dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Exemplary Exchange

When Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth appeared, I commented favorably on the review by New Testament scholar, Richard Hays, published in First Things. I thought the review both appreciative and critical of the book.

Now, in the current (December) issue of First Things, a number of letters are printed that, for the most part, criticize the critic. Hays responds in a measured way, and, in the process, clarifies further both his appreciation and his critique.

Here is a portion of what he says:

The letter writers seem to share, to one degree or another, Mr. Kellners impression that my review of Pope Benedicts book illustrates the resistance of academic theology to reading the gospels as an overall unity expressing an intrinsically coherent message. Nothing could be further from my intention. My review actually praised the books synthetic aims and, in part, its results. For example, I wrote: Benedicts synthetic reading of the canonical New Testament witnesses is both subtle and illuminating, and I observed that the book is full of luminous passages that offer a fruitful basis for meditation on the mysterious and gracious figure of Jesus. I also gave accolades to Benedicts constructive use of patristic sources and typological interpretation of the Old Testament.

Nonetheless, the letter writers are correct to discern a tone of disappointment in my review. The disappointment arises not because I am indignant that Benedict has attempted this task of synthesis or because I think the task impossible but because I think his actual performance of it is regrettably flawed. After reading the books foreword, I was rooting for him to succeed, but in my judgment he unfortunately fails to achieve the goals he sets for himself. He insists that the historical-critical method . . . is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work, and he wants to accept what modern exegesis tells us about the historical setting and composition of the gospels. Yet, recognizing the limits of the historical method, he also wants to integrate these historical findings into a trusting, synthetic reading of the gospels. The problem is simply that he fails to achieve real integration: His use of historical methodology is selective and inconsistent.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

I have just read the most brilliant and persuasive review of Benedict's book yet to appear -- a long and pregnant article by Michael Theobald from Ratzinger's haunt, Tubingen, in the venerable Theologische Quartalschrift. I hope this will be translated into English.

I know this is a minor point, and I am nowhere near finishing the book, but I was struck by this statement on page 15:[T]here is absolutely no reason to suppose that Mark is exaggerating when he reports that "there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Mk 1:5)Isn't this something even a naive reader of the Gospels would take as hyperbole? And if Benedict is actually correct, wouldn't it mean that many of the "sinners" (nonobservant Jews) referred to in the Gospels, not to mention Caiaphas and the other members of the Sanhedrin who participated in the trial of Jesus, had already repented, confessed their sins, and been baptized by John?

One has to sympathize with Hays. There is a mentality among Catholics--some Catholics, at any rate--that is inclined to see in any critique of a Pope's work that is not wholly laudatory, even when the Pope himself has invited disagreement, as disloyal. This is almost as silly as it is unfortunate.

I also thought Hays' review one of the best, for its expertise, balanced and positive tone and yet his honesty with the book's faults. In line with Joseph Gannon's remark, the entire project (the Jesus book, with another to come) raises an interesting point of whether a Pope can ever be anything again but a Pope. "Montini non esiste piu," Paul VI told a friend who suggested, while he was struggling with a decision, that he ask himself what Giovanni Battista Montini would do in that situation. When Benedict wrote the book, he wanted to do so as Ratzinger, theologian and scholar. And he said everyone was free to disagree with him. Yet such is the reverence for the papacy, the "awesomeness" of the office, that disagreement, even when invited, even on a scholarly, non-magisterial topic, can smack of disloyalty. Makes for a problematic situation, as I have found.

PS: Joseph O'Leary: I am tantalized by the Theobald reference. Could you offer any summary? Does "brilliant and persuasive" mean the book is also brilliant and persuasive?

David N.Is it not significant that Luke represses the words cited from Mark, and speaks subsequently only of "multitudes" or "crowds"? Mark was in no positon to know that everyone from Judea was baptized by John.

Theobald's report on the official presentation of the Pope's book:"Now linked with the book are assessments of biblical exegesis that make one prick up one's ears. Thus the official presentation of the book by Cardinal Schoenborn stood under the motto: 'For over 200 years critical historical study of the Bible has put everything in question that one finds in the Bible about Jesus' 'Doubt about the historical reliability of the Gospel image of Jesus' surfaces even 'in the very ranks' thinks the Cardinal. Must these 'ranks' be closed up again in the future?... The Cardinal thinks that this 'entirely personal' Jesus book will be read also 'as the Jesus book of the Pope' and 'why not?'... Why should not the Pope be just the one who is especially called to speak over his Master, Teacher and Lord? Is it not he, more than anyone, who should fulfill the friendship with Christ?'"Theobald believes that the book does not respect the realities of history, the pluralism of New Testament theologies, the integrity of scholarly scriptural research, or the reality and value of Jewish identity and tradition: 'The conversation with the Jewish rabbi [Neusner] in the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount serves him exclusively for Christological purposes; it contains no sensitivity to Jesus's Jewish horizons of life and thought'..

More precisely, Theobald says that though Ratzinger admires the Old Testament Torah and rejects the substitution theology that would see the old covenant as abolished, he nonetheless fails to recognize postbiblical Judaism in its own theological dignity over against the Church -- which he sees as the new Israel, the true Israel and 'the Israel that spans the world in Christ' (echoing the Fathers).

Joseph O'Leary,I posted the Hays' observations because I thought they presented both a sympathetic reading of the Pope's purposes and a criticism that is both specific and constructive.Your report on Theobald's blanket fault-finding suggests a less constructive engagement (I reserve the right to modify that impression after reading his full account).In any case, on issues like "respecting the pluralism of New Testament theologies," there are, of course, a plurality of positions. I find myself persuaded by scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson and Frank Matera who discern the unity amidst the plurality -- a unity centered precisely in the person of Jesus.As for "failing to recognize postbiblical Judaism in its own theological dignity over against the Church" are we still speaking about the book? The book sought to present a compelling vision of the Lord of the Church whom Christians believe is the Savior of the world. Nothing in that claim shows failure to respect other religious traditions -- else interreligious dialogue is over before it begins.I recommend again Rabbi Neusner's reflection in the Summer issue of Communio, commenting on what the Pope is about in his book, and indicating why he things it important precisely for authentic Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

I find it ironic that the responders to this post are so worried about being called "disloyal" when they voice any opposition to what Benedict XVI says. I do not remember a single example of this happening on this blog. With few exceptions, upon reading most of the comments on what Cardinal and now Pope Ratzinger has said, it seems that the massive preponderence of responses have failed to put in print any agreement with anything he has said. In fact, it seems to represent a near unanamous "loyalty" to each others' positions.

Blanket fault-finding is not what Theobald is up to (though it may be my own tendency) -- his balance of praise and blame is not very different from Hays's. Indeed the judgment of all professional exegetes on the papal book is pretty similar; as far as I know the only professional exegete who has praised the book unreservedly is Albert Vanhoye. The maturity and professionalism of this branch of theology can be seen in the fact that the exegetes, who were not without some reason to feel threatened and be enraged, maintained such a just and fair balance in their reactions to the book, with the sole exceptions of Geza Vermes and Gerd Luedemann. On the Pope's dialogue with Neusner, his attitude to contemporary and postbiblical Judaism is quite important, especially given his claim that 'through Matthew's Gospel Jesus speaks anew and evermore (neu und immerfort) to Israel" (pp. 132-2, cited by Theobald, p. 172). If the Pope's image of Judaism is shaped more by Origen than by Jewish self-understanding, as Theobald claims, this is a very important matter, especially given the huge influence the papal book will have on shaping Christian understanding of Judaism.

Here is a list of Prof. Theobald's publications: http://www.kath-theol.uni-tuebingen.de/Lehrstuehle/NT/Prof_Theobald/Vero...

"I am not at all sure that the 'Israel'-ecclesiology of J. Ratzinger is systematically strong enough to really keep 'substitution theories' at bay. The basis of my skepsis is that I find in the book no reflection on postbiblical Judaism and its perduring dignity on the tracks of Romans 9-11". "Even though Paul is constantly present in the book there is no reference to Romans 9-11". These remarks may seem to fault the book from a tangential angle, but given the abundance of remarks in the book on the status of Israel vis a vis the Church and the apparent uncritical adherence to patristic views of Judaism it seems to me that Theobald is onto something important, which he rightly refuses to silence in the name of a more "constructive" reception of the Pope's book. Had he wished to be "unconstructive" he could have pointed out the book's various errors or criticized its composition, as Hays does to some extent. Instead he offers a and measured assessment of what is going on in the book theologically. The title of his review-essay is "The Four Gospels and the One Jesus of Nazareth", so it is not true that he blindly emphasizes plurality at the expense of unity and synthesis. But woe betide the one who thinks that s/he has grasped definitively the unity of God or Christ or revelation!

Actually he does have a criticism of the "architecture" of the book, but it is a very theological one, basically a review of the selective emphases of the book's portrait of Jesus (the absence of references to Jesus's meals with sinners, Pharisees etc.) -- while recognizing that since the book is only the first volume of a diptych such judgments are provisional. He also has a throwaway remark that parallels Hays's strictures: "the individual chapters in part seem very disparate -- meditations and homiletic expansions stand beside expositions of Scripture and references to exegetical positions, patristic exegeses beside systematic elaborations etc."Here are the headings of his article:1. Methodological indications2. The architecture of the book3. The building-blocks: (1) The Gospel of the Kingdom of God; (2) What one could learn from a Jewish scholar [Neusner]; (3) The disciples or the new family of the Church; (4) 'I am' -- the Gospel of the 'Son of Thunder' as matrix of the book.4. Faith and historical reason: Open Questions.

If I may speak in my own voice for a moment, I wonder why we should be obliged to "constructive engagement" with the book? In my opinion it is a mediocre book; indeed I agree with Don Franco Barbero that it is an "incredibly superficial" treatment of the themes it broaches. Cardinal Martini suggested as much when in his official presentation of the French translation he went out of his way to point out that the author was not a scriptural scholar and that you do not judge the merits of a book by the number of copies sold. Martini, Hays, Theobald all agree that the book is a salutary alternative to Dan Brown et al. for the ordinary Christian seeking some light on Jesus, but that as a contribution to scriptural scholarship it has little merit and indeed propagates retrograde attitudes that would be quite destructive of scriptural scholarship, especially if translated into ecclesial discipline as is quite likely to happen.

Joseph O'Leary,I would like recommendations--from you, or anyone else who has read "Jesus of Nazareth"--of books that are alternatives. I can't handle anything that would be comprehensible only to a professional, but I would like to read something that gives a real idea of what contemporary scholars say about Jesus and why they say it.

Will the Pope's book really l have such a huge influence on Christian understanding of anything? There certainly has been no discussion of the book at the parish level in our neck of the woods, either by parishioners or clergy. I wondered whether local preaching wouldn't soon begin reflecting its highly personal vision, say by confidently identifying the Beloved Disciple as John, Son of Zebedee --that well-known part-time priest, wealthy Galilean fish merchant, and owner of a convenient pied-a-terre in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem, where his eldest son may have entertained Jesus and the rest of the disciples at the Last Supper (224-225). To date, though, there has been no detectable ripple effect. Maybe after the lads at the local seminary have worked their way through it. . . .

David Nickols,The best work I have seen on the subject is "Jesus Among the Theologians" by William J. LaDue. He is good because he shows differences. After that there is "Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians" edited by Fergus Kerr.

Recommended books on Jesus? Well, those of Geza Vermes are OK, very easy to find and to read, exegetically conservative, occasionally pugnacious, but captures well Jesus's prophetic Jewish character -- some Vatican document actually refers to him as one who is instructive on the Jewishness of Jesus. On the heavier front there is Schillebeeckx, Jesus; Meier, A Marginal Jew; and Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, and The Passion of the Messiah. Christopher M. Tuckett's Q and the History of Early Christianity, Edinburgh, Clark, 1996, is a goldmine of common sense that deals with the textual stratum of the NT considered to be closest to the actual words of Jesus. If you have the New Testament to hand, or preferably a Synopsis of the gospels, it should not be unreadable; it is very lucid. To be sure, sane historical Jesus books are not as exciting as insane ones, but they are ultimately nourishing. Though I don't agree with them, I find Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg to be worth reading.As to books on the fuller and wider significance of Jesus -- the Christ of faith -- I am at a loss. A comprehensive and convincing contemporary Christology is a desideratum. Of course I have a special fondness for John Keenan's Buddhist treatment, The Meaning of Christ (also The Gospel of Mark).

On the Jewish Jesus, see also F.-W. Marquardt, Das christliche Bekenntnis zu Jesus, dem Juden, Munich 1991; Paul Van Buren, A Theology of the Jewish-Christian Reality III; Michael Wyschogrod in Modern Theology 12, 1996, and Archivio di Filosofia 1999 (a symposium on Incarnation); John J Collins, The Scepter and the Star, Doubleday, 1995; David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, Jerusalem, 1995.

Can anyone tell me a really good Jesus book of the last 10 years???

Two cautions regarding the array of "resources" that J.O'L provides:1. From Luke Johnson's polemical but incisive, The Real Jesus:"When the witness of the New Testament is taken as a whole, a deep consistency can be detected beneath its surface diversity. The "real Jesus" is first of all the powerful, resurrected Lord whose transforming Spirit is present in the community" (p.166)."If the expression the real Jesus is used at all, it should not refer to a historically reconstructed Jesus. Such a Jesus is not "real" in any sense, except as a product of scholarly imagination" (p. 167).2. From Daniel Harrington's review of Vermes, The Nativity in the November 5th issue of America:"If we limit Jesus of Nazareth to his first-century Palestinian-Jewish context and imagine him only as a Galilean holy man, then what does not fit with that image cannot be historical or authentic. This kind of skeptical scholarship (while learned) is what Pope Benedict XVI has inveighed against as revealing the limitations of a historical-critical approach to Scripture that has no place for uniqueness and supernatural causality."Susan, I think it right to point out that the passage you cite from the Pope's book is his quote from Henri Cazelles. He uses it as possible support for the view that an eyewitness lies behind the narrative of the Fourth Gospel, It does not mean that he buys into the "pied-a-terre." Moreover, the Pope clearly admits "the complexity of the Gospel's redaction."As for the book's impact, Peter Steinfels' personal reflection in Commonweal (a few months back) points to the real benefits one may derive from a non-captious, though not uncritical reading.In any case, the many books, both popular and scholarly, of the Anglican exegete and bishop, N.T. Wright, would make for fine Advent reading,

Two colleagues of mine at Catholic University have recommended Leander Keck;s book, "Who is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense". It approaches Jesus both historically and theologically. It has also the advantage of being comparatively short, fewer than 200 pages, whereas most of the books on the subject are huge.The first two chapters of N.T. Wright's, "Jesus and the Victory of God," have a lengthy review of the three phases through which "the quest for the historical Jesus" has gone.The issues in this debate are often poised in terms of "the Jesus of history" often enough set in contrast to the Christ of traditional Christian faith. I wonder if it would not help clarify basic methodological points if it were posed instead in terms of "the Jesus of historians". Then the question would immediately arise, as it should, "Which historians?" Because, God knows, different historians have reconstructed and still are reconstructing Jesus in quite different ways, often incompatible with one another.

Fr. Imbelli,Pope Benedict quotes Cazelles not only to support the idea that an eyewitness lies behind the narrative of the Fourth Gospel but to suggest that in the light of current scholarship. . . it is quite possible to see Zebedees son John as the bystander who solemnly asserts his claim to be an eyewitness (cf. Jn 19:35) and thereby identifies himself as the true author of the Gospel. Yes, he does go on to admit the complexities of the Gospels redaction, but says of the redactor, that there seem to be grounds for ascribing to him an essential role in the definitive shaping of the Gospel, though he must always have regarded himself as the trustee of the tradition he had received from the son of Zebedee (226).Exactly because of the deference accorded the Popes work cited by contributors earlier in this discussion, it seems to me all too likely that many readers drawn to the book by respect for the authors position as Pope will read it uncritically. Most academics reading the passages quoted so positively from Cazelles would pick up on the highly speculative particularity of the suggestions Benedict characterizes as offering the light of current scholarship. A good editor would have been of great help here, as elsewhere.

Two other books, finite in size, are by the late Ben F. Meyer, "The Aims of Jesus" and "Reality and Illusion in New Testament Scholarship: A Primer in Critical Realist Hermeneutic." The latter is the best thing I know of for getting at the basic methodological questions. The former is his basic contribution to the discussion.

Mark Allan Powell's Jesus as a Figure in History is a useful and generally fair survey of historical approaches for someone who wants an introduction to the diversity of perspectives that are out there.

Thanks to Joseph S. O Leary, Joseph Gannon, Joseph A. Komonchak, and Bill Mazzella for the book recommendations.

Ben F. Meier also has the article on "Jesus Christ" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, if any of you hax access to that multi-volume work, perhaps in a library.

Fr. Imbelli,Thank you for your cautions. I know it is said that in looking for the "Jesus of history," each scholar who attempts to paint a portrait of the historical Jesus winds up painting a self-portrait. But what worries me is that when any institution (and particularly the Catholic Church) paints a portrait of the "Christ of faith," they are also painting a self-portrait, and with an immensely bigger pallet to work with (and a lot more at stake). That is, some of the finest minds of the past 2000 years have been putting forth theories and interpretations, so when the Catholic Church wants to make a case, they can use some of what Augustine said, and some of what Aquinas said, and some of what Anselm said, and so on. And of course if you believe the Catholic Church is the "only church established by Jesus" and operates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then you can rest assured that the "Christ of Faith" as put forth by the Catholic Church is authentic.But if you are not sure, you've got a problem. Because, or so it seems to me, the Catholic position is that the only way to find Jesus is throught the Church, when what seems to be the ideal path would be to find Jesus first, and if that leads to the Catholic Church, then you accept Jesus and only after that the Church. So if you want to know what the real message of Jesus was, and you seek to find that out by reading the "Catholic approved" works about Jesus, you have already made a commitment to the Catholic Church, which of course is fine if the claims the Catholic Church makes about itself are "sure and certain," but how does anyone know (for a fact) that they are? I often think it must have been far simpler to be a Christian in the first several decades (or generations, or even the first few hundred years), because you could believe in something like the real presence without worrying whether it was transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or transignification. Or you could believe Jesus was the Son of God without having definitions involving words like "consubstantial." It is a lot easier to accept mysteries than explanations, and when the explanations change with the times, one begins to wonder if the mysteries behind them are themselves believable.

OR . . . . (to prove I can be brief)Isn't the "Christ of faith" at least as elusive as the "Jesus of history," if not moreso?

I hope you don't mind that I comment ahead of Fr. Imbelli, David. Fr. Imbelli will no doubt be able to provide a much more cogent and coherent response, but I have to leave for the rest of the day, and I wanted to throw in my 1cent ( I won't pretend it's even two cents) before I go.I think the Christ of faith is much less elusive than the Christ of history. I say this because all that is important to me as to my faith is my belief that (1) Christ is God incarnated, (2) Christ provided the most perfect example of humility in all of human history when He allowed Himself to suffer excruciating torture and an ignominious death by crucifixion, and, most importantly, (3) Christ arose from the dead, thereby guaranteeing His and our victory over death. The rest is all icing on the cake. The inconsistencies in the Gospels (e.g., did Christ die during the third or the sixth hour of the day? did He ride into Jerusalem on one or two donkeys?) just aren't all that important to me. I enjoy learning about all the efforts made to discover the Christ of history, but the Big Three above are all I need to keep my faith grounded. What I find even more interesting than the search for the Christ of history is the search for more about Christ's apostles and early disciples. In general, there is historically more known about them than about Christ. Was Christ some sort of cult leader (a Jim Jones, for example) who could motivate his apostles to suffer martyrdom even decades after Christ's physical presence was absent? I don't think so. And what could motivate Paul, who never knew Christ in the flesh, to do a 180 and become the greatest missionary in the history of the Church? The transforming and motivating effect that Christ, and the Holy Spirit, had on these individuals--flesh and blood people like you and me--has always seemed a more interesting question to me than the minutiae of the Christ of history.

David,I don't presume to address adequately the concerns you raise. Let me merely express some perspectives of my own.My persuasion is that one cannot encounter Jesus save through his body the church. The scriptures come to us through the church. We are baptized into the body whose head is the Lord. We are nourished by his eucharistic body, celebrated in the church. We receive the faith of the church and seek to appropriate it.This does not yet make any claims for the Roman Catholic church, nor deny that the church is always a corpus mixtum of saints and sinners. But it takes seriously the incarnation: that God continues to come to us through the flesh of Jesus which is the flesh of the church. With regard the doctrinal formulations, such as "consubstantial" and "transubstantiation," I take them not as "explanations" that seek to encapsulate the Mystery (though some may use them as such), but as "mystagogic:" pointers to the Mystery, in the face of reductionistic approaches.But I deeply respect your questions, and only wish the mode of exchange (comments on a blog) were more suited to their importance.

The "Jesus of history" may be an edgy and difficult topic but "Jesus the Jew" is surely a more promising and refreshing one. The church doctrine of the incarnation obliges us to take the humanity of Jesus very seriously, including his Jewishness. Studies like Sean Freyne's on the culture of Galilee at that time are extremely valuable for this. The Christ of faith is a divine mystery that we live by but that we are not in possession of a complete grasp of. The continued effective realization of that mystery depends on a continued hearing of the Gospel Jesus and that demands continuing to take seriously his human Jewish identity.Beware of a gnostic Christ who balloons away from these roots.How Christ is divine is a matter of deepest obscurity, a Mystery as the classic theologians stress -- I think we should think of that mystery more in terms of event -- the dwelling of God in the heart of our history -- than of substance. Chalcedon used substance-language in keeping open the horizon (horos) on the mystery, but it is not necessarily a language valid for all time. Christology should be modest, not inflated, and the quest for the historical Jesus and for the Jewish Jesus has greatly contributed to this demystification and putting in perspective of the Christ event.

William,Minor inconsistencies in the Gospels are worriesome only to those who believe in biblical inerrancy, and they seem to have no problem explaining them all away. But the number of donkeys in Matthew (two) certainly raises an issue, in that he is talking about the "fulfillment" of an Old Testament passage, and he (or someone he is relying on) misinterpreted the passage to refer to two donkeys when it only is referring to one. So his reporting is not based on "facts," but rather is written to fulfill the misunderstood OT passage. Still, the number of donkeys is a trivial point, but in presenting Jesus as a "new Moses," how much does Matthew shape his account of actions of Jesus to conform to that theme? That is a much bigger question than the number of donkeys Jesus rode on.What if some of the "big moments" in the Gospels didn't actually happen, but nevertheless convey important symbolic meaning? It seems to me some of the sacraments are based on an acceptance of the literal truth of moments from the Gospels. It is difficult for me to accept that the words and actions of God incarnate over the course of several years wouldn't be extraordinarily important, even if one does take the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection to be the three key issues.

DavidIf I may interject, Jesus seems likely to have lived into his mid-thirites, at least. Maybe into his mid-forties. Our records tell us very little about what he did for most of that time. So perhaps it is a mistake to suppose that he was always doing something "extraordinaily important". Remember that he was like us in all things except sin.

Hello all. I have been in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion with limited web access, so, I apologize for my late entry into this discussion. I am also working with about two hours of sleep, having returned home in the wee hours of this morning, so I can only be quick.Joseph Komonchak: I like the phrase "Jesus of this historians," but I guess that would have to be paired with the "Christs of Christians." It seems to me that there never has been one Christianity, never one understanding of Christ, rather, lots of them.Joseph O'Leary: Would not Jews affirm "the dwelling of God in the heart of our history"? If so, what, as you see it, does the Incarnation add to this dwelling?David Nickol: My students struggled with, but ultimately found to be very satisfying, Paula Fredriksen's From Jesus to Christ. I think she does an outstanding job of showing how historical study must inform our reading of the Bible, but she makes no strong claim that her reconstructions of history are decisive.Robert: Yes, Jesus is best encountered in the churches, for wherever two or three are gathered in his name, there he will be. But, as you well know, an encounter is not the same thing as an understanding of that encounter, and in the quest for such understanding, I think much difficult work still lies ahead.

Joseph,I should have been more explicit and said "public career" instead of just referring to "several years." But I disagree that Jesus was "like us in all things except sin," unless we accept only naturalistic interpretations of what appear to be supernatural events in the Gospels. Jesus could turn water into wine, cure diseases and heal injuries (in at least one case just by being touched, without actively willing the cure), calm storms, walk on water, foresee the future, and raise the dead. Even if we don't take certain miracles at face value--for example, if we believe he was actually healing mental illness and not "casting out demons," or if we believe some of the lepers actually had some other, less intractable, skin disease, Jesus was still healing them.And of course Jesus "spoke with authority," to the extent that some of his words (like the prohibition of divorce) are taken to be God's law by the Catholic Church.So I am not sure what you are telling me.

Joe,Thanks for the recommendations. I have copies of Paula Fredriksen's books From Jesus to Christ and Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, neither of which I have read yet. I buy many more books than I can possibly read, so it is nice to get recommendations of things already in my possession. On the other hand, I love buying books, so it's nice to get recommendations of things that are not in my collection. "Two or three gathered together in Jesus's name" doesn't sound at all like a description of church.

DavidI was quoting Hebrews. The point of the passage is that Jesus was fully human. The Protevangelium of James, so-called, fills in some early wonders supposedly done by the young Jesus, but it is generally thought to be all fantasy. So before his ministry began he may have been been an ordinary carpenter. His "brothers" in the Gospela seem to regard his ministry without much sympathy, at least at first.On the sacraments Brown is very good. He thinks that the sacraments were instituted by Christ, as the Catechism says, but not in the way this idea has often been understood. I do remember hearing that Jesus instituted the sacrament of matrimony when he went to the wedding at Cana. Anyone who will believe that will believe anything. By the way, as for divorce, popes very recently have thought they could dissolve nonsacramental marriages. Read ch. 27 of Noonan's the Church than Can and Cannot Change. Saint Subitus (JPII) was a practitioner but does not expain it in the CCC.

David: I feel your pain. I have already begun buying for my next lifetime. The difficulty is finding the appropriate mantras to ensure that my future consciousness will know where to look :-)As for two or three not sounding like church, I am afraid your confusion comes from thinking in terms of large Catholic parishes where many will "eat and run" in order to avoid waiting in traffic lines and where the cops have to come and direct traffic (paid for with Protestant tax dollars!). The liberal Protestant churches where I hang out are, unfortunately, described rather well by the phrase.

Joseph Gannon: Your reference to the "brothers" of Jesus is a great example of rather clear thematic development between two gospels. The family of Jesus thinks he is nuts in Mark, and the disciples do not come across very well, either. However, Mark is likely anticipating an apocalypse signaled by the destruction of the Temple, and so does not much care what the family of Jesus thought or how blind and dim-witted the disciples were. Matthew, on the other hand, is thinking much more long term, and so the problem of legitimate church authority is something about which he needs to worry. Thus, most of the disparaging portrayals of the disciples and of Jesus's family in Mark are either left out of Matthew, or their negative character is entirely glossed over by much more positive language. Compare, for example, Peter's affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah. This is a decisive moment in Mark, but Peter still comes across looking rather foolish. Matthew uses the same scene to give Peter a promotion that has had quite lasting significance within the Catholic church. Matthew needs a geneology for the leadership of the churches, and this geneology is traced back to the disciples. Mark does not need this geneology because he is not anticipating a long-term church presence. This, at least, would be one reading of the situation you cite (a reading entirely indebted to the Fredriksen book that I suggested to David).

And then there is this approach to Jesus:Jesus for the Non-Religious by John Shelby Spong "The controversial bishop and moral activist attempts to wrestle Jesus from the restrictive and dogmatic binds of religion so he can become the hero the world needs."

JoeYes, Matthew softens Mark in this case as elsehwere. But John, certain the last of the four to be written, also portrays the "brothers" as quite sceptical about the doings of Jesus during his ministry. But after the resurrection the brothers and Mary are with the Twelve anticipating the coming of the Spirit. And James is to be the leader of the community in Jerusalem and a martyr. It also seems that brother Jude is the one to whom the catholic epistle is attributed.

"Joseph O'Leary: Would not Jews affirm "the dwelling of God in the heart of our history"? If so, what, as you see it, does the Incarnation add to this dwelling?"Well, John 1.14 is modelled on the Jewish idea of the Shekinah, the dwelling of God with his people. John says that Jesus, unlike Moses, brings the fulness of grace and truth. He is the one who brings in the messianic days, the kingdom of God on earth -- albeit in a rather proleptic way. I think this eschatological mission of Jesus is what makes him unique and gives him soteriological primacy and that it is in the tracks of this conception (Jesus as "eschatological event" in Bultmann's language) that we can begin to make sense of the other statements about Jesus, such as that God was at work in him reconciling the world to himself, or that the fulness of God dwelt in him bodily, or that he is the Word incarnate full of grace and truth, or that he is exalted at God's right hand -- these too are all event-statements. Some of the statements of classical theology should be tested against this biblical event language, which they tend to occlude or even distort -- such statements as "God become man," "Jesus is God incarnate" or "the God-Man," statements that may have a validity within the dogmatic language-game in virtue of the communicatio idiomatum but that should not be trotted out as primary or direct statements of who and what Jesus was and meant.