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JESUS-THEOLOGIANS Mar-10-2011 (850 words) With POPE-JESUS of March 9. With book cover posted March 2 and photo posted March 9. xxxn

Scholars see benefits for all faiths in pope's second 'Jesus' book

Copies of Pope Benedict XVI's new book, "Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week -- From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection," are seen at the Libreria Editrice Vaticana bookstore in Rome March 10. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A panel of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish scholars and theologians found much to praise March 9 in what several called a "remarkable" new book, Pope Benedict XVI's "Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week -- From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection."

The panel -- convened by teleconference in anticipation of the global release March 10 of the second in the pope's "Jesus of Nazareth" series -- was unanimous in its assessment that the book would benefit readers of every faith and at nearly every level of theological and scriptural understanding.

"I would have no hesitation putting this book on the syllabus for my students, who are mostly Baptists," said Craig A. Evans, a professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. "My impression is that Protestants who are fairly well read and have some sense of the historical Jesus will be astonished at how Protestant and evangelical (Pope Benedict) sounds."

Benjamin Witherington III, a professor of New Testament for doctoral studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and a member of the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said the book "could not have happened before the Second Vatican Council" and would greatly contribute to Christian unity at the scholarly level.

"Catholic and Protestant exegetes have come closer and closer together in their understanding of the historical Jesus" since Vatican II, Witherington said, adding that the pope's new book "helps with the understanding of Jesus from the historical and critical view, but also helps us with faith."

The book focuses on the key events of Jesus' final days, including the cleansing of the Temple, the Last Supper, his betrayal, his interrogations before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion and his appearances to the disciples after his resurrection.

Much of the discussion also centered on the book's statement that the condemnation of Christ had complex political and religious causes and cannot be blamed on the Jewish people as a whole.

The pope also said it was a mistake to interpret the words reported in the Gospel, "His blood be on us and on our children," as a blood curse against the Jews. He said those words, spoken by the mob that demanded Jesus' death, were a cry for reconciliation, not vengeance, if read in the light of faith.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a professor of the history and theology of Judaism at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., and author of "A Rabbi Talks With Jesus," said he had been corresponding with Pope Benedict for 25 years about the historical Jesus.

He called the book's statements on the Jewish people in relation to Jesus "courageous and very learned" and said they could have "a lot of impact" on negative attitudes toward Judaism.

"I think any Jewish reader can benefit from" reading the book "and it will do a lot of good in general," Rabbi Neusner added.

Capuchin Father Thomas G. Weinandy, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine, said the book also offers insights into "the close, fruitful relationship between Scripture and doctrine."

"Scripture gives light to doctrine, but doctrine also serves as a guide that helps us understand the sacred texts," he said.

Calling the book "not just an academic exercise," Father Weinandy said he thought the book would be accessible to "lay readers who think Scripture and theology are beyond them." The pope presents Jesus as "someone the people of the world are dying to meet," he said.

Brant Pitre, a professor of sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, said the pope's book showed his commitment to Vatican II's call for the renewal of biblical studies, "which in his opinion has not yet taken root."

Pitre said Pope Benedict has sometimes been portrayed "as the pope that is trying to turn back the clock on Vatican II," especially when he reinstituted celebration of the Latin Mass in the extraordinary form.

"But when you look at what he has done with sacred Scripture, you see that the idea he was somehow opposed to Vatican II is baseless," he added.

During a question-and-answer period, one person who said he was a rabbi asked if Pope Benedict's stand indicated a move toward the view that the mention of the "blood curse" -- contained only in the Gospel of Matthew -- was not correct.

Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder and publisher of Ignatius Press, U.S. publisher of the second "Jesus of Nazareth," said the pope "does acknowledge certain contradictions" between various Gospel accounts of the passion and death of Jesus.

"But he sees that as an even greater witness to the integrity of the Gospels," because it made clear that the writers of the Gospels "did not get together to make sure they were saying the same thing," said Father Fessio, a longtime student and friend of Pope Benedict.

Father Fessio said the initial printing of the second "Jesus of Nazareth" was 1.2 million in seven languages worldwide, including 90,000 in the United States, 200,000 in Germany and 300,000 in Italy.


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