He Was One of Us

Jesus Our Brotherby By Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P.Paulist Press. 128p $14.95 (paperback)

Wilfrid Harrington, a Dominican priest who is a professor of Scripture at the Dominican House of Studies in Dublin and visiting lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological College in Dublin, is widely regarded as the “dean” of Catholic biblical studies in Ireland. Through his many books and articles and his vast experience as a teacher and lecturer, he has brought the best of technical scholarship to a wide audience. His very large body of work provides an excellent example to be imitated in both style and context. It is always learned, personally engaged, clearly and concisely written, positive and constructive and theologically sensitive and relevant.

His latest volume seeks to illustrate the authentic humanity of Jesus by highlighting Jesus’ characteristically human traits. He regards this as important (indeed as “the astounding truth at the heart of Christianity”) because it is in the human Jesus that we meet God. This is not another speculative book about the quest of the historical Jesus. Rather, it is an attempt to synthesize what the four Gospels say about Jesus in the light of modern critical scholarship. It gives particular attention to Mark’s Gospel because it is the earliest Gospel, and because Mark’s Jesus is the most human.


After considering Jesus’ early life in Nazareth, Harrington discusses his association with John the Baptist and Jesus’ own career as prophet, teacher and healer, as well as his death on the cross. Then he treats those persons for whom Jesus showed special concern: the poor, women, children, sinners and social outcasts. Next, in what is by far the longest chapter and the heart of the book, he deals with the human traits or characteristics of Jesus in the following areas: faith, testing, love, prayer, religion, compassion, forgiveness, nature, humor, exasperation, anger and fear. Then he reflects on the various reactions that the human Jesus evoked: acceptance, opposition and rejection. And he concludes with observations on Jesus at his most vulnerably human in the Gethsemane episode, in what sense Jesus was and was not a failure, and the cross as God’s own definition of what it is to be human.

I am often asked for recommendations of books that get at the “real” Jesus, are learned and scholarly but not overly technical, and are generally orthodox in their theology while being challenging personally and theologically. This is that kind of book. Besides his prodigious knowledge of the Bible, Harrington brings out clearly the value of taking seriously the humanity of Jesus. He describes Jesus as having come as a human being into our human history to tell us of the goodness of God—the Deus humanissimus, the God bent on the salvation of humankind. And he sees Jesus on the cross as showing us that we are truly human when we accept our humanity, when we face the fact that we are not masters of our fate. In the Cross God defined the human being as a creature that he as creator might be wholly with us, as parent with child.

Now in his mid-80s, Harrington by his writing and teaching remains not only one of Ireland’s national treasures but also a teacher for all who seek to enter into the world of the New Testament. Though our paths have seldom crossed, we share a surname and common roots in the Beara Peninsula of Ireland. Also, each of us has contributed a volume to a series edited by the other. But even more important to me has been the example of learning, industry and fidelity shown by Wilfrid Harrington in making available to God’s people the best in contemporary biblical scholarship and so helping our Catholic Church become more explicitly and profoundly biblical.

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Sean O'Seasnain
8 years ago
I had the great privilege of having Wilfrid Harrington as my Scripture teacher and spiritual director at the Dominican House of Studies in Tallaght, Dublin in the early nineteen-sixties. He was the epitome of the Great Teacher then as he still is to this day. A little known fact is that the Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor was also one of his students and, I believe, influenced her 2007 CD 'Theology'.

Fr. Wilfrid Harrington has been instrumental in enlightening numerous priests, nuns, religious sisters, and lay people over decades regarding Sacred Scripture in the manner so expertly described in this review by his namesake yet he has still to be given some appreciative recognition for his mammoth and sustaining work in preaching the Gospel by the hierarchy and the Vatican.     
William Atkinson
8 years ago
Confused, Jesus our Brother,  Savior, King,  Its been a long long time since 0033, Its 2011 Now,  and in the timeline of Earths 800 Billion Years and mankind in last 7 Billion Years and religions only around for  8 thousand years, and Abrahamic religions less than 4000 years; and now were back to Jesus our brother, whats next, Jesus as fellow college student, Jesus as my christian soldier buddy killing Jews and muslims, Jesus my husband: where does it all end (or start).  Come on yu theologians and philosophers and even psycics, whats with this Jesus craze,  can't yu just leave him as a jewish nut case gone off his rocker, captured as roman terrorist, and executed as a radical jewish dessert troublemaker.      Ok  so he lives on and on and on in memory and political necessity to control peoples and used to cause disterbances, wars, and mayhem in his name.    Ok, Ok use my comments to start another fire storm.
I prefere tielhard De' Cardins noosphere,  yup, it  will all come together in time,  but in the meantime we all need a good brother to hang with.  Yada Yada Do.
Ross Lonergan
8 years ago
"...radical jewish dessert troublemaker": Is that where the expression "Sweet Jesus" comes from?
Jim Bender
8 years ago
" a...nut case gone of his rocker "  Maybe the author of comment #2 should look in the mirror.  It is a shame that even among Catholics there has to be such acrimony and narrowness while we try to have an understanding of the one who loves us so well.
8 years ago
Happened to scroll by and noticed that, boy, oh boy, Will at post #2 is mad as hell at Christianity, at Jesus, at the very thought that Jesus might be our brother! How? Under the Fatherhood of God, whose son he is! That's how! Will sounds a lot to me like Saul of Tarsus, breathing fire and wrath against the earliest Christians, until he got knocked off his high horse on the road to Damascus and saw the Light.

Hey, Will, based on the review of the book, "Jesus Our Brother" written by Dominican Priest Fr. W.J. Harrington and reviewed by Jesuit Priest Fr. D.J. Harrington,  on which you "commented" why don't you READ the book? It could turn you into a "Saint William Atkinson" Like Saul you're full of fire in pursuit of what you see as "right and driven by the energy of mis-directed  zeal against "error" as you see it. And like Paul, transformed by Jesus (Yes JESUS!) that's  who did it, let love transform you into a great Christian (Catholic) apostle of love, an apostle  of the brotherhood/sisterhood of humanity under the Fatherhood of God, with Jesus, Lord, Savior, King ( as you noted)  our #1 Brother! Try it, you'll be surprised!  God bless you, Brother Will, You are in my prayers. Please pray for me in your own way and in your own time.


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