Ben Myers on Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth

A few days ago, Ben Myers posted a review of Gerd Ludemann’s book on “The Pope’s Jesus.”

While I appreciate the fairness of the review to Benedict, I do take issue with a few things, mostly from this portion of the article.

Lüdemann’s longest chapter (pp. 95-120) is devoted to Benedict’s use of the Fourth Gospel, and it is here that some of the central problems in Benedict’s methodology are brought into view. Benedict privileges the Fourth Gospel and freely uses it as a source of historical information about Jesus, but he offers “no convincing arguments against the scholarly consensus that the Johannine discourses have nothing to do with what Jesus himself actually said” (p. 120). Of course, some scholars are more optimistic about identifying historically authentic layers in the Fourth Gospel; but it is nevertheless rather baffling to hear Benedict assert that “[t]he Jesus of the Fourth Gospel and the Jesus of the Synoptics is one and the same: the true ‘historical’ Jesus” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 111).

Such methodological shortcomings should be taken seriously in any evaluation of Benedict’s book. Indeed, the fact that Benedict presupposes the divine “inspiration” of the biblical texts is already a significant obstacle to historical understanding. Lüdemann is surely right to insist that the texts cannot be properly understood on the basis of any “supposed divine inspiration”: “Whoever has given a little finger to the historical-critical method must give the whole hand” (p. 151). Of course, I myself think it is still possible to confess the “inspiration” of the canon – but this confession should arise subsequently from an encounter with the witness of the texts, and should not be introduced as a methodological presupposition which guarantees the texts’ reliability in advance.

(Bold is my emphasis. Italics are in the original.)

I am not at all “baffled” by the pope’s treatment of John as a legitimate source of knowledge about the historical Jesus, though I am a bit confused by Myers’ bafflement. It seems to me rather as if his critique of the use of John introduces the same sort of faith/history dichotomy as Ludemann’s, albeit in a less radical form.

That the Gospel of John tells us about the Jesus of faith is, I take it, relatively uncontroversial. Whether it tells us about the Jesus of history is not. But Benedict’s basic point (as Myers seems to understand elsewhere in his review) is that the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith are the same Jesus.

This being the case, it would appear that Myers’ objection only makes sense if he is privileging the Jesus of history over against John’s Jesus of faith. But this is the very thing that he takes issue with in Ludemann.

The relation between scripture and witness in my (and Benedict’s?) understanding seems to be quite different from Myer’s as well.

In my understanding, the primary witness to Christ is the church as a whole. Included in this, of course, is scripture (written by the early church). But scripture does not stand by itself as witness to it’s authenticity and inspiration. The past and present of the community of faith also constitutes a witness to the inspiration of scripture.

Thus it makes sense to me that doing theology and exegesis within the community of faith (rather than engaging in “pure apologetics” or “academic theology”) not only can, but should presuppose the inspiration of scripture.

I’m not sure whether this is a Catholic/Protestant difference, or whether certain forms of Protestantism can adopt a similar approach. I suspect that they can.

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About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
This entry was posted in benedictxvi, books, catholic, christian, christology, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ben Myers on Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth

  1. Jim says:

    You wrote- “Ludermann’s,”That of course is not his name.

  2. PresterJosh says:

    Thanks for pointing out that typo. I have corrected it.

  3. “I’m not sure whether this is a Catholic/Protestant difference, or whether certain forms of Protestantism can adopt a similar approach. I suspect that they can.”By way of confirming your suspicions, Stan Grenz suggested something like this in “Beyond Foundationalism” (as well as in many other places). He suggested it as the natural approach of the (evangelical) protestant to scripture.

  4. "Historical J….."!?!The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: http://www.netzarim.co.il (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period… in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.To all Christians: The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

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