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4.5 out of 5 stars
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2013
I bought this as soon as it was published (beginning of December 2012) and began to read it as soon as it arrived. I tend only to read at bedtime when I am tired, (not the best) but this book really gripped me. The pace was easy and the explanations very thought provoking and interesting. It was very good to read the Pope's meditations on the Nativity Stories over this time of year. I particularly like his cross referencing within the Bible as he showed how the Nativity stories both fulful the Old Testament predictions of Christ and point in themselves to Christ's saving Passion, Death and Resurrection. This is definitely a book to read over the Advent and Christmas season, but of course is not limited to this time of year. It is not too scholarly and would interest anyone interested in finding out who is Jesus of Nazareth. A very good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2013
This account of the infancy narratives is remarkably clear and accessible to people who are not experts in Biblical scholarship. The book is small in compass, but contains all that the reader could wish to know, with references given to other scholars who might dissent from some of the conclusions that the Holy Father draws. I would emphasise that one does not have to be a Roman Catholic (like myself) to benefit from, and enjoy, this book. Dr Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) is, of course, a Biblical scholar of the first rank, and this little work is German scholarship at its best.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2013
This is the third and last of the series written by Pope Benedict XVI., under the general title JESUS OF NAZARETH.
It provides the background to Jesus' birth and early life. The subject is treated with exegetical rigour, but the style is simple, direct, and leads to "lectio divina" for those who want to experience a deeper commitment to the Scriptural text.
The story of Christmas is moving in its simplicity. The book will appeal to the student of Scriptures and to those who wish to deepen their spiritual life.
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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
"Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives" is the concluding volume in Pope Benedict's trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth. It is the slimmest of the three books, but it's presented at the same level of accessible scholarship that characterizes the other two books in the trilogy. It is a work that is simultaneously scholarly and yet highly inspirational, and it's written with Benedict's characteristic thoughtfulness and sincerity.

Pope benedict addresses all the main points of the infancy narratives - the genealogies, the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, the conception and the birth of Jesus, virgin birth, the Wise Men form the east, and the epilogue of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. The book is written in Pope Benedict's characteristic manner of combining critical scholarship and biblical exegesis with the fidelity to the essential trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Scripture. People familiar with Pope Benedict's writing will know to expect a keen and refined intellect that is equally at ease at Biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral exhortations. Pope moves effortlessly between critical and insightful exegesis, highly developed theology, and effective and imminent preaching. He tries to discern the authors' motives and intentions when writing particular passages, and yet he never dismisses any piece of narrative as naïve an quaint as many of the more "enlightened" biblical scholars these days are all to eager to do.

Catholic Church is truly blessed to have in the person of Pope Benedict all the virtues and functions that it aspires to manifest and carry out corporally as an institution. Pope's writing is very lucid and accessible, but it demands a certain level of familiarity with the more nuanced details of the Gospel narratives. Even though there are numerous scriptural quotations throughout the book I find that having a copy of the Bible on the side to be very useful. Sometimes it is important to look up the entire passage or the chapter from which the quote is taken. The translation that is used in this book is RSV, but any other popular English translation will do.

Even though he is an eminent theologian and leader of the over billion strong Catholic Church, Pope Benedict at no point uses his own eminent status to impose his views on the reader. He engages in a scholarly dialogue with other theologians and exegetes, and many of his statements are laced with qualifications. He comes across as someone who relishes intellectual vibrancy that may lead reasonable well-informed people to conclusions that are different from his own. He aims to persuade his readers by the reasonableness of his views, and not by the authority of his office or the scholarly accomplishments.

This book was published a few weeks before the Advent 2012, and it gives a good opportunity for all Christians to reflect on the profound mysteries of incarnation of Son of God. Of all Christian holy days, Christmas has been the most distorted though in the eyes of the popular culture. Every year it falls to faithful Christians to resist the temptations of the consumerist culture and try to remove themselves to a quiet place from where they can contemplate the true essence of Jesus's birth and infancy. The Gospel writers' main aim when composing the infancy narratives was to answer one simple yet profound question: who is Jesus and where does he come from? The answer to this question is equally profound and momentous for our lives as Christians. In meditating on it we can hopefully get one step closer to understanding the mystery that is Jesus Christ and how it affects our lives. Pope Benedict's book may not be the definitive answer to that question, but it is certainly as good as the best such answers in the two millennia of Christianity.

As mentioned before, this is a very short book -144 pages in the printed form (I have read the Kindle edition). It is a very quick read and can easily be read in one sitting, or in two hours at the most. However, the depth and intimacy of this book would be best appreciated if it's read slowly and with the appreciation for all the nuances of the arguments it offers.

There are some indications that this might be the last major book written by Pope Benedict XVI. I certainly hope that this is not the case. The World needs constant evangelization, and a person of his sensibility, intellect, and courage is an important and powerful voice.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2012
I have journeyed through the Octave of Christmas 2012 in the light of the understanding of Scripture of Pope Benedict XVI, his third volume 'Jesus of Nazareth'.

His third volume appears to be a straightforward progression through the infancy narratives, but I soon discovered his thoughts to be more of a glorious lectio divina than of a commentary, made with the freedom of one who has such erudition within the summit of his mind, making it all the more theological in consequence. He sees and interprets every event in the infancy marratives that Scripture presents, observing all the prophecies that precede and viewing in all the circumstances volumes of significance for Christ's mission and ministry. Perhaps the most memorable feature of the book are such investigations that conclude with, "I tend to regard as the one true explanation..." or "It seems natural to me...", and I sat and savoured his closing comments regarding the 'finding in the temple': "It becomes quite apparent that [Jesus] is true man and true God, as the Church's faith expresses it. The interplay between the two is something that we cannot ultimately define. It remains a mystery, and yet emerges quite concretely in the short narrative about the twelve-year-old Jesus. At the same time, this story opens a door to the figure of Jesus as a whole, which is what the Gospels go on to recount."

There are some truly magical moments, quite often as asides (or deviations to follow a thread of thought, eg end of page 42 where he considers "the lofty theological task assigned to the child") and parts that are cosmic in their scope (eg mid page 100 where he considers "the language of creation").

I think this is a book that will reside in the memory of those who savour it as the scent of incense lingers long after the sound of the chant has died away, echoes that resonate in the heart.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2014
'There is no greater vocation for a Pope than to preach the gospel with conviction and urgency' (publisher's note on flyleaf). It's hard to disagree with this. The publisher goes on to claim that 'it is a masterpiece of its kind', and this is a claim we can sensibly examine. What kind of book is it, and is it a masterpiece?
It is certainly a book of very great strengths, as we should expect from the head of the Catholic Church. Ratzinger knows his NT well, and his OT too. As many reviewers have observed, it is wonderfully readable and concrete, in the best traditions of German scholarship. More, it is illuminating, drawing parallels and making connections - Jesus as the OT 'tent of meeting' who was 'pitched among us' (pp 11 and 22); the contrast between the annunciation of John the Baptist and that of Jesus (p 20); the way God puts himself at risk of rejection by Mary (p 36); the links between Matthew's Nativity story and Isaiah 1:3 (bringing us the ox and the ass), Psalm 72:10, and Isaiah 60 (responsible for the camels and dromedaries); the way in which the Gentile term 'King of the Jews', famously written by the Roman soldiers over the cross, reminds us of its earlier use by the Magi.
Moreover he is consistently respectful of Jesus' Jewish heritage, character, and family, notably in his discussion of 'the just man' (pp 19ff); and there is an elegant, almost Jungian discussion of the archetype of the virgin and child (p 55). These features of the book - making connections, writing concretely, exploring symbolism, respect for the values of the text - are all qualities of the great literary critics, and Ratzinger can hold his head up in that company.
So, why only two stars? For three reasons.
First, its inconsistency on the subject of Biblical inerrancy (the belief that every word of the Bible is true). Where it suits his argument, Ratzinger treats the text as inerrant (p xi, or the discussion on p 117 of Isaiah's prophecies). Where it doesn't, as in the meaning of the angels' words (p 74) or the contradictory genealogies supplied by Matthew and Luke, he treats them as symbolic statements rather than literally true: 'It seems to me utterly futile to formulate hypotheses on this matter. Neither evangelist is concerned so much with the individual names as with the symbolic structure' (p 8).
Second, it stupendously fails to meet the first criterion it sets itself, namely 'to ask what the respective authors intended to convey through their texts in their own day'. It shows (and this must be deliberate) a complete refusal to consider the historical context, both for the events of the Bible, and for the writing of the Bible. The evangelists wrote for different audiences, crafting their narrative to suit the historical context (for example, the rivalry between the disciples of Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist, or the need to play down Jesus' Jewish identity and mission so that they could appeal to a Gentile world); they wrote in Greek after 70 AD, and showed little interest in, or respect for, the testimony of the Aramaic-speaking disciples; the placing of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem is highly appropriate as a symbolic statement of his Davidic pedigree, but contradicts everything we know of the Roman legal and constitutional world of its time. And if this is true for the NT, it is even more true of the OT. Ratzinger's discussion on pp 46-51) of the famous Isaiah prophecy (Is 7:14) is a shining example. Believers can choose to take that prophecy as pointing forward to Jesus, but there is no evidence that the prophets were doing anything other than commenting on their own time.
The criticisms of the book that I have made so far are to some extent matters of judgement: I take one approach to Scripture, Ratzinger takes another. But there is one overwhelming criticism, one piece of 'wilful blindness', that we cannot ignore. Ratzinger uses the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14 - 'a virgin shall conceive and bear a son'. But Bible scholars have known for well over a century that that is not what the Hebrew Bible says. The word translated as 'parthenos' - virgin - in the Septuagint, was originally written as 'alma' - young woman, maiden - in the Hebrew. The word has no implications of virginity. It is not a prophecy of a magical event. It just says, somewhat unsurprisingly, that a young girl will have a baby.
This reading of Isaiah is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact, as any Bible commentary will make clear (see eg Dewey, Which Bible?, p 70). Ratzinger must know this (and if he doesn't, it is appalling that nobody told him). And this consistent refusal to face the historical context of the events of the Bible undermines the whole of what would otherwise be a lovely book. As a study of the symbolism of the Infancy Narratives, it is beautiful. But as history, these carefully constructed stories have no more truth value than the Easter Bunny, and a Pope should know this. As Mark Twain so elegantly put it, 'Faith is believing what you know ain't true'!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2012
WELL RESEARCHED AND INSPIRED and illuminating Narratives on the Infancy of Jesus !
Excellent teaching , as always , from POPE BENEDICT XI
Clearly and Well writitten and a very important work and historical document .
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2012
As usual Pope Benedict XVI is clarity personified and easy to read. He teaches the basics and distinguishes the fact from the myths.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 20 February 2013
I am sure that Pope Benedict, who is now acknowledged to be the greatest theologian to hold the office since Pope St Gregory 1, just sits down and writes these profound works from his mind. I don't believe he needs even to look up references. Unfortunately you would think from them that there were only German theologians in the world!! Anyway the book is his usual incisive and interesting scholarship, I would say it is accessible to the educated layman. I would also say to anyone that wants answers to very serious questions..is it myth or reality, or in these profound events of the Incarnation is it both, or is it more that these amazing works of God are where the distinction between the material and the supernatural gets blurred and meet...read this book.It is a gem.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This third and final volume of the Pope's Jesus trilogy is well translated. It is a clear, scholarly treatise that humbly examines the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew. I say humbly because it is rather extraordinary to read an author whose office is so often associated with infallible truth telling to be engaging in open questioning about the historicity of the virginal conception let alone the wise men! Joseph Ratzinger - his personal name is on the book - `enters dialogue with the texts. In so doing (he is) conscious that this conversation, drawing in the past, the present and the future, can never come to an end, and that envy exegesis must fall short of the biblical text'.

The exegetical method Ratzinger uses is, unsurprisingly, allied to Christian consensus through the ages that Scripture is God-breathed and the divinity of Christ foundational truth. Pilate's question in St. John Chapter 19 `Where are you from?' heads the first chapter as the Pope sees the four Gospels primarily addressing this question, one to which answer is given: God's Son. The following three chapters are on the annunciation of John the Baptist and Jesus, the birth of Jesus and the wise men and the book ends with an epilogue on the finding of Jesus in the Temple.
I valued the author's grasp of tradition which has provided me with a number of new lines for Christmas preaching. Mary's discretion - seen as solution to the late arrival of the infancy narratives - and her interiority `pondering in her heart' are affirmed, as is Joseph's righteousness which gives vital spiritual continuity with the Old Testament. I had never thought of John the Baptist's priestly heritage pointing to Christ as fulfilment of priesthood as well as prophecy. The Pope's classical knowledge underlies his discussion of the peace of Emperor Augustus, vital for early evangelisation, transcended by the peace the angels sing of, and Virgil's fascinating story of the birth of a new world order forty years before Christ's birth. The shepherds' watchfulness is taken up in monastic tradition (vigils) and their making haste on account of `the things of God' a spiritual challenge for Christians today.

At the heart of the Holy Father's treatment is recognition of what he calls `waiting words' in the Old Testament such as Isaiah's passages on the virgin birth and suffering servant that find realisation in Jesus `who will save his people from their sins'. The ancient words come true in Christ whose story is true as it `proceeds from the word of God, by which it is sustained and brought about'. The centrality of forgiveness to his good news is drawn out by recalling the full Gospel narratives the infancy accounts give prefaces to.

The book quotes mainly German scholars best known of whom is Karl Barth who, like the current Pope, recognises how scandalous divine intervention in the material world seems to the modern spirit. `God is "allowed" to act in ideas and thoughts, in the spiritual domain - but not in the material'. The virgin birth stands alongside the resurrection in its challenging this reduction of God who, without power over matter `simply is not God'. Such an assertion, heartening as it is, is exceptional in this book. Its tone overall is measured and scholarly, considering all sides on questions of interpretation, even if it lands overall and unsurprisingly with the faith of the church through the ages.
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