I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus' disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.
~~Pope Benedict XVI
I have sincerely enjoyed Jesus of Nazareth Vol. II from Pope Benedict XVI.
In regards to content, there is much to glean from the material inside this book. Pope Benedict immediately began transforming my understanding of Liturgy and discipleship by opening my heart to a greater depth of perspective about the events of Holy Week.
While his writing style is academic in nature, I did not find it overly verbiose or excessively challenging to the point of being unable to enjoy it. On the contrary, Pope Benedict's writing style is both elegant and accessible. It is very conversational. I felt in the presence of an excellent teacher who sincerely wants me to understand.
This book would be a perfect accompaniment to Lent, and at any point during the year can provide a powerful meditation on the Gospels. It is well-cited, and our Holy Father also presents many viewpoints from different exegetes who have, for better or worse, offered their interpretations. His approach is very clarifying.
Finally, as much as I learned from the material, it also heightened my spiritual awareness. Each section of the events of Holy Week (the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, for instance, or the trial of our Lord) edified me by its contemplation of what they reveal about our relationship with Jesus.
For example, when pondering Jesus' prayer in the garden, Pope Benedict reflects,
Across the centuries, it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the Evil One. Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth. In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence. Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God's closeness and the looming forces of darkness, is what gives the Evil One power in the world. (p. 153)
Simply put: Wow. Practically every page has some sort of profound reflection like this one. I love this book and look forward to reading the past volume as well as the one he has yet to publish. God bless our Holy Father!
Note: For more on Pope Benedict's biblical theology, I recommend Covenant and Communion by Scott Hahn for a primer on the subject, or read through Verbum Domini, the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict from 2010.
Pope Benedict has written extensively about the consequences of scriptural interpretation stripped from faith and the sacred traditions of the Church, as evidenced by the predominance of the historical-critical model. This model has reduced Jesus to a mere man with a strong message--even in many Christian churches today--rather than the Lord Himself.
As Pope Benedict writes in the section I quoted at the beginning, it is both "personal encounter" and "historical knowledge" that he wishes to relay through these volumes, pointing the way for theologians to return to an authentic and meaningful interpretation of Scripture.
I wrote this review of Jesus of Nazareth Vol. II for the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback.