Jesus, interpreted: my new book is out!

I am ecstatic to announce the publication of my new book Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels. It is available now on Amazon.com.  This one was a work of love, and I am grateful to the many people– especially my family and the staff at CUA Press–for making it happen.

DESCRIPTION:

In this sequel volume to his Dark Passages of the Bible (CUA Press, 2013), author Matthew Ramage turns his attention from the Old to the New Testament, now tackling truth claims bearing directly on the heart of the Christian faith cast into doubt by contemporary New Testament scholarship: Did God become man in Jesus, or did the first Christians make Jesus into God? Was Jesus’ resurrection a historical event, or rather a myth fabricated by the early Church? Will Jesus indeed return to earth on the last day, or was this merely the naïve expectation of ancient believers that reasonable people today ought to abandon?

51lyjb8gal-_sx331_bo1204203200_In addition to examining the exegetical merits of rival answers to these questions, Ramage considers also the philosophical first principles of the exegetes who set out to answer them. This, according to Joseph Ratzinger, is the debate behind the debate in exegesis: whose presuppositions best position us for an accurate understanding of the nature of things in general and of the person of Jesus in particular?

Insisting upon the exegetical vision of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI as a privileged avenue by which to address the thorniest issues in contemporary biblical exegesis, Ramage puts the emeritus pontiff’s hermeneutic of faith into dialogue with contemporary exponents of the historical-critical school. Carrying forth the “critique of the critique” called for by Joseph Ratzinger, Ramage offers the emeritus pontiff’s exegesis of the gospels as a plausible and attractive alternative to the mainstream agnostic approach exemplified in the work of Bart Ehrman.

As in the case of Benedict’s Jesus trilogy upon which he draws extensively, Ramage’s quest in this book is not merely academic but also existential in nature. Benedict’s scholarship represents the fruit of his personal quest for the face of Christ, a quest which involves the commitment to engage, critique, and learn from the most serious challenges posed by modern biblical criticism while arming the foundations of the Christian faith.

REVIEWS:

This book, building on his previous work, secures Matthew Ramage’s place among the most important theologians of our day.  Through his balanced and brilliant readings of Ehrman and Ratzinger/Benedict, Ramage boldly addresses precisely the exegetical questions that are causing many laypeople, influenced by Ehrman and others, to lose their faith in Christ. Ramage’s solutions, rooted in Benedict’s but ably supplementing them, deserve the widest attention.  I simply cannot praise this book highly enough.

– Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary Dr. Perry Jr. Chair ofTheology, Mundelein Seminary

Two of the best-selling authors on Jesus that are alive today are the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.  In this thought-provoking new study, Matthew Ramage puts these two seemingly diametrically opposed figures–Ehrman and Benedict–into extensive conversation with one another.  The result is an in-depth exploration that should be required reading for any scholar interested in the historical Jesus and the truth of the Gospels.

– Brant Pitre, Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans

“A timely and important book. For those tapped into religious discourse in popular culture today, Bart Ehrman is a household name, and his work has caused much confusion. Catholics very much need an approach to Scripture that is both faithful to the magisterium of the Church and at the same time honest about the difficulties found in the Bible. Ramage’s work does a great service.”

– Issac Morales, OP, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC

Dark Passages Reviewed in Nova et Vetera!

Well, it’s been some time since I’ve posted any scholarship on here.  Alot has happened in the last six months: I had open-heart surgery, a total hip replacement, and my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  It has been a trying period, but I am returning to health.  And so many prayers and masses have been offered for my dad that–when combined with his holy life and death–it’s difficult to see how he could not be presently beholding the Lord face to face!

Over the coming months I should have several items to share on this blog, but for now the most recent publication is actually a book review of my Dark Passages of the Bible that appeared in the most recent edition of the international theological journal Nova et Vetera, which is quite possibly my favorite journal. You can download and read the review here!  My thanks to Christopher Baglow for his kind words!

Benedict XVI, Catholic Doctrine and the Problem of an Imminent Parousia

Look up the following texts and ask yourself whether they ring true:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Corinthians 7:29 and 15:51-52
Mark 13:26-33

Today I am excited to share an article of mine that will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Josephinum Journal of Theology.  It is on the fascinating but very thorny topic addressed in these biblical texts: the New Testament’s ostensibly failed expectation that Christ’s second coming would occur within the first Christian generation.  I thought about this topic for years and never found a really compelling answer to until I read what Benedict XVI had to say on it.  Thus the point of my article is to tease out Benedict’s thought and draw it all together in one accessible piece. The article abstract can be found below:

In the effort to advance a more biblically sound theology within the Church, this paper shows how the theological principles and exegetical practice of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI provide an outstanding example of how to implement the above mandate of Dei Verbum as highlighted in the International Theological Commission’s recent work. The paper applies Ratzinger’s thought to concrete biblical texts involving the New Testament’s ostensibly failed expectation that Christ’s parousia would occur within the apostolic period.  The question that arises from a reading of these texts is quite simple: Why has Christ not come back yet like he seemed to say he would?  By searching out the intention of Scripture’s sacred authors in relation to the expectation of an imminent parousia, Ratzinger offers a compelling apology for the existence of thorny biblical texts and dogmatic formulas within the Catholic tradition.

If you wish to read the entire article, you can download it here.

How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian

If God exists, he is not the God of the Christian Bible.

At least this is the conclusion drawn by many prominent authors and cultural commentators in our society today.

The rise of agnosticism and atheism in contemporary culture cannot be traced merely to a single cause, but, certainly, one significant factor lies in a recent increase of interest in the Bible. Mind you, what I am talking about here is, not popular devotion, but, rather, the fashionable trend of calling attention to the deep discord that seems to exist between the God Christians preach and the God casual readers find, when they actually explore the Bible. Pick up Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem, or any number of similar titles, and there you will find the same basic conviction: you cannot read the Bible seriously and still be a Christian.

The recent barrage of attacks on the Bible in the media has elicited a series of responses from the Catholic Church, most recently, in the form of documents from the International Theological Commission (ITC) and Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC). Although I have authored a book-length treatment of this subject, I have not yet had the occasion to comment on these particular texts which were published just last year. Seeing that neither I, nor hardly anyone else, has commented on these texts, I thought it appropriate to offer a survey of their principles. You can find my recently published article “How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: The Problem of Divine Violence as Considered in Recent Curial Documents” this month in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Christian Discernment of Divine Revelation: Benedict XVI and the International Theological Commission on the Dark Passages of the Old Testament

“Violence is incompatible with the nature of God.”  In his 2006 Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict XVI penned this line as part of his ongoing effort to disentangle theology from ideologies which “might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.” Although Benedict had Islam in his sights in making this particular point, the same warning equally applies to Christian theology and Scripture.

In its recent document God the Trinity and the Unity of Humanity, the International Theological Commission offers important principles to reconcile the many Old Testament texts in which God ostensibly acts against his own nature by commanding deeds such as the slaughter of men, women, and children.  I am publishing a piece on this subject in the upcoming volume of Scripta Theologica, which is published by the University of Navarra in Spain.  Since most of you probably don’t have access to this journal, I’ve attached the pre-publication version of the article here. Basically, it summarizes key hermeneutical principles from my book Dark Passages of the Bible, adds several helpful cues from the International Theological Commission’s recent work, and applies them to Psalm 137, one of the most beautiful and yet disturbing texts of the Old Testament.

The Bible and the Question of Miracles: Towards a Christian Response

My previous post at Strange Notions underscored the often-unacknowledged philosophical premises at work when believers and non-believers sit down to debate about things biblical. In the course of my argument, I pointed to a possible area of common ground for Catholics and agnostics/atheists. A survey of statements by thinkers as different as Benedict XVI and Bart Ehrman reveals an important agreement upon the reality that everyone carries their own philosophical presuppositions and that a purely objective consideration of Jesus’ miracles is therefore impossible.

Today I carry forward this discussion. By way of doing this, I first briefly summarize Bart Ehrman’s position on Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. Then I critique what I consider to be an insufficient (but very common) Christian response to the skeptic’s position. Finally, I dwell upon a couple keys given by C.S. Lewis and Pope Benedict XVI which point out from a Christian perspective the direction a philosophical dialogue about miracles needs to head.  Find the article here at Strange Notions.

This Year’s Book Reviews

Now that our semester here at Benedictine College is coming to a close, I am able to take some moments to update on recent happenings in my scholarly life.  I have a handful of articles coming out here and there which I will eventually post, but here are a few book reviews (of my book and a published review of another book).

REVIEW BY ME:

Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin, for Nova et Vetera 12.4 (2014).

The above text is a must-read for Christian, especially Catholic, evangelists as it challenges the widespread conception that pretty much everyone is going to be saved. In this work Martin takes two very important Catholic intellectuals to task–Rahner and Balthasar–and argues persuasively that a proper reception of Vatican II must involve renewing our understanding of the possibility of damnation for those who culpably reject the gospel. While continuing to have immense respect for the great theologians Martin critiques, I have had to revisit my assessment of their soteriology in light of Martin’s thorough analysis.

In sum, Martin’s work is a timely reminder that the true spirit of Vatican II is to be found within its texts in their entirety. To be sure, Lumen Gentium represents a development with regard to how the Church views the status of non-Christians. However, Vatican II also soberly reaffirms the real possibility of damnation and thus the need for Christian missionary activity. The Church today needs a properly balanced pastoral strategy cognizant of both the universal action of the Holy Spirit and the pervasiveness of sin which poses a real threat to salvation.

REVIEWS OF MY DARK PASSAGES VOLUME:

Franciscan Way (Summer 2014): 11

Franciscan Way crop.pdf

First Things (April 2014): 64

Scripta Theologica 46 (April 2014): 239-40

New Blackfriars, vol. 96, issue 1061: 108–109 (January 2015)

Irish Thomist blog (November 2014)

UPDATE 12/31/14: Thanks to Dr. Michael Barber over at The Sacred Page for listing Dark Passages of the Bible among his Top 5 Academic Reads of 2014!

The next project I’ll be tackling is a pair of articles on Benedict XVI’s Jesus series which I hope will eventually comprise chapters in another book.  We’ll see when that gets done…

 

The Gods of Israel: Does the Bible Promote Polytheism?

“What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?”  This passage from the Book of Deuteronomy was recently proclaimed in the Catholic Church’s Lenten liturgy, and it touched right at the heart of something I have been pondering for some time: evidence of polytheism in the Bible and the relationship between ancient Israelite and Canaanite religious traditions.

Popular critics of the Judeo-Christian God frequently focus on the apparent incompatibility of the biblical portrait of God with what we insist must be essential moral attributes of the divine nature should it even exist.  Both critics and believers, however, are often unaware of another crucial problem that would seem to contradict traditional Christian doctrine concerning the nature of God.  In a nutshell, the tension lies not only in the relation of the biblical God to violence and evil, but also on the arguably more fundamental level of whether the Bible reflects belief in only one divine being in the first place.

I have devoted a chapter to this very theme in my book Dark Passages of the Bible, and even there I barely scratch the surface of this issue.  Nevertheless, I have continued to ponder this issue over the past couple years and believe something meaningful can be said within the constraints of a blog post.  You can find my response here which went up today over at Strange Notions.

Psalm 137: Is God Pro-Life or Pro-Death?

Read Psalm 137.  Read it all the way through, including its final few lines:

O daughter of Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall he be who requites you
with what you have done to us!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!”

Now ask yourself, “How can that be in the Bible?”

Then try to explain that to atheists.

The following is a link to my attempt at doing just this.  It is published on Strange Notions, a popular website devoted to promoting dialogue between Catholics and atheists. The site bills itself as a “digital Areopagus,” echoing the famous dialogue of St. Paul with the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17.  I recommend bookmarking it and perusing the resources blogger Brandon Vogt has made available which are geared toward helping us Catholics better defend the faith in the modern, digital world.

Thoughts for December: The Dark Passages & The Birth of Jesus

This month I have a variety of thoughts to share with my readers which I am linking to below.

First, you can hear my short radio spot on EWTN’s Son Rise morning radio show which aired around 7:45 Eastern Time on 12/20.  It should be posted here within a few days.  The interview was about Benedict XVI’s biblical interpretation in general and his understanding of the Gospel infancy narratives in particular.

In the blogosphere there’s this interview I did with Brandon Vogt on my recent book Dark Passages of the Bible.

At Homiletic and Pastoral Review I recently authored a piece on reading Jesus’ infancy through the eyes of Pope Benedict XVI.  This piece discusses how and in what sense the Gospels record history and teach theology.

Today Brandon has published my article Common Ground for Catholics and Atheists?  Violence Is Contrary to God’s Nature on his wonderful site Strange Notions.  This site is dedicated to fostering dialogue between Catholics and atheists, serving as a “digital Areopagus.”

Finally, Crisis Magazine has published an article of mine, Benedict XVI on the Christmas Readings.  It helps us make sense of the seemingly boring genealogies in the Gospels.

Happy Advent and Merry early Christmas to you and yours.

Farewell to the Devil?

The existence of the devil is not very compatible with modern thinking. Such is the view confronted by Benedict XVI in a response he once wrote to a book called Farewell to the Devil. Its author, an Old Testament scholar, expressed the view of many a modern man in claiming, “By now we have understood that the term ‘devil’ in the New Testament simply stands for the term ‘sin.’” The devil is just an image for sin, just something Jesus talks about to keep a little holy fear in us—but not someone we really have to fear, someone whose existence we can prove and wiles we can’t explain otherwise through modern psychology.

I recently authored a book entitled Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas. In that book one of the three main themes I treat is the problem of evil in the Old Testament.  I encourage you to read my post at Benedictine College’s Gregorian Institute on what Pope Benedict has to say about the existence of the devil.  Do the Scriptures really affirm the existence of the devil, or is he a superstition from a bygone age which enlightened people today need to move beyond?

Dark Passages of the Bible

Ramage large cmykI was happy to find out this week that my forthcoming book is in the Fall catalog of Catholic University of America Press and set to be in print by September. It is already available for pre-order on Amazon. A more extended blurb can be found on the CUA Press website.

 The cover we decided on (above) is a Rembrandt sketch of the scene from Gen 22 when Abraham is called by God to slaughter Isaac–a dark passage indeed! Of course, Abraham did not have to go through with the physical action, but it still stands out as a particularly evocative “dark passage” and one that is well represented in the Church’s artistic tradition.

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