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Sunday, May 20, 2007

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Rick

Now, I have only started the book myself, but in Foreword Benedict both critiques and credits historical-critical scholarship, specifically the work of Schnackenburg. So, I don't quite know what Vermes is getting at. One can offer a a critique of ideas/philosophies/trends within scholarship without mentioning specific individuals. I believe JPII followed this method of critique in The Splendor of Truth and Fides et Ratio.

Rick

I just hope someone doesn't offer a critique of my typos, my apologies!

Jeff Miller

I have read the book and the criticisms certainly ring hollow. The Pope is willing to use historical-criticism but not as a means limited by some pretext that only reveals the persons own biases. As Benedict writes he trusts the Gospels. Though he is quite willing to use historical information and exegetical scholarship throughout this book. Such as saying that John the Baptist and perhaps even Jesus having contact with the Essenes community as a "likely hypothesis."

The criticism of not using "Why do you call me good?" is also rather silly. This book is certainly not an apologetic work trying to prove the divinity of Christ via the Gospels. Though the Holy Father does go into many texts that plainly show the Divinity of Christ which was clearly the reason he was crucified in the first place. As the Pope writes if Jesus was just another moralist he would have been pretty much left alone. The Pope when he analyzes the titles of Jesus show what those terms would have meant in the context of the time and how they were not titles of his divinity until you come to the "I am" statements which certainly were.

Mark Brumley

Geza Vermes' review is embarrassingly bad. I hope I can soon comment on it in detail. For now, I can only say that Vermes did critical scholarship no service by his simplistic and amateurish jibes.

MMajor Fan

Too bad this form of lameness can't be cured. Lost faith is lost faith, no matter how one tries to wrap it in scholarship.

Dwight Longenecker

I reviewed one of Vermes' books for Amazon while still living in England. Vermes' main point (like most Biblical scholars today) is that all references to Jesus' divinity are later interpolations in the NT text. When I pointed out in my review that Paul's exposition of the cosmic Christ in Col.2 was both by Paul and probably written earlier than the gospels themselves, Vermes was furious. He wrote to the Amazon editor demanding that my review be removed from the site. How scholarly is that? He didn't attempt to answer my points, just demanded that a review which was accurate, but not deferential, be removed. The editor stood his ground and refused to be bullied. I think you can still read my review on the Amazon.uk site.

Marie

I think the "simplistic and amateurish jibes" are aimed to confuse the significant number of non-academic laity who will read a high-profile book about Jesus written by the Pope and actually be convinced and converted by it. The enemy starts thrashing wildly when he senses he is losing...

Carl Olson

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a historical-critical biblical scholar scorned." Or something like that. One of many things that annoys me about Vermes' criticisms is that he makes it sound, (purposefully, I have to think), as though Christians have NEVER addressed the passages/issues he raises. But, of course, they have, and in great detail and much length, even using the same methods that Vermes apparently thinks are the final say on matters biblical. His review, it seems to me, was written in a way that attempts to mislead the average newspaper reader who has no context or background in these matters, and so is inclined to say, "Huh, so the Pope doesn't even know the Bible? Why bother reading his book?"

Ed Peters

"One of many things that annoys me about Vermes' criticisms is that he makes it sound, (purposefully, I have to think), as though Christians have NEVER addressed the passages/issues he raises."

Right Carl. One of the most maddening things about most modern "scholars" is their utter obliviousness to anything published pre-1980.

Dan

One of Joseph Ratzinger's main arguments -- advanced not only in "Jesus of Nazareth" but also elsewhere -- is that Jesus and the types of things he said simply do not make sense unless he is understood as divine. This argument does not depend on Jesus having said "I am." Rather, the argument derives from the very authority with which Jesus spoke and acted. One of many examples of this is the Sabbath dispute in Mark. As Jospeph Ratzinger points out in "Jesus of Nazareth," only God could alter the Sabbath prohibitions and thus by doing so Jesus was claiming to be divine. There are many other similar examples that evidence Jesus's claim of divinity.

Dim Bulb

Mister Peters, or, rather, Cardinal Ratzinger whom he is relying on, makes a good point. Revelation consists in both the words and deeds of Jesus and you cannot understand one without reference to the other. Vermes' appeal to "the lost sheep" statement was blatantly lame.

Cristina A. Montes

"The enemy starts thrashing wildly when he senses he is losing..."

So true. Sometimes, in arguments, it's a good sign when your opponent starts insulting you. It means he or she is losing. :P

Henry von Blumenthal

Professor Vermes faces a difficulty. If it is true that the Pope is a product of his circumstances (that his formative years coincided with the period of form critical revival of the 1950s; that he is the Pope), then so are Oxford Dons, who are often more interested in the chronology of donnish ideas than their validity. Vermes is ESPECIALLY a product of his circumstances, having been born a Jew, saved from extermination by Catholics, been ordained as a Catholic Priest and then repudiated Catholicism in favour of the faith of his forefathers.

For this reason, Professor Vermes has an axe to grind. He is not more impartial in his view of Jesus (that he was a charismatic Rabbi and no more) than the Pope; though he is a great deal less modest, regarding himself as the founding father of modern New Testament scholarship.

Cuthbert T McGillicuddy

Professor Vermes has a problem with “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark x, 18), and this is an ex-priest, rescued from the death camps by a catholic family, did he learn nothing? My children could answer this one, which leads me to believe he is being deceitful and deliberately mendacious.

Mark Brumley

Set aside the question of Jesus' divinity for a moment. Do Synoptics really regard Jesus as not being truly "good"? For that is one implication of Vermes' argument, and necessary element of his argument against Jesus' divinity.

When Mk, for example, quotes the Roman Centurion looking at the crucified Jesus as saying, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mk 15:39), we are to understand that Mk does not regard Jesus as "good"? Or when Mk describes the Transfiguration of Jesus and Mk declares that Jesus' "garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them" (Mk 9:3), this should be understood as meaning that Jesus was "not good"? That Mk's graphic language about Jesus' appearance is about the quality of Jesus' clothing only and should not be taken as implying anything about Jesus' "goodness"? Likewise, when Mk depicts the voice of the Father from heaven sayng of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him", Mk means us to understand that Jesus isn't really "good", not even derivatively as Son of God?

Similarly, when Mt depicts John the Baptist saying to Jesus upon the latter's approaching the former for "baptism of repentance from sin", "I need to be baptized by you and you come to me?", we are to think that Mt does not regard Jesus as "good" (Mt 3:14)? Or when Lk depicts Gabriel saying to Mary at the Annunciation, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35), that Lk wants us to understand that although Jesus was to be "holy" and "the Son of God", Lk does not think Jesus was "good"? Or when Mk tells of Jesus' encounter with the demon-possessed man at Capernaum (Mk 1:21) and the man is depicted as saying with diabolic supernatural knowledge of Jesus, "I know who you are, the Holy One of God", Mk recounts this story in the manner he does because he does not think Jesus is "good" and he wants his readers to know it?

And so on and so on.

"Yes, but," you might object, "Vermes' point is about the divinity of Jesus, not his goodness." But that point misses the point. For Jesus' comment to have force against any claim to divinity for him, it must be understood as a denial by Jesus that he is good. Otherwise, if God alone is good and Jesus doesn't deny that he is good, then Jesus' comments can't be taken as a denial that he is God.

Now it is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely for reasons I can't go into here, that on this point the Synoptic writers simply misunderstood Jesus. That Jesus meant to deny that he was God and that he did so by denying that he was good. I think there are plenty of historical arguments to be mustered against that conclusion, but right now that's not really my point.

Whatever you think of that scenario, you must see that the Synoptic writers themselves did not understand Jesus to be implicitly denying that he was God because the Synoptic writers did not regard it as true that Jesus wasn't good. They stated that he was good in any number of ways. And therefore since Jesus is presented to us by the Synoptic writers as good, it cannot be the case that they intend us to see him as denying being divinity because "no one is good but God".

There is insufficient space here to develop the way the various Synoptic authors deal with the question of Jesus' identity and how Jesus interacts with people who either explicitly or implicit make claims about his identity that those people themselves do not understand. However, I think readers who review the pertinent exchange between Jesus and the Rich Young Man in Mk 10:17-22--to take what many modern scholars, whether rightly or wrongly, regard as the most primitive version of the incident among the Synoptics--can see that Jesus doesn't say, "I am not good" and therefore by implication, "I am not God". He asks a question of the young man, who presumes to address Jesus as "Good Master", without seeming to be aware of the full implication of the word "good". Jesus' response, as reported by Mk, does at least two things. First, it underscores that God alone is the source of all goodness and therefore the term "good" should not be used of mere human beings as if they possessed this quality in their own right and not as derived from a relationship with God. Second, it conceals Jesus' identity without Jesus denying the truth of the attribution of goodness. This is a major theme in the Synoptics, especially in Mk. Those who should know Jesus'identity don't, and this is partly due to Jesus' keeping it a secret (the so-called Messianic secret) and thus requiring of his audience a proper disposition of heart to be open to the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus' identity. And those whom we might expect would not know Jesus' identity--the Roman centurion looking at Jesus dying on the cross--do (Mk 15:39). (What's more some of those who do know who Jesus is are depicted in Mk as having imperfect knowledge because they have imperfect faith and they have not allowed themselves to believe that the Christ, the Son of God, must suffer and die [such as the disciples of Jesus, see Mk 8].)

I realize that Mk has selected among the sayings and deeds of Jesus and that he has told his story to make certain points about Jesus. Those points differ (though they do not for that reason contradict) certain points the other Evangelists make, sometimes using the same material. My point here is that notwithstanding that process, it remains clear that Mk regards Jesus as "good" and therefore that whatever Mk wants us to make of the Rich Young Man's comment to Jesus--patronization, naive yet genuine respect, or whatever--and whatever Mk intends us to make of Jesus' reply--a subtle rebuke to the patronization, a challenge to a naive young man to understand the implication of his words, or a subtle redirection that conceals Jesus' identity, etc--Mk does not want us to think that he regards Jesus as not "good". Since Mk does not intend for us to think Jesus is not good, he cannot, on the principle that "no one is good but God", intend for us to conclude that Jesus is not God or that Jesus denied being divine.

We could make an even stronger argument against thinking that the Evangelists understand Jesus as denying his divinity, if we looked at Mt and Lk's treatment of the incident (especially Mt, Mt 19:16-22). We don't have time for that here, but they would be worth people's perusal in light of other things Jesus says and does in those gospels.

One last point--and this is a return the theoretical possibility I mentioned. It could be claimed that Jesus himself--whatever the Synoptics and others later thought about him and what he said--denied that he was good and by implication that he was divine. Refuting that claim would require a hefty amount of historical work. Here we can only say that the burden of proof rests on those who make the claim and the case seems weighted against them.

It is clear that the earliest witnesses to Jesus' exchange with the Rich Young Man--Mt, Mk, and Lk--did not understand Jesus to have denied that he was good and therefore that they did not understand Jesus to have denied being divine. One might argue that Mt slightly revised Jesus' wording to avoid people drawing the conclusion Vermes' and others draw. (One can also argue that Mk may have played up the starkest form of the exchange for reasons of his own and that Mt didn't follow him here.) In any case, though, Mt thinks it the wrong conclusion to draw from the exchange. And Mk, regardless of his more provocative form of the exchange, clearly doesn't read it as Vermes and others do. He, too, rejects Vermes et al. on the point. Likewise, Lk.

Thus, the earliest witnesses to Jesus' exchange--the ones on whom we are wholly dependent for our knowledge of the incident at all--did not think Jesus meant to deny either his goodness or his divinity. If we are to contradict these sources, we need some rational or historical grounds for saying that their understand of Jesus is wrong. In other words, we need more than a priori assumptions or theories based on an interpretation of much later sources.

Moreover, Jesus' words can be interpreted in a way consistent with the other things these sources, and other early sources, tell us about Jesus. Meanwhile, Vermes and others' interpretation of Jesus' words and actions are inconsistent with those other sources--for example, with what we understand about Jesus' perception of his relation to the Father, his mode of acting as the Father's emissary, his evident identification of himself as the Son of Man of the Book of Daniel and of the righteous suffering Servant of Second Isaiah. (To name only a few things.)

Of course Vermes and others can dispute that the historical evidence supports the aforementioned points, but, again, the burden of proof rests upon them to prove their position. Our earliest and best sources--the NT writings considered as historical documents and not as canon--lead us to think otherwise. Why, then, should we think Vermes et al. know better? As Father Groeschel likes to ask such critics, "You were there?"

Augustine

I should also point out that Jesus alluded to Himself as the GOOD Shepherd too...

So much for yet another "scholar" with a puerile grudge against Christianity, Jesus and God who considers himself not only good, but the best.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for him.

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