Raymond E. Brown New Testament Essays

ISBN 13: 9780307591647

New Testament Essays

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9780307591647: New Testament Essays

Over the past fity years the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of the Bible opened up to modern scholarship in a way never before imaginable, and at the center of this shift is Raymond Brown. Today, both academic and general readers continue to find insight and inspiration in his publications.

New Testament Essays brings together fourteen of Brown's early works on subjects ranging from the ecumenical possibilities raised by historical study of the Bible to the relationship between faith and biblical research to the theology and history of the Gospel of John, concisely capturing many of Brown's major concerns in the clear and accessible voice for which he was so beloved. Brown had a gift for bringing insightful scholarship to a wide audience, as this collection makes clear, and his work ultimately shows that, rather than posing a challenge to faith, historical criticism of Scripture provides a path to deeper understanding of the Word of God and its implications for the modern world.

In this new edition of New Testament Essays, Father Ronald Witherup, Brown's colleague, provides an introduction describing Brown's life and work, his impact on biblical studies, and his powerful legacy.

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About the Author:

Raymond E. Brown, S.S. (1928-1998) was a Catholic priest and the Auburn Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Over the course of his life, Brown wrote more than forty-five books, including the acclaimed and bestselling The Birth of the Messiah, The Death of the Messiah, and An Introduction to the New Testament.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION TO
THE NEW EDITION
New Testament Essays and the
Legacy of Raymond E. Brown
Ronald D. Witherup, S.S.
 
When this set of essays was first published in 1965, Roman Catholic biblical scholarship was on the verge of breaking into the mainstream scholarly discussion that had largely been dominated by Protestant scholars since the nineteenth century. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., was at the center of this new development and was already being hailed as one of the leading American Catholic biblical scholars. Renowned for his ability to address scholars and nonprofessionals alike, these fourteen essays illustrate what a fresh new outlook on biblical study had arrived on the scene.
 
Reissuing this collection more than forty years after its initial appearance is warranted for three reasons. First, they provide eloquent testimony to the impact Brown made on New Testament scholarship in the middle of the twentieth century. Among people interested in modern biblical scholarship, both Catholic and non-Catholic, Brown’s became a household name, someone to be reckoned with if you wanted to know more about the Bible. Second, these essays are an excellent example of the application of the historical critical method, an essentially modern scientific study of the Bible. As such, they continue to show the ongoing contribution that method can make to our comprehension of the Bible. Finally, these essays foreshadowed some of the issues that would linger into the twenty-first century.
 
This introduction has three goals: to present a synopsis of the life of the world-renowned biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown, S.S.; to offer a brief assessment of this collection of his early essays; and to offer some thoughts on where New Testament studies have gone since these essays originally appeared.
 
BIOGRAPHY
Raymond Edward Brown was born on May 22, 1928, in the Bronx, New York City, one of two sons born to Reuben H. and Loretta (Sullivan) Brown.1 He began his education in the Bronx, but his family relocated to Miami Shores, Florida, in 1944, where he completed high school.
 
He entered St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1945—a college seminary program run by the Society of St. Sulpice (the Sulpicians), the community of diocesan priest-educators he later joined (thus, the initials S.S.). Already a prodigious academic talent, Brown entered an
accelerated program of study and transferred to the Catholic University of America in 1946, where he became a Basselin Scholar and obtained both a B.A. (1948) and M.A. (1949) in philosophy. He then began advanced seminary studies at the Gregorian University in Rome (1949–50) but at the request of his bishop returned to the States the following year to complete studies for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland.
 
The oldest Roman Catholic seminary in the country, St. Mary’s was founded by the Sulpicians in 1791 at the invitation of Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States. There Brown completed his theological training for the priesthood, obtaining Bachelor of Sacred Theology (S.T.B., 1951) and Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L., 1953) degrees. He was ordained a priest on May 23, 1953, for the Diocese of St. Augustine (Florida) but was  immediately released to the Sulpicians, since he was attracted to biblical studies and had become a Sulpician candidate in 1951. He entered the Society formally in 1955.

From a historical perspective, one should keep in mind when reading these essays that Brown entered Catholic biblical studies when it was in its infancy, a little over a decade after Pope Pius XII had issued a groundbreaking encyclical letter in 1943, titled Divino Affl ante Spiritu, which gave Catholic biblical scholars the green light to pursue their academic research publicly, something that had been pursued discreetly in the background for years. This allowed them to enter into wider scholarly discussions. The encyclical urged Catholic scholars to utilize every linguistic, archaeological, and literary tool available to enhance a contemporary understanding of the Bible, freeing these methods of study from the cloud of suspicion that had previously surrounded them.
 
Although Brown was not the only Sulpician biblical scholar to be engaged in signifi cant research projects, his unique abilities were quickly recognized and his name became associated with the historical-critical approach that was to dominate the latter half of the twentieth century.
 
After joining the Sulpicians, Brown was assigned to teach at St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville. This appointment also allowed him to complete a doctorate in sacred theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University (S.T.D.,1955) and to begin doctoral studies in Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins University, where he became a student of the world-renowned scholar William Foxwell Albright, known then as “the dean of biblical archaeologists.” Albright was recognized as the world’s leading expert on archaeology and the religion of ancient Israel, and he also understood the potential that archaeology held for expanding our understanding of the Bible. He trained a generation of important scholars, among them Raymond Brown.
 
Although it was somewhat unusual for a Roman Catholic (and a priest) to study at a secular university, the Sulpicians were interested in the best possible training for their members who would be teaching in major seminaries around the world. At that time, the Catholic Church’s openness to other Christian denominations was growing, and Brown was able to benefi t from this development by studying with such a well-known scholar. Brown finished his dissertation (Ph.D. in Semitic languages) in 1958, writing on the Semitic background of the term “mystery” in the New Testament, a work that demonstrated his longstanding interest in combining Near Eastern and Old Testament studies with the study of the New Testament. (This influence is readily visible in New Testament Essays, for example when he discusses the Dead Sea Scrolls in relation to Church organization or to the Johannine literature.)
 
Later, Brown also completed a licentiate in sacred scripture from the Pontifical Biblical commission in Rome (S.S.L., 1963), to round out his biblical education from a Catholic perspective, where he had obtained an earlier baccalaureate in sacred scripture (S.S.B., 1959). At the end of his doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins, Brown was fortunate to be invited to work on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Jerusalem from 1958–59, where he helped create a preliminary concordance of those remarkable documents.
 
Discovered in 1947 in caves near the Dead Sea by a shepherd boy out tending his fl ock, these scrolls later became the focus of much intrigue and scholarly debate. Brown quickly recognized their importance as providing, if not direct infl uence on the New Testament, at least some of the crucial environment surrounding the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth and the traditions about them found in the New Testament. After this fruitful sojourn in the Middle East, which broadened his background and personal knowledge of the Holy Land, Brown returned to teach at his alma mater, St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, until 1971.
 
By that time, Brown had gained an international scholarly reputation because of the appearance of his monumental two-volume commentary on John’s Gospel in the Anchor Bible Commentary series (1966, 1970) that had been begun by his Johns Hopkins mentor, William F. Albright.
 
 In fact, Brown’s two volumes virtually redirected the nature of that commentary series and raised the bar signifi cantly on both the quality and extent of the scholarship expected. With the  permission of his Sulpician superiors, Brown moved to New York to accept a joint professorship at the Jesuit Woodstock College and Union Theological Seminary (1971–74). When Woodstock closed, he took a full-time position at Union, where he taught for twenty years, until his early retirement in 1990 as Auburn Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies. He then took up residence at the Sulpician-run St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, in order to continue his research and writing. He lived there until his untimely death by cardiac arrest on  August 8, 1998, having been the author of some forty-seven books and hundreds of articles and book reviews.
 
Although he made his name in Johannine studies, Brown’s interest extended into many other areas, including Christology and ecclesiology of the New Testament, biblical hermeneutics, inspiration, fundamentalism, and biblical preaching in the liturgical life of the Church. It is also noteworthy that Brown educated some significant young scholars who themselves went on to make important scholarly contributions (e.g., Craig Koester and Marion Soards, to name just two). 
 
AN ASSESSMENT OF NEW TESTAMENT ESSAYS

Why reissue these essays more than ten years after the author’s death and more than forty years after their appearance in a collected format? Two immediate reasons come to mind. First, the name of Raymond E. Brown continues to be recognized around the world as exemplary of a quality of Catholic biblical scholarship in the twentieth century that has enduring value for the ages. His ability to explore the biblical writings of both Testaments, as well as important extra-biblical materials such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, in great detail yet in a way that appealed beyond
the scholarly world to the general public, was unsurpassed in his day. When the Essays first appeared, one (non-Catholic) commentator noted how remarkable it was for a scholar not yet forty years old to have reached such a level of achievement.
 
Brown’s prolific and innovative scholarship was already evident. His interpretations, observations, and questions especially in the Johannine literature set the agenda for much of Johannine scholarship for the next forty years. No scholar could avoid grappling with Brown’s positions, even if one disagreed with specific viewpoints or hypotheses.
 
His New Testament Essays also gives rich testimony to the efficacy of Catholic biblical studies, especially after Vatican Council II (1962–65), which awakened in Catholics an unquenchable thirst to explore the Bible. This ecumenical council of the world’s Catholic bishops (and invited non-Catholic observers), called by the elderly Pope John XXIII in an unexpected move, produced an important Church constitution on divine revelation, titled Dei Verbum, which reinforced the modern, scientific study of the Bible already promoted by Pope Pius XII in Divino Aff ante Spiritu. This constitution continues to guide modern Catholic biblical studies, although there remain controversies about its interpretation.
 
Brown’s essays carved out a path that enabled Catholic scholars to participate in the wider scholarly enterprise in ways that were still loyal to the Catholic perspective, even though some disagreements would inevitably ensue.
 
Rereading these essays after decades does nothing to diminish this assessment of their value. On the contrary, the insights they contain continue to inspire and to direct the attentive reader toward incisive observations about biblical texts easily forgotten or overlooked. Moreover, some topics treated in the essays (e.g., the Bible and ecumenism; unity and diversity in New Testament ecclesiology) Brown went on to explore at greater length in popular books intended for educated lay people that enticed readers to want to know more about the Bible and how it could speak to
people today.8 New Testament Essays is thus an early “window” into Brown’s mind and the ideas that would later make a far greater impact on the life of the Church in the post–Vatican II era.
 
A second reason for their republication is the witness they bear to a distinctive time in the history of the Catholic Church when serious battles were still being fought over the value of modern, scientific study of the Bible, which up to that point had been primarily the legacy of Protestant biblical exegesis. Indeed, Father Brown was a quintessential practitioner of the historical-critical method, actually a collection of methods that emphasized “objective” scientific study of Scripture based upon modern linguistic, archaeological, and literary tools. Among others at the time, like
his famous colleagues Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, with whom Brown edited the fi rst Catholic one volume Bible commentary in English, Brown ardently defended the use of this approach to professional biblical studies in contrast to earlier methods that had assumed the literal historicity of all the biblical materials and emphasized allegorical and spiritual readings of the Bible over historical ones.
 
Paradoxically, this discussion is being revisited today, as multiple dissatisfactions (some of them valid) with the historical-critical method have arisen and as a desire to return to a more spiritually oriented patristic reading of the Scriptures has resurfaced.
 
Beyond reflecting the use of new scholarly methods for increased understanding of Scripture, New Testament Essays also provides eloquent testimony to many other developments in the Catholic faith during this unique period of Catholic history. Mirroring the larger emergence of ecumenical dialogue, for example, Part One, titled “Biblical Research Today and Its Ecumenical Possibilities,” contains three essays that explain why the historical-critical approach to the Bible, which was relatively new for Catholics at that time, helped to promote ecumenical discussion and cooperation.
 
The Bible provided the common ground that had previously been elusive, especially in discussions between Protestants and Catholics. Brown was at the forefront of these developments. His meticulous scholarship, done faithfully from a Catholic perspective, enabled him to bridge ecumenical gaps and to foster tolerance among diverse Christian denominations.
 
Methodologically, it should be emphasized that Brown’s scholarly approach was generally considered to be judicious and as objective as possible. He was extremely professional in the way he applied scholarly methods to delicate topics. He was not averse to raising serious questions about historicity in the New Testament, when necessary, as is illustrated by his essay “The  Problem of Historicity in John,” where his conclusions respect both the theology and possible historical underpinnings contained in the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.
 
Although some lay critics eventually became alarmed at some of his scholarly conclusions, which they deemed excessive and antispiritual, and some even went as far as to protest his public lectures, Brown never let this stop him from applying his scholarly tools in a steady and even-handed manner. He remained loyal to the Catholic tradition and was twice appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission itself, but he also recognized the complexity of the biblical materials and felt that the Church had nothing to fear from a proper, professional application of scholarly methods to New Testament study.
 
One obvious result of his judicious approach to such delicate questions was...

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