Meet Raymond Brown
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 bachelorís and masterís degrees from Catholic University in Washington, a doctorate in sacred theology from St. Maryís 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Research in 1958-59, working on the Dead Sea Scrolls and collaborating in the preparation of a concordance of the unpublished texts.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. Maryís 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 donít carry one of these cases, people donít 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 incompatibleóthat studying and teaching were priestly, even pastoral, activities that aptly represented commitment to both scholarship and faith.