A look at any best-seller list reveals a thriving subcategory of readable scholarly and pseudo-scholarly books about the “real” Jesus: he was, they claim, a sage, a mystic, a rabbi, a boyfriend. He was a father, a pacifist, an ascetic, a prophet. In some parts of the Christian world, the aspects of Jesus’ story that most strain credibility—the virgin birth and the physical resurrection—have become optional to faith.One can almost hear Pope Benedict XVI roaring with frustration at this multiplicity of interpretations. Benedict, a theologian by training with an expertise in dogma, has been fierce in his condemnation of the creep of Western secularism, and the promiscuity of recent Jesus scholarship must seem to him another symptom of the same disease, all ill-founded and subjective claims. “We are building a dictatorship of relativism,” he declared at the beginning of the 2005 enclave that elected him pope, “that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” Benedict’s answer to secularism is Christ, and this week the American publisher Doubleday releases “Jesus of Nazareth,” Benedict’s portrait of his Lord.

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