The Pope’s Life of Jesus


Jesus of Nazareth remains a disturbing presence, a question mark hanging over uneasy Western world-views. Some invoke him unquestioningly as the divine, redeeming Son of God. Others dismiss him as a minor figure whose followers invented stories about him and a religion around him. No serious historian doubts his existence, though some (noted and refuted by Maurice Casey in his trenchant introductory survey) still try. What we have, rather, in general and in the writings surveyed here, is a bewildering range of viewpoints, which with only a slight stretch could be described as pre-modern, modern and postmodern: in this case, a German, an Englishman and a North American. As Barack Obama said of a different trio (recent guest speakers in Westminster Hall), this is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke. Curiously, the Pope features in both trios. As his visit to Britain last year confirmed, Benedict XVI is by no means the hard-nosed dogmatic disciplinarian many had assumed. Deeply orthodox, of course. But he makes it clear in the preface to the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth (reviewed in the TLS, January 25, 2008) that he is not writing ex cathedra but contributing to discussion and devotion. Everyone is free to disagree with him. His project also reflects unflagging energy. For a man in his eighties to write a serious multi-volume work on Jesus (he promises a third instalment, on the infancy narratives) is remarkable enough. When the author happens to be the chief pastor of over a billion Catholics, it is truly extraordinary.

more from Tom Wright at the TLS here.