I received a comped copy of this book for review, but have not taken any other compensation nor was this post subject to any editorial review. (Besides the eagle-eyed grammar police of the commentariat).
I read Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration earlier this year, as part of the two-person book club I set up with the Dominican friar who sponsored me at my baptism. Although Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives is part of the same project, the two books felt very different tonally to me, and I’d recommend them for different audiences. The Pope’s first book, covering the early part of Jesus’s public life, read a lot more like a narrative, and his treatment of the infancy narratives feels a lot more like a reference book.
I was reading the first book to learn more about Jesus-the-Person, instead of Jesus-the-Metaphysical-Claim, and I found it wonderfully discursive. The Pope drew from Orthodox tradition to draw parallels between Jesus’s baptism and his Passion (some Orthodox icons show a tomb-shaped pool), and to remind us that baptism is our participation in Jesus’s death so we can die to sin. He speaks to a rabbi friend about what in Jesus’s teachings is an affront to Mosaic law. There’s a lovely convergence as all these different traditions, scholars, and works of art support the central theme: Jesus instituting the Sacraments throughout his life and ministry.
The new book is a bit more tightly focuses and much briefer. Ultimately, I wouldn’t expect to read The Infancy Narratives straight through, or even as a part of my preparations for Christmas. I’d keep it nearby to refer to as other readings in Advent and the Christmas season made me wonder “But why does the Church believe…” ”What exactly does the Bible mean by…” etc. The Pope has put together a thorough and well-footnoted body of research on the nuances and historical controversies of the infancy narratives, helpfully grouped thematically. It’s useful to take along on a theological jaunt.