US rabbi says pope has finished second volume on Jesus

VATICAN CITY — U.S. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a prolific author and professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., told the Vatican newspaper that Pope Benedict XVI has finished the second volume of his book on Jesus.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner (CNS/Bard College)

The rabbi says the pope told him so during their 20-minute meeting yesterday.

The fact that the pope would tell a U.S. rabbi that the manuscript is finished isn’t quite as odd as it would appear. In the pope’s first volume, “Jesus of Nazareth,” there were more quotes from Rabbi Neusner than from anyone but the Gospel writers and St. Paul.

In the first volume, published in 2007, Pope Benedict discussed in depth Rabbi Neusner’s 1993 book, “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus.” The pope said the rabbi’s “profound respect for the Christian faith and his faithfulness to Judaism led him to seek a dialogue with Jesus.”

Imagining himself amid the crowd gathered on a Galilean hillside when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, Rabbi Neusner “listens, confronts and speaks with Jesus himself,” the pope wrote.

“In the end, he decides not to follow Jesus,” the pope wrote, but he takes Jesus and his words more seriously than many modern Christian scholars do.

The rabbi was in Rome to speak at a Jan. 18 event sponsored by the Italian Catholic Church to mark its annual day of Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He was able to attend Pope Benedict’s visit Sunday evening to Rome’s synagogue and then met privately with the pope yesterday morning.

He told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that their 20 minutes together “was sufficient time for a good meeting between two professors. I have always admired the scholar Joseph Ratzinger for his honesty and lucidity and I really wanted to meet and get to know the man.”

“We spoke about our books and he confided to me that he has finished writing his second volume on Jesus,” the rabbi said.

Rabbi Neusner said he was struck by the pope’s penetrating gaze and by his “kindness and humility.”