So, I read the Pope’s new book last night, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. It wasn’t what I expected. I don’t know why it wasn’t what I expected: about thirty seconds solemn reflection should have told me what it would be. But I believed the media reports and was led astray. The press coverage stressed the things I pointed out in my post yesterday: we don’t know what year exactly Jesus was born, since the calendar devised by the sixth-century Dionysius Exiguus was off; we don’t know if Jesus was born on December 25; there is no NT record of an ox and an ass at the manger scene; etc. etc.
But as it turns out, these are very, very minor points in the book, and not what the Pope is interested in at all. As it often does, the media cherry picked the parts of the book, minor as they are, in order to stress what seems (to the media) as sensational and newsworthy. But these things are not what the book is about. The Pope is not principally trying to “set the record” straight with respect to all the myths and legends that have sprung up around the nativity scene. He instead provides an intelligent, very pious, and not very critical pastoral and soothing interpretation of the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke.
Of course he would do that. What else would he do? He’s not going to focus on the discrepancies between the accounts, the historical implausibilities, the violations of all sense (not just virgin births, of course, as that’s a doctrinal certainty; but also stars stopping over houses and the like). For Pope Benedict (or theologian Ratzinger) these stories are *Scripture* and are not only theologically at the heart of the Christian gospel but are also rooted in real, actual history. They really happened. As described. In detail. Completely and fully. He maintains in the book that critical scholars are too critical and ought to realize that these things really took place as the Gospel writers said. If you’d been there, you would have been able to capture it all on your camcorder.
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