A Review of “Two Milestones”

In this chapter of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict attempts to present an in-depth analysis on the “Two Milestones” of Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration. Before getting at Peter’s Confession itself, Pope Benedict looks at the question prior, “Who do people say that I am?” and the response of the apostles. Pope Benedict explains that the responses of the “people” are not necessarily false but are “inadequate”. The “people” see Jesus as a great prophet but not as the Son of God. Like “people” today, the “people” of Jesus’ time just measure Jesus up with what they already know and fail to see his uniqueness. He is not merely another prophet, who’s earthly wisdom “people” can adopt according to what they like and discard what they do not like. Immediately, Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the “Christ”, the “Messiah”, the “anointed one”, or “the Son of the living God”, depending on how it’s found in the Gospels, is in stark contrast to what the “people” have said. What did Peter mean in this confession? Some scholars like Pierre Grelot argue that Peter was misled by notions of a historical Messiah and does not really mean his confession of Jesus as the “Son of God” in the theological sense because that concept would be unknown to him. Pope Benedict counters by offering evidence that the disciples surely knew that Jesus was truly God incarnate in front of them. “At certain key moments” … (i.e. the sermon on the mount, the calming of the storm at sea, the large catch of fish) “…the disciples came to the astonishing realization: This is God himself” (304). In the next event, the Transfiguration, Peter and a couple other disciples see this in a more profound way and “personally experience the anticipation of the Parousia” (318).

Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right

In the article “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right,” Mr. Craig A. Evans presents a detailed and precise argument in support of the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  He does this in response to the arguments of Mr. Bart Ehrman, who believes that Jesus’ body was not laid in a tomb based on the facts that a) his burial was not mentioned in the early creeds of the Church and b) it was not the custom of the Romans to allow the burial of criminals.  Because of this, he believes that the story of Jesus’ burial, even the detail about a certain “Joseph of Arimathea,” was a legend that was added to the gospels at a later time.

To counter these arguments, Evans thoroughly lists ancient sources, both Jewish and Roman, as evidence to support his claims.  By citing historians and witnesses like Philo and Josephus, Evans is able to give substantial proof that, according to the ancient burial customs of the Romans and the Jews (especially of criminals), Jesus’ entombment is not only plausible, but probable.

I enjoyed Evans’ methodical and thorough approach to the issue.  Though he seemed repetitive and his evidence lengthy, all seemed necessary to adequately satisfy the doubts that Ehrman leaves in the mind of the reader.  However, my favorite part was the last section of the reading.  Here, Evans logically and concisely answers the issue of the tomb, wonderfully summing up the evidence he manifests throughout the article.  It is a perfect apologetic answer for the average person.

Jesus of Nazareth – Volume 2 Chapter 5 – The Last Supper

In this chapter, Ratzinger provides an excellent summary of scholarly thought on the events of the Last Supper. He harnesses the historical-critical method with finesse – deftly avoiding becoming bogged down in boring detail, and instead focusing on becoming more closely acquainted with the person of Jesus.

First, our Pope emeritus asks whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and gives a convincing “no”. He goes to lengths to show that John’s chronology, which places the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, is chronologically true to history, unlike the Synoptics. The Last Supper couldn’t have been a normal Passover meal, as it didn’t occur on Passover!

Benedict turns next to look at the words of institution. Words, he says, that militate against an image of “friendly Jewish rabbi” or “political revolutionary”. Rather, they include an anticipation of the cross and resurrection, of His death for the expiation of our sins. All Passover celebrations, all sacrificial lambs point to Him, and Benedict shows a beautiful sense of continuity in the relationship of God with His people before and after the events of Holy Week. In response to our sin Jesus gives himself freely, and the reality of evil is overcome, not ignored.

Benedict goes on to touch on many important nuances, like the “for all/for many” change we’ve seen in the new translation, and what the “this” of “do this in memory of me” refers to (more than the words of consecration, but not a whole Passover meal). Finally, he concludes with a section that deals with the importance of both the cross and the resurrection for our liturgy. All is useful knowledge for seminarian debates – and of course, for good liturgy.