Pope Benedict's Historical Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth

When it comes to understanding the life of Jesus, one has to rely on the Gospels which were composed decades later. Considering that the Gospels, both the canonical and the heretic like the Gospel of Judas were written with the aim of glorifying Jesus, the bias in it would not be, let us say, minuscule.

The Gospels were not first hand accounts, but oral tradition written down much later and from the Gospels it cannot be decided what is historical and what is not, for the authors of Gospels were evangelists, not historians. Students of Israel’s history and early Christianity are warned not to confuse the events described in the Old Testament and New Testament as actual events.

Pope Benedict in his new book on Jesus of Nazareth claims that the tale of Jesus is not myth, but then suggests that since the Gospels  are divinely inspired, faith is required for understanding the text. There is no problem with such a statement coming from a religious leader writing a book for liturgy, but it looks odd in a book which claims to be about the historical Jesus. This has upset the New Testament scholars because the Pope asks for inner openness to understand the spiritual insights and the divinity of Jesus.

Fourth, Jesus did not understand himself to be God. According to Mark 10:18, when someone addressed him as “good teacher,” Jesus responded by insisting, “No one is good except God alone.” Whether this reflects Jesus or Mark or both (scholarly opinion is divided), such a statement cannot be twisted by theological exegesis to support a claim for Jesus’ divinity. Therefore, the pope does not deal with such passages, since they clearly contradict his fundamental thesis.

Were its author not the pope, this book would garner no other academic attention than to be cited as an embarrassing gaffe that would soon gather dust even on church bookshelves. But because it comes from the pen of the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and casts reason squarely before the juggernaut of faith, the intellectual scandal it represents must be denounced—if only on behalf of those Roman Catholics whose native honesty compels them to engage in historical-critical exegesis [AN EMBARRASSING MISREPRESENTATION via Forbidden Gospels]

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