Does Raymond Brown’s volume deliver? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Raymond Brown years ago wrote a classic two volume set called “Death of the Messiah.” He had also written “Birth of the Messiah” and when asked about resurrection, said that that’s a piece of work he’d prefer to study later on face-to-face.
Reading through DOTM, I am reminded of how Ronald Nash spoke about Augustine’s book “The City of God” and how Augustine said some people might think that he had written too little, to which Nash wanted to know just who those people would be. If anyone said the same about the work of Brown, I’d want to know exactly who those people would be.
If there is one word that could be used to describe this work, it would be exhaustive. Brown will spend pages answering questions about an aspect of the passion narrative that you didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to think of how a work could be more thorough than the one that Brown has written.
Brown starts with the garden and takes you all the way to the empty tomb and even the story of the guards at the empty tomb. He gives you the scholarly sources at the start that he will be using and then interacts with all the arguments giving an analysis and commenting on whether he thinks a certain portion is historical or not.
Do you want to read about the account of Barabbas? He covers it. Want to know about the darkness at the crucifixion? It’s there. Want to know about who the person was who brought Jesus the wine to drink while he was on the cross? It’s in there. Want to know what the centurion meant when he said that Jesus was truly God’s Son? You’ll find that too. Christian readers will be surprised also to find that even the Gospel of Peter is analyzed.
I found some of the most fascinating aspects in the work were not the commentary look at the passion narratives themselves, but rather what happened when he was giving a historical analysis that would be setting the scene prior. The most interesting in my opinion was in looking at the person of Pilate. Pilate often goes down in history as a cruel villain, but perhaps we are misunderstanding him. Brown’s work on this topic certainly gave me pause in the way that I had always looked at Pilate.
Another bonus is the appendices at the end that discuss various topics such as the textual transmission of the passion narratives as well as the question of Judas Iscariot and what it was that motivated him in his actions. Brown doesn’t always take a side, but he does make sure you know what the sides are.
If there’s a downside to this work, it’s that Brown’s writing can unfortunately be dry at times. After reading page after page on one topic you can kind of want to move on to the next one. Still, it is important if you want to be a dilligent student that you wade through.
Those in the field of NT studies who want to speak about events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus owe it to themselves to read Brown’s work. Whether you agree or disagree, you will at least be more informed.