Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vatican Radio released a short press release announcing that Pope Benedict XVI had completed the third volume in his Jesus of Nazareth series. The third volume is "dedicated to the stories of Jesus' infancy" and is currently being translated from the Pope's original German text into English and other languages.

This, to my mind, will be the most significant of the three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth that the Pope has written, and I say this even prior to publication, simply because of the subject matter. The infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are much different in style, structure and content from one another. There are commonalities in both Matthew and Luke, naturally, such as the names of Jesus' parents, an angelic annunciation, the presence of both Bethlehem and Nazareth in the narrative, and a virginal conception. But the differences also are major: Magi in Matthew, Shepherds in Luke; the journey to Bethlehem as a response to a census and only a manger found to stay in Luke; the slaughter of the innocents by Herod and the flight to Egypt by the Holy Family in Matthew. Matthew is influenced by stories of Moses, while Luke's account shows evidence of the story of the prophet Samuel and his mother Hannah. There are more differences and commonalities in both accounts than I have listed here, but one thing biblical scholars are agreed upon is that there is more going on in the infancy narratives than simple narrative history. That is, these accounts seem to be constructed more to make theological points about the nature of Jesus the Christ than to give us straightforward history. This is a distinct area where the question of literary genre comes into play.

It will be intriguing to see how Pope Benedict XVI manages the scholarship on these narratives and his conclusions. I await this volume eagerly.

John W. Martens

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