a more deeply metaphoric and spiritual one. While I don't discount his interpretations, I think he has avoided talking about wealth in a Christian setting on the basis of an anti-Marxist confessional stance.

These criticisms do not materially affect the book's overall quality, however. Volume I is Ratzinger at his best, providing well-thought exegesis and writing as a passionate advocate of his belief system. He is not afraid to quote non-canonical (even openly heretical) books where there is good reason, and he is also current in his treatment of authorship of Scripture, discussing "Deutero-Isaiah" and not attributing to Paul the letters that current scholarship believes to be written by others and ascribed to Paul (referring to "the author of Hebrews", while saying "Paul" when talking about 1 Corinthians). His dating of books of the Bible also reflects modern scholarship.

I read the book in German because, as I have stated on numerous occasions, I think that there is a real advantage to avoiding translations and reading authors in their original languages. To a certain extent, I am glad that I did this as there was a small amount of word-play in a few places in the book, and I'm not sure how a translator would handle them (it probably would work in other languages with a little effort, but I didn't bother to ponder how).

I recommend the book to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting based on this review. It is a solid work of theology with deep insight.
Political correctness is the pettiest form of casuistry.

ἡ δὲ κἀκ τριῶν τρυπημάτων ἐργαζομένη ἐνεκάλει τῇ φύσει, δυσφορουμένη, ὅτι δὴ μὴ καὶ τοὺς τιτθοὺς αὐτῇ εὐρύτερον ἢ νῦν εἰσι τρυπώη, ὅπως καὶ ἄλλην ἐνταῦθα μίξιν ἐπιτεχνᾶσθαι δυνατὴ εἴη. – Procopius

Ummaka qinnassa nīk!

This message last edited by Tom on 12/02/2012 at 12:53:36 AM
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Jesus von Nazareth (Book I), by Joseph Ratzinger - 12/02/2012 12:52:30 AM 6578 Views
Do you know of any works by Ratzinger that directly address Ontological and Cosmological issues? *NM* - 12/02/2012 01:54:08 PM 445 Views
Not that I am aware of. - 12/02/2012 02:18:47 PM 883 Views
Ah, that's a pity. - 12/02/2012 09:11:18 PM 954 Views

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