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Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
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Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

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by Pope Benedict XVI

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The New York Times bestselling final volume in the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth series, detailing how the stories of Jesus’ infancy and childhood are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.
In 2007, Joseph Ratzinger published his first book as Pope Benedict XVI in order “to make known the figure and message of


The New York Times bestselling final volume in the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth series, detailing how the stories of Jesus’ infancy and childhood are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.
In 2007, Joseph Ratzinger published his first book as Pope Benedict XVI in order “to make known the figure and message of Jesus.” Now, the Pope focuses exclusively on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life as a child. The root of these stories is the experience of hope found in the birth of Jesus and the affirmations of surrender and service embodied in his parents, Joseph and Mary.

This is a story of longing and seeking, as demonstrated by the Magi searching for the redemption offered by the birth of a new king. It is a story of sacrifice and trusting completely in the wisdom of God as seen in the faith of Simeon, the just and devout man of Jerusalem, when he is in the presence of the Christ child. Ultimately, Jesus’ life and message is a story for today, one that speaks to the restlessness of the human heart searching for the sole truth which alone leads to profound joy.

Editorial Reviews

In the third and final volume of his magisterial study of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI returns, as it were, to the beginning of his subject's life; but in his hands, the story of the Savior's infancy and childhood is no mere retelling of the Gospel accounts. Instead, it becomes the gateway to fresh insights about contemporary Christian doctrines, practices, and our everyday behavior.

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The Crown Publishing Group
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Jesus of Nazareth , #3
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Random House
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2 MB

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Chapter 1

"Where Are You From?" ( John 19:9)

The question about Jesus' origin as a question about being and mission

While he was interrogating Jesus, Pilate unexpectedly put this question to the accused: "Where are you from?" Jesus' accusers had called for him to receive the death penalty by dramatically declaring that this Jesus had made himself the Son of God-a capital offense under the law. The "enlight­ened" Roman judge, who had already expressed skepticism regarding the question of truth (cf. Jn 18:38), could easily have found this claim by the accused laughable. And yet he was frightened. The accused had indicated that he was a king, but that his kingdom was "not of this world" ( Jn 18:36). And then he had alluded to a mysterious origin and purpose, say­ing: "For this I was born and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" ( Jn 18:37).

All this must have seemed like madness to the Roman judge. And yet he could not shake off the mysterious impres­sion left by this man, so different from those he had met before who resisted Roman domination and fought for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. The Roman judge asks where Jesus is from in order to understand who he really is and what he wants.

The question about Jesus' provenance, as an inquiry after his deeper origin and hence his true being, is also found in other key passages of Saint John's Gospel, and it plays an equally important role in the Synoptic Gospels. For John, as for the Synoptics, it raises a singular paradox. On the one hand, counting against Jesus and his claim to a divine mission, is the fact that people knew exactly where he was from: he does not come from heaven, from "the Father," from "above," as he purports to ( Jn 8:23). No: "Is not this Jesus, whose fa­ther and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" ( Jn 6:42).

The Synoptics tell of a similar dispute that arose in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus' hometown. Jesus had ex­pounded the words of sacred Scripture not in the customary manner, but by relating them to himself and his mission with an authority that went beyond the bounds of all exege­sis (cf. Lk 4:21). The listeners were understandably shocked by this treatment of Scripture, by the claim that he himself was the inner point of reference and the key to exegesis of the sacred text. Shock led to denial: " 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him" (Mk 6:3).

They know perfectly well who Jesus is and where he comes from-he is one among others. He is one like us. His claim can only be presumption. Moreover, Nazareth was not associated with any such promise. John recounts that Philip said to Nathanael: "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael's response is well known: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" ( Jn 1:45f.). The or­dinariness of Jesus, the provincial carpenter, seems not to conceal a mystery of any kind. His origin marks him out as one like any other.

Yet the reverse argument is also adduced against Jesus' au­thority, as in the dispute with the man born blind, after he received his sight: "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man [Jesus], we do not know where he comes from" ( Jn 9:29).

When Jesus preached in their synagogue, the people of Nazareth had said something rather similar, before dismiss­ing him as someone well-known to them and just like them: "Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands!"

(Mk 6:2). Here too the question "where is he from?" arises- only to be dismissed straight away by the reference to his relatives.

Jesus' provenance is both known and unknown, seem­ingly easy to establish, and yet not exhaustively. In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus will ask his disciples: "Who do people say that I am? . . . Who do you say that I am?" (Mk 8:27ff.). Who is Jesus? Where is he from? The two questions are inseparably linked.

The four Gospels set out to answer these questions. They were written in order to supply an answer. Matthew opens his Gospel with Jesus' genealogy because he wants to put the question of Jesus' provenance in the correct light from the very beginning: the genealogy serves as a kind of heading to the entire Gospel. Luke, on the other hand, places Jesus' genealogy at the beginning of his public ministry, as a kind of public presentation of Jesus, in order to answer the same question with a different emphasis-in anticipation of all that is about to unfold in the rest of the Gospel. Let us now try to understand more closely the essential purpose of the two genealogies.

For Matthew, two names are of key significance if we are to understand Jesus' provenance: Abraham and David.

The story of the promise begins with Abraham, fol­lowing the dispersal of mankind after the building of the Tower of Babel. Abraham points ahead to what is yet to come. He is a wayfarer, not only from the land of his birth into the promised land, but also on the journey from the present into the future. His whole life points forward, it is a dynamic of walking along the path of what is to come. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews rightly presents him as a pilgrim of faith on the basis of the promise: "He looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (11:10). For Abraham, the promise refers in the first instance to his descendants, but it also extends further: "all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him" (Gen 18:18). Thus the whole history, beginning with Abraham and leading to Jesus, is open toward universality- through Abraham, blessing comes to all.

From the beginning of the genealogy, then, the focus is already on the end of the Gospel, when the risen Lord says to the disciples: "Make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). In the particular history revealed by the genealogy, this move­ment toward the whole is present from the beginning: the universality of Jesus' mission is already contained within his origin.

Both the genealogy and the history that it recounts are largely structured around the figure of David, the king to whom the promise of an eternal kingdom had been given: "Your throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam 7:16). The genealogy that Matthew puts before us is steeped in this promise. It is constructed in three sets of fourteen genera­tions, at first rising from Abraham to David, then descending from Solomon to the Babylonian captivity, and then rising again to Jesus, in whom the promise comes to fulfillment. The king who is to last for ever now appears-looking quite different, though, from what the Davidic model might have led one to expect.

This threefold division becomes even clearer if we bear in mind that the Hebrew letters of the name "David" add up to fourteen: even in terms of number symbolism, then, the path from Abraham to Jesus bears the clear imprint of David, his name and his promise. On this basis one could say that the genealogy, with its three sets of fourteen gen­erations, is truly a Gospel of Christ the King: the whole of history looks toward him whose throne is to endure for ever.

Matthew's genealogy traces the male line, but in the course of it, prior to Mary who appears at the end, four women are mentioned by name: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah. Why do these women appear in the genealogy? By what criterion are they chosen?

It has been said that all four women were sinners. So their inclusion here would serve to indicate that Jesus took upon himself their sins-and with them the sins of the world-and that his mission was the justification of sinners.

But this cannot have been the determining factor for the selection, not least because it does not in fact apply to all four women. More important, none of these women were Jewish. So through them the world of the Gentiles enters the genealogy of Jesus-his mission to Jews and Gentiles is made manifest.

Yet most important of all is the fact that the genealogy ends with a woman: Mary, who truly marks a new begin­ning and relativizes the entire genealogy. Throughout the generations, we find the formula: "Abraham was the father of Isaac . . ." But at the end, there is something quite different. In Jesus' case there is no reference to fatherhood, instead we read: "Jacob [was] the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ" (Mt 1:16). In the account of Jesus' birth that follows immediately after­ward, Matthew tells us that Joseph was not Jesus' father and that he wanted to dismiss Mary on account of her supposed adultery. But this is what is said to him: "That which is con­ceived in Mary is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20). So the final sentence turns the whole genealogy around. Mary is a new beginning. Her child does not originate from any man, but is a new creation, conceived through the Holy Spirit.

The genealogy is still important: Joseph is the legal fa­ther of Jesus. Through him, Jesus belongs by law, "legally," to the house of David. And yet he comes from elsewhere, "from above"-from God himself. The mystery of his prov­enance, his dual origin, confronts us quite concretely: his origin can be named and yet it is a mystery. Only God is truly his "father." The human genealogy has a certain sig­nificance in terms of world history. And yet in the end it is Mary, the lowly virgin from Nazareth, in whom a new be­ginning takes place, in whom human existence starts afresh.

Let us take a look now at the genealogy found in Luke's Gospel (cf. 3:23-38). Several differences strike us vis-à-vis the list of ancestors supplied by Saint Matthew.

We have already established that this genealogy intro­duces the public ministry, it so to speak legitimizes Jesus in his public mission, whereas Matthew presents the genealogy as the very start of the Gospel, proceeding from there to the account of Jesus' conception and birth, and thus unfolding the question of his provenance in its dual significance.

A further striking difference is that Matthew and Luke agree on only a handful of names; not even the name of Jo­seph's father is common to the two. How can this be? Apart from elements drawn from the Old Testament, both authors have based themselves on traditions whose sources we cannot reconstruct. It seems to me utterly futile to formulate hy­potheses on this matter. Neither evangelist is concerned so much with the individual names as with the symbolic struc­ture within which Jesus' place in history is set before us: the intricacy with which he is woven into the historical strands of the promise, as well as the new beginning which paradoxi­cally characterizes his origin side by side with the continuity of God's action in history.

A further difference consists in the fact that whereas Matthew climbs from the beginnings-from the root-to the present, to the top of the "tree," Luke on the contrary descends from Jesus, the "treetop," down to the roots, in order to show that in the end the ultimate root is found not in the depths but rather in the "heights"-God is there at the beginning of human existence: "Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God" (Lk 3:38).

An element common to Matthew and Luke is that the genealogy breaks off and comes to a stop when it reaches Joseph: "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph" (Lk 3:23). Legally he was considered Joseph's son, as Luke tells us. Yet Jesus' true origin had already been made clear in the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel.

Whereas Matthew gives a clear and theologically symbolic structure to his genealogy, with its three sets of fourteen names, Luke arranges his 76 names without any outwardly recognizable pattern. Yet here too a symbolic structuring of historical time can be detected: the genealogy contains eleven times seven members. Luke may have known the apocalyptic formula that divides world history into twelve parts and at the end consists of eleven times seven generations. So this could be a discreet way of indicating that with Jesus "the fullness of time" had come, that with him the decisive hour of world history had dawned: he is the new Adam, who once again comes "from God"-but in a more radical way than the first Adam, not merely breathed into being by God, but truly God's "Son." While for Matthew it is the Davidic promise that permeates the symbolic structuring of time, Luke, in tracing the line back to Adam, wants to show that humanity starts afresh in Jesus. The genealogy expresses a promise that concerns the whole of humanity.

In this connection, another reading of Luke's geneal­ogy is worth mentioning, one that we find in the writings of Saint Irenaeus. The text he was using had not 76 but 72 names. 72 (or 70) was the number, derived from Ex 1:5, that indicated the number of people in the world-a figure that appears in the Lucan tradition of 72 (or 70) disciples, whom Jesus set alongside the twelve Apostles. Irenaeus writes as follows: "To prove this, Luke shows that the genealogy of our Lord, which extends to Adam, contains seventy-two generations, and so he joins the end to the beginning and points out that it is he [Christ] who recapitulates in himself all the nations that had been dispersed from Adam onward, and all the tongues, and the human race, including Adam himself. Hence Paul, too, styled Adam a type of the one who was to come" (Adv. Haer. III, 22,3).

Even if the authentic Lucan text does not contain at this point the symbolism of the 70, on which Saint Irenaeus' exegesis depends, nevertheless the underlying intention of Luke's genealogy is correctly grasped here. Jesus takes upon himself the whole of humanity, the whole history of man, and he gives it a decisive re-orientation toward a new manner of human existence.

John the evangelist, who repeatedly raises the question of Jesus' provenance, does not present a genealogy at the begin­ning of his Gospel, but in the Prologue he grandly and em­phatically proposes an answer to that question. At the same time he expands his answer to the question into a definition of Christian life: on the basis of Jesus' provenance he sheds light upon the identity of his followers.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt [pitched his tent] among us" ( Jn 1:1-14). The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal di­vine Word, in this world. Jesus' "flesh," his human existence, is the "dwelling" or "tent" of the Word: the reference to the sacred tent of Israel in the wilderness is unmistakable. Jesus is, so to speak, the tent of meeting-he is the reality for which the tent and the later Temple could only serve as signs. Jesus' origin, his provenance, is the true "beginning"-the primordial source from which all things come, the "light" that makes the world into the cosmos. He comes from God. He is God. This "beginning" that has come to us opens up-as a beginning-a new manner of human existence. "For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" ( Jn 1:12f.).

One version of the manuscript tradition preserves a reading of this sentence not in the plural but in the singular: "who was born, not of blood . . ." This makes the sentence into a clear reference to the virginal conception and birth of Jesus. Jesus' being from God, as affirmed by the tradi­tion preserved by Matthew and Luke, would be concretely underlined once more. But this is only a secondary reading: the authentic text of the Gospel speaks quite clearly here of those who believe in Christ's name and who receive a new origin through that name. Yet the connection with the con­fession of Jesus' birth from the Virgin Mary is undeniably present: those who believe in Jesus enter through faith into Jesus' unique new origin, and they receive this origin as their own. In and of themselves, all these believers are initially "born of blood and of the will of man." But their faith gives them a new birth: they enter into the origin of Jesus Christ, which now becomes their own origin. From Christ, through faith in him, they are now born of God.

So John has recapitulated the deepest meaning of the genealogies, and moreover he has taught us to understand them as an interpretation of our own origin, our true "gene­alogy." Just as the genealogies break off at the end, because Jesus was not begotten by Joseph, but was truly born of the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, so it can now be said of us that our true "genealogy" is faith in Jesus, who gives us a new origin, who brings us to birth "from God."


Meet the Author

JOSEPH RATZINGER, Pope Benedict XVI, born in 1927 in Germany, was head of the Roman Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013. A prolific author, theologian and university professor, Ratzinger served as an "expert" at the Second Vatican Council, and was tapped in 1977 by Pope Paul VI to lead the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. In 1981, Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he served until his papal election.

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Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
“Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives” is the concluding volume in Pope Benedict’s trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth. It is the slimmest of the three books, but it’s presented at the same level of accessible scholarship that characterizes the other two books in the trilogy. It is a work that is simultaneously scholarly and yet highly inspirational, and it’s written with Benedict’s characteristic thoughtfulness and sincerity. Pope benedict addresses all the main points of the infancy narratives – the genealogies, the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, the conception and the birth of Jesus, virgin birth, the Wise Men form the east, and the epilogue of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. The book is written in Pope Benedict’s characteristic manner of combining critical scholarship and biblical exegesis with the fidelity to the essential trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Scripture. People familiar with Pope Benedict's writing will know to expect a keen and refined intellect that is equally at ease at Biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral exhortations. Pope moves effortlessly between critical and insightful exegesis, highly developed theology, and effective and imminent preaching. He tries to discern the authors’ motives and intentions when writing particular passages, and yet he never dismisses any piece of narrative as naïve an quaint as many of the more “enlightened” biblical scholars these days are all to eager to do. Catholic Church is truly blessed to have in the person of Pope Benedict all the virtues and functions that it aspires to manifest and carry out corporally as an institution. Pope's writing is very lucid and accessible, but it demands a certain level of familiarity with the more nuanced details of the Gospel narratives. Even though there are numerous scriptural quotations throughout the book I find that having a copy of the Bible on the side to be very useful. Sometimes it is important to look up the entire passage or the chapter from which the quote is taken. The translation that is used in this book is RSV, but any other popular English translation will do. Even though he is an eminent theologian and leader of the over billion strong Catholic Church, Pope Benedict at no point uses his own eminent status to impose his views on the reader. He engages in a scholarly dialogue with other theologians and exegetes, and many of his statements are laced with qualifications. He comes across as someone who relishes intellectual vibrancy that may lead reasonable well-informed people to conclusions that are different from his own. He aims to persuade his readers by the reasonableness of his views, and not by the authority of his office or the scholarly accomplishments. This book was published a few weeks before the Advent 2012, and it gives a good opportunity for all Christians to reflect on the profound mysteries of incarnation of Son of God. Of all Christian holy days, Christmas has been the most distorted though in the eyes of the popular culture. Every year it falls to faithful Christians to resist the temptations of the consumerist culture and try to remove themselves to a quiet place from where they can contemplate the true essence of Jesus’s birth and infancy. The Gospel writers’ main aim when composing the infancy narratives was to answer one simple yet profound question: who is Jesus and where does he come from? The answer to this question is equally profound and momentous for our lives as Christians. In meditating on it we can hopefully get one step closer to understanding the mystery that is Jesus Christ and how it affects our lives. Pope Benedict’s book may not be the definitive answer to that question, but it is certainly as good as the best such answers in the two millennia of Christianity. As mentioned before, this is a very short book –144 pages in the printed form (I have read the Kindle edition). It is a very quick read and can easily be read in one sitting, or in two hours at the most. However, the depth and intimacy of this book would be best appreciated if it’s read slowly and with the appreciation for all the nuances of the arguments it offers. There are some indications that this might be the last major book written by Pope Benedict XVI. I certainly hope that this is not the case. The World needs constant evangelization, and a person of his sensibility, intellect, and courage is an important and powerful voice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just in time for christmas , there is much to contemplate and draw one's mind to the true meaning of christmas,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started this book and realized that it was the 3rd in the series and I didn't understand the author's intentions in writing the book. so I went back to the Introduction of Book 1 and began there. Then this book makes sense. The Pope is trying to help us to separate the facts presented in the Bible from the 2000 years of embellishments that have been added to the story of Jesus, his Birth and his Life. I think everyone knows that artists, musicians and others have enhanced and embellished facts but this book is a good reminder of the nee4 to "go back to the basics" occasionally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a book to read during Advent. This book was perfect for this time of year...or for any time of the year. This is the first book written by Pope Benedict that I have read, but I expect I will try the others in this series. I am Protestent....and LOVE finding material that crosses the boundries we have built.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Because Pope Benedict XVI is a great teacher, this book will surely instruct its readers in correct Christology.
HB-Cyclist More than 1 year ago
I was happily surprised to find a scholarly work that has caused me to reexamine the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pope Benedict shares his deep theological and spiritual reflections on the infancy stories. A beautiful, enriching book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pope Benedict's short book about Jesus' birth in the Gospels is a wonderful read. If anyone wants to grow in their faith, read the Jesus of Nazareth series.
efm More than 1 year ago
easy to read and understand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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CarlosSLC More than 1 year ago
I was raised Catholic but converted to Mormonism in my early youth. Beyond theological disagreements between my current beliefs and that of my childhood faith, I have always regarded Pope Benedict XVI as a defender of the Catholic faith and a prime scriptural scholar of keen intellect. And this third installment of his books about our Savior is a clear proof of Pope Benedict's spiritual insight and scriptural knowledge. I was enriched by Pope Benedict's understanding of the New Testament and moved by his love and testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most welcoming feature of Pope Benedict's writings was how he emphasizes that a Christian life is not something we read about in the Bible but how those readings can and should be applied to our every day life in order to become men & women "just and devout." Or in other words, men and women of Christ.
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Monk44 More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed reading this-very informative and easy to get into.
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