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New books abound on Jesus at 2000

By NCR Staff

The constant stream of books about Jesus has gathered momentum, to no one’s surprise, on the occasion of the (approximately) 2,000th anniversary of his birth. Considering the low level of theological exploration during this pontificate, it is again no surprise that so many of the books are of a celebratory rather than a speculative nature. Picture books, in short.

The historical Jesus has been well-treated over the centuries, not only in word but in image. Big advances in technology have made the pictures vastly more interesting than they used to be. It’s a great pity the Messiah didn’t delay his arrival until the invention of the camera. Or perhaps not -- the life of Christ has been a real challenge to the human imagination. And, not knowing what God-among-us looked like, we have been able to bend divinity to our image.

Two spectacular picture books recently arrived at NCR.

Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith (Oxford University Press, 240 pages, $35) is two-thirds text, one-third pictures. It presents photographs from the Holy Land interspersed with an interesting array of art works from across the ages, including some quite uncommon ones. Also included are several versions of the Last Supper, a timely reminder that Leonardo’s was not necessarily the definitive version. The chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is said to mark the site of the crucifixion. The Sea of Galilee featured prominently in the tales of Jesus’ life.

For that small percentage of humanity that does not get to the Holy Land on pilgrimage next year, In the Footsteps of Jesus: 2000 Years Later (Continuum, 222 pages, $34.50) is offered as a substitute. There are high quality pictures of just about anyplace and anything that the modern tourist/pilgrim might wish to see. In the Garden of Gethsemane, an ancient olive tree still stands.

National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 1999