Feast of Raymond E. Brown (August 8)   8 comments

Above:  Books by Father Raymond E. Brown, from my Library

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

RAYMOND EDWARD BROWN (MAY 22, 1928-AUGUST 8, 1998)

U.S. Roman Catholic Priest and Biblical Scholar

+++++++++++++++=

To

a remarkable group of doctoral candidates

who studied at Union Theological Seminary (NYC)

in the years J. Louis Martyn and I taught New Testament

and who now teach me by their writings

–The dedication from An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

++++++++++++++++

Father Raymond E. Brown comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via my library.  I own copies of some of his books, most of which are thick.  Brown’s commentary on the Gospel of John, for example, consists of two tomes.  Furthermore, his commentary on the brief 1-3 John is 812 pages long.

 Brown was a great Biblical scholar.  Cardinal Roger Mahoney, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called our saint,

the most distinguished and renowned Catholic Biblical scholar

ever to emerge in the United States.  Brown also carried on a prolonged academic debate with John Dominic Crossan.  Our saint avoided doing what Crossan did frequently, expecially in Crossan’s The Historical Jesus (1993); Brown never made anything up.  (Aside:  I have read Crossan’s The Historical Jesus.  I have concluded that the first half of the book is excellent.  That is the part of the book in which Crossan established the socio-economic-political background in which Jesus lived.  Then, at the halfway point, Crossan started writing about Jesus and making up content.)  Yet our saint was too liberal for the theological tastes of traditionalist Catholics and many conservative Protestants.  And Brown was too conservative for the Crossan corner of theology, of course.  Our saint, who has informed my Biblical studies for years, was about right.

Brown came from a Roman Catholic family.  He, born in New York, New York, on May 22, 1928, was a son of Robert H. Brown and Loretta Brown.  When our saint was 15 years old, in 1943, Pope Pius XII began to reverse Pope Piux X’s restrictions on Biblical scholarship.  Pope Pius XII permitted the use of the historical-critical method.  Brown grew up to become one of the foremost practitioners of that method.

Brown was a priest and a scholar.  His family moved to Florida in 1944.  Therefore, our saint went to St. Charles Seminary, the Catholic University of America, and the Gregorian University (in Rome) from the Diocese of St. Augustine.  Our saint, who joined the Society of Saint-Sulpice in 1951, became a priest in 1953.  Then he earned two doctorates–a Doctor of Sacred Theology (St. Mary’s Theology, Baltimore, Maryland, 1955) and a Ph.D. in Semitic languages (The Johns Hopkins University, 1958, under William F. Albright).

Brown taught at St. Mary’s University until 1971.  During these years, he continued to work on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  (He had started work on them while at Johns Hopkins.)  Our saint, an ecumenist, was the Roman Catholic advisor to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (1968-1993).  He also participated in official Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues and received honorary degrees from Protestant institutions.  And Brown taught at Woodstock College (1971-1974) and Union Theological Seminary (1971-1990).  He became the first Roman Catholic priest to serve as a tenured professor at Union Theological Seminary.

Brown, whose breadth and depth of knowledge he made obvious in thick commentaries, specialized in the Johannine tradition.  He argued, for example, of several layers of authorship in the Gospel of John.  According to Brown, there was the first layer, with direct experiences of Jesus.  Then a Johannine community contributed to the Fourth Gospel.  Finally came the third and last draft, the one we read.

Brown frequently raised the hackles of many to his right.  For example, he argued that the infancy accounts of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are historically inaccurate.  He pointed out that the census in Luke never happened and argued against the plausibility of the story of the Magi in Matthew.

None of this disturbs me.  I conclude that, if ancient Roman imperial records do not indicate the census from Luke, so be it.  Objective reality is what it is.  Besides, I have read enough about historical Jesus scholarship to know that many scholars of the New Testament admit what Brown did regarding that census.  More conservative scholars tend to struggle to explain the historicity of that census.  I am not a Biblical literalist, so this knowledge does not ruin my Christmas every year.  However, I disagree with Brown regarding the  story of the Magi.  I do not pretend to read a purely accurate account at the beginning of Matthew.  Nevertheless, one can explain the “star of Bethlehem” scientifically, to a point.  (I detect some embellishment in the account.)  And the story of the Magi arriving seems plausible.

Brown sought to determine what the original authors intended to communicate to the original audiences.  Doing so fulfilled his understanding of his vocation as a priest and scholar.  Biblical interpretation should begin with the authors’ intention, Brown insisted.  He was correct.

(Aside:  Some people criticize me for focusing so much on the authors’ original intention and how the original audience understood texts.  I agree with Brown and push back against excessive relativism in Biblical interpretation.  A text says, in original context, what it says.  It means, in original context, what it means.  We moderns can–and should–apply these texts to our contexts and interpret these texts in that light.  Yet me must ground ourselves in historical perspective and objective reality.  My training in historical methodology tells me that.)

After Brown retired from Union Theological Seminary, in 1990, he moved to Menlo Park, California, and went into residence at St. Patrick’s Seminary.  During the final eight years of his life, Brown was productive.  He updated The Birth of the Messiah (1977, 1993).  He wrote The Death of the Messiah (two volumes, 1994).  And our saint completed his final major work, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), considerably longer than the New Testament.

Brown, aged 60 years, died in Menlo Park, California, on August 8, 1998.

I wonder how many more major works he would have completed had he lived long enough.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANNA OF OXENHALL AND HER FAITHFUL DESCENDANTS, SAINT WENNA THE QUEEN, SAINT NON, SAINT SAMSON OF DOL, SAINT CYBI, AND SAINT DAVID OF WALES

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HODDER, ENGLISH BIOGRAPHER, DEVOTIONAL WRITER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WISHART, SCOTTISH CALVINIST REFORMER AND MARTYR, 1546; AND WALTER MILNE, SCOTTISH PROTESTANT MARTYR, 1558

THE FEAST OF JEAN-PIERRE DE CAUSSADE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROGER LEFORT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF BOURGES

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Raymond E. Brown and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: