Monday, August 12, 2013

Fr. Raymond E. Brown Page

Likely the most influential American Catholic Biblical Scholar of the twentieth century, Fr. Raymond Brown, who passed in August of 1998, now has a nifty website dedicated to him.  It includes articles, recollections, and opportunities to purchase some of his audio and video recordings.  This site looks pretty new, so I can imagine that we will see more added to it in the coming months.  

Among Fr. Raymond Brown's most prominent works, in English, would certainly be his Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel of St. John,  The Birth of the Messiah, The Death of the Messiah, and one of his last books An Introduction to the New Testament.  (I should also mention his work on the New Jerome Biblical Commentary.)

Here is a helpful bio of Fr. Raymond Brown from

When he died in August 1998 at the age of 70, Father Raymond Brown was the "acknowledged dean of New Testament scholarship and a master of his discipline at the pinnacle of his career." (New York Times Book Review)

Born in New York City, Brown moved with his family to Florida in 1943. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Catholic University in Washington, a doctorate in sacred theology from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, and a doctorate in Semitic languages from Johns Hopkins University in 1958. He was a member of the Society of St. Sulpice, an order of priests dedicated to teaching in seminaries. Though ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1953, his teaching and writing commitments left him little time for pastoral work. In his 45-year career, he baptized only four babies.

Father Brown served as a fellow at the American School of Oriental Research in 1958-59, working on the Dead Sea Scrolls and collaborating in the preparation of a concordance of the unpublished texts. He returned to the United States in 1959 to teach at St. Mary’s Seminary. And in 1971, he became Auburn Professor of Biblical Studies at the interdenominational Protestant Union Theological Seminary in New York City, its first tenured Catholic professor. He remained there until his retirement in 1990, when he moved to the Sulpician seminary in Menlo Park, California, continuing to write and lecture around the world.

The author of over 40 books, Brown was considered to be a moderate in the field of biblical studies. He was best known for his works The Gospel According to John, part of the Anchor Bible Commentary series; the recently published Introduction to the New Testament; and volumes on The Birth of the Messiah and The Death of the Messiah. When asked if he was planning a trilogy, to conclude with a book on the resurrection, his response was, "I would rather explore that area face to face." (The Independent, London 1998) Though many of his books are long, they are well-outlined in their tables of content and introductions, and relieved by charts, maps, and tables. They are easy to use and follow because they are written clearly in a straightforward manner. His commentaries are goldmines for footnote readers. The scholar will not be disappointed; the layperson will not be put off.

Despite his well-received books, lecturing was perhaps his even greater gift. His classes at Union Seminary several times had to be moved to larger rooms to accommodate all who signed up. His teaching was marked by clarity and simplicity. When asked by a friend why he carried an attaché case since he never used texts or notes during lectures, he replied, "Because if you don’t carry one of these cases, people don’t think you know anything." (The Independent)

Raymond Brown was not without his critics, particularly among those in the Catholic church who believed his rigorous biblical scholarship put him at odds with the faith. He always asserted that the two were not incompatible—that studying and teaching were priestly, even pastoral, activities that aptly represented commitment to both scholarship and faith.


rolf said...

Thanks for the link Timothy, Father Brown's 'Introduction to the New Testament' was the text used for our archdiocesan Catholic Bible Institute program. Back in the nineties when the program first started, Father Brown was one of its lecturers along with Father Donald Senior, Father Lawrence Boadt and many others.

Biblical Catholic said...

He left a mixed legacy....

On the one hand, he was responsible for reviving Catholic Bible scholarship and for producing THE commentary on John which set the direction for Johnnaine scholarship for the 20th century, and there are many compelling and brilliant insights in that commentary....

On the other hand, his approach was excessively rationalistic and tended to undermine the traditional Catholic understanding of the addition, he tended to go waaaaaaaaaay out on a limb on wild speculative theories of the composition and textual history of the text which have absolutely no basis in anything....and this has seriously harmed modern Biblical scholarship

citizen DAK said...

I appreciate that last paragraph, pointing out that Faith shouldn't be seen as incompatible with Reason!
(Must be careful to CLEARLY state what is speculative, when possible. Religious Assent doesn't always preclude imagination and analysis. "Not all theological truths are dogmata" (1). But watch out for schism.)

(1)=Wikipedia's "R.C.dogma"

Russ said...

I love his writings. And I didn't see in the article where he was twice appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the first time in the '70s by Pope Paul VI and most recently in 1996, by John Paul II. Thanks for posting this.

Theophrastus said...

He is a giant, not only for his immense contributions to Biblical scholarship, but also for being an exceptionally clear teacher -- both in his writings and in his lectures.

Gerald Champion said...

He basically thought the nativity accounts were made up stories--he personifies what is wrong with what masquerades as modern biblical scholarship!

CJA Mayo said...

I'm not a fan of much of his work, and make no secret of the fact that I believe he was in gross error on some things (see the comment above mine), but he, for better or worse, is one of the giants of modern Biblical scholarship, especially for the Johannine writings. Additionally, Brown pretty much single-handedly put Catholic Biblical scholarship of the modern sort (again, for better or for worse) on the map.

Like any towering figure in any given field, you may disagree with Brown, or agree with him - but you must reckon with him either way.

Biblical Catholic said...

Although Brown's influence on studies of the Johnnaine literature is still strong, his view is no longer the 'leading' voice....

All of the current scholarship currently being done on the Gospel of John these days really begins with the work of Alan Culpepper, in particular his book 'The Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel' first published in 1983.

What distinguishes Culpepper's approach from Brown's is that Brown, like much of modern Biblical scholarship, was obsessed with the historical critical method, he was constantly creating theories of how the gospel was composed, edited and circulated, and he developed elaborate theories as to its authorship etc.....Brown's books are often deeply invested in these issues that it is barely once every 10 pages that he steps back to ask 'well, what does this text mean anyway?'

Culpepper has basically no interest in those issues that interested Brown, Culpepper's view is basically 'who cares about that stuff, let's look at the Gospel of John as a work of literature and see if we can determine its meaning by using the normal tools of literary criticism.'

I guess it's a sign of how far afield Biblical criticism has become these days that the idea of actually reading the text and analyzing it to try to figure out what it means is considered a revolutionary new idea.