In the introduction to Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict comments at some length on Deuteronomy 18 and 34, the first of which contains the promise that a prophet like Moses will arise and the second of which reflects that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”  The Pope focuses on this verse because he bases his entire book on the relationship of Jesus to the Father:  Jesus is greater than all prophets because he speaks on the basis of seeing face to face (cf. pg. 5).

The argument is this:  Moses promised that a prophet like him will arise, and commands that Israel should listen to that prophet.  But since chapter 34, presumably written long after Moses’ death and long after other true prophets have spoken in Israel, says that no prophet like Moses has arisen, we can conclude that Moses did not mean to promise in a generic way that there would be real prophets but in a specific way that there would be some individual prophet uniquely like Moses.  Since no such prophet has arisen, the promise must have to do with a future savior, the Messiah.

A wrinkle in this argument is that Elijah is strongly portrayed as like Moses in 1Kings.  His trip of forty days and forty nights leads him to the very mountain on which Moses saw God, and there he indeed speaks with God directly.  If we date Deut. 34 to near the time of the exile, as most moderns do, then it discounts even Elijah as the prophet like Moses and so the argument still holds.  (It is interesting, by the way, that Elijah is the most likely OT candidate for fulfilling the prophecy of Deut. 18, since in the gospels the strongest “runner-up” for Messiah is John the Baptist–whom Jesus identifies as Elijah!)

But a more general solution may also work.  I would argue that the interplay between Deut. 18 and Deut. 34 is a good example of the developing tradition described on pgs.20-21.  The promise in Deut. 18 could initially have been a general description of the institution of the true prophet in Israel, with “like me” pointing to the difference between Israelite and pagan prophets generally.  But putting the difference that way cast a tension into the very office of prophet:  to be a prophet in Israel, one must be measured by a standard one can never meet, namely “like Moses”–like Moses, the human founder of the entire nation.  No one could possibly match that description fully until he brought about a new exodus!

So Deut. 34, whether written before or after Elijah, shows that Israel was beginning to see how much had been packed into that earlier promise:  no one yet has measured up.  So one could make a reasonable case that any true prophet is “like Moses”; one could make an even better case that Elijah was “like Moses”; but the tension will remain until the full potential of those words is exhausted, and Israel freed.


Life intervened to prevent blogging the past few days, but since September 12th looms near I will try to crank out more than one post today.

For now, I just want to call attention to a key line on xiv of Jesus of Nazareth:  quoting Schnackenburg as saying that “without anchoring in God, the person of Jesus remains shadowy, unreal, and unexplainable,” Pope Benedict goes on to say:  “This is also the point around which I will construct my own book.”  Any time an author is so kind as to tell us the main point of his entire book in one sentence, we as readers should sit up and pay attention.  The Pope goes on to say of his book:  “It sees in light of his communion with the Father, which is the true center of his personality; without it, we cannot understand him at all, and it is from this center that he makes himself present to us still today.”

This reminds me of a marvelous text in the Summa where St. Thomas discusses the “mission” or “being sent” of Jesus.  He argues that to be sent includes two ideas:  being somewhere new and being from another.  The Word of God was always everywhere, of course, but through the Incarnation he came to be in our world in a new way, a bodily way.  Moreover, Jesus is wholly identical with the Father except insofar as he is from the Father, so “being from” is what sets him apart as a person, what constitutes him as who he is.  Because he was newly in our world, and because his very person is to be from the father, he was necessarily “sent” into our world.

This is Thomas’s systematic theological way of arguing that Jesus’ earthly mission in its totality was a revelation of his relation to the Father; his “being sent” was, top to bottom, a revelation of his “being here” and his “being from”.  Finally, you can’t talk about the Incarnation without talking about the Trinity; you can’t talk about Jesus without talking about the Father; anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father.

If St. Thomas is right, then Pope Benedict has picked not just a good approach but the only approach that makes sense in a book about the life of Jesus.  His communion with the Father is the true center of his person because his very person is God-from-the-Father.

On page xi, Pope Benedict notes that there were many wonderful biographies of Jesus when he was growing up, and that this began to change in the 1950s as a gap grew up between the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of faith”.  On page xii he speaks about finer and finer attempts to distinguish between layers of oral tradition behind the gospel text.  He goes on in pages xii-xiii to speak of Rudolf Schnackenburg as an example of someone who tried to reverse the effects of historical criticism from within historical criticism itself but finally could not.

I just want to point out that the Pope is speaking in particular about the Catholic scene.  The gap between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith” had already been around for a long time outside the Catholic Church, even before the turn of the century.  Bultman was a pioneer of research into layers of oral tradition, and his work was well underway in the 30s.  But only in the 50s did all this make an appreciable impact on Catholic scholars.

Before the 50s, Catholics like Loisy did in fact maintain a distinction between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith” and look into oral traditions and so on–and they found themselves condemned as modernists and excluded from the fold.  So what happened in the 50s was not that Catholics noticed all this historical criticism for the first time, but that mainstream, faithful Catholic exegetes like Schnackenburg began using some of the tools.

All this was leading up to the 60s and Vatican II–but this post is long enough already.

Although the “year with Ratzinger” is technically finished, circumstances bring me back to the blog.  My father has joined a discussion group that will work bit-by-bit through Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, beginning on September 12 with vol. I, pages xi-8.  Moreover, I have been asked to speak next February at Ave Maria University in a conference devoted to Ratzinger’s principles of biblical exegesis.

Since Jesus of Nazareth was on my original reading list anyway, it seems that Providence is whispering tolle et lege.  So I will.  Between here and the 12th, look for posts about the introduction to volume one and the first chapter.

Encouraged by the success of this year’s blog, I have undertaken a year with Newman.   I will continue to post here from time to time as I revisit Ratzinger’s writings for my undergraduate ecclesiology course.  In fact, I have already noticed surprising similarities between Ratzinger and Newman, which may require some cross posting.

As you continue to follow my adventures with Ratzinger, come on over and join us for a year with John Henry Newman.

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

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A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 83 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 8 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb.

The busiest day of the year was March 20th with 88 views. The most popular post that day was Ratzinger and Aristotle II.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were, Google Reader,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for principles of catholic theology, “a year with ratzinger”, theological highlights of vatican ii, the nature and mission of theology, and “year with ratzinger”.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Ratzinger and Aristotle II January 2010


Principles of Catholic Theology May 2010


(1963-1966) Theological Highlights of Vatican II January 2010
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About January 2010
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Ratzinger and Aristotle I January 2010

2010 brought many surprises.  The best laid plans of mice and men oft went awry, and I along with the rest of mankind madly scribbled out my crooked lines, hoping against hope that God would write straight with them.

This blog had many fewer posts than I had planned, for reasons I could not have imagined.  Although I read as many books as I set out to read, my Ratzinger collection grew enough along the way that I did not finish all the books on my shelf.  One day….

But for all that, one of this mouse’s plans did come to fruition:  in my inaugural post, I wrote that “Whatever happens, this year will leave a wide and indelible mark on my intellectual life.”  And so it did.  In a manner difficult to press out into words, following a great man over the course of his intellectual life brought a new maturity and scope to my own efforts.  Perhaps a similar effect could have been achieved by reading the works of any great thinker.

But I am particularly glad to have spent a year with Ratzinger.