The Refreshingly Honest Scholarship of Roman Catholic Scholar Raymond E. Brown

“The OT authors did not foresee in detail the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those who are called OT prophets were concerned with their own times and not with the distant future about which they could speak only in the vaguest way.  Therefore, whether they know it or not, when the NT authors see prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, they are going beyond the vision of the OT authors.  …Isaiah knew nothing or foresaw nothing about Jesus’ birth.”

“The evangelists [the authors of the Gospels] were second-generation Christians who had not been eyewitnesses themselves.”

“John’s Gospel was not written by the son of Zebedee nor by the Beloved Disciple (if he was not the son of Zebedee), but by an unknown Christian who was a follower or disciple of the Beloved Disciple.”

“The Gospels, then, are not simply factual reporting of what happened in Jesus’ ministry but are documents of faith written to show the significance of those events as seen with hindsight.  …the fact that according to the Synoptic Gospels Jesus predicted his crucifixion and resurrection three times and in increasing detail does not necessarily mean that the historical Jesus had such exact foreknowledge of his future.”

“This argument [that the continued survival of eyewitnesses would have prevented corruption of the historical Jesus Story] cannot be discounted as support for the general lines of Gospel historicity, but it will not hold for many details in the Gospel accounts.  In our times, oral records we have seen a tremendous growth in the tradition about figures such as Pope John and John F. Kennedy within ten years after their death, so that one can speak of a difference between these men as they were in history and as they are in the popular evaluation.”

“The recognition that the Bible can be fallible as regards details of historical accuracy is very important for the logic of our discussions in this book.  For instance, we shall see that the various Gospels give different reports of what happened at the empty tomb of Jesus, especially in the details of the angelic appearances.  In the past Catholic scholars have spent much energy trying to harmonize these diverse accounts, often with the supposition that they must preserve the historical accuracy of each.  Today we would be free to say that one or all the accounts have been influenced and shaped by popular imagination during the stage of oral transmission and also by the editorial goals of the sacred writer who used earlier traditions.”

“Matthew and Luke give very different accounts of Jesus’ conception and birth.  In times past we would have assumed that, because these infancy stories were recounted by inspired writers, both were accurate and had to be harmonized.  Today, if the evidence is strong enough, we would be free to consider either or both of the narratives as not historical.  Obviously this is a conclusion that should not be reached quickly; but we cannot deny a priori the possibility that, since there were no apostolic eyewitnesses for the events accompanying the birth of Jesus, traditions about that birth could have been producted by popular imagination.

—selected quotes by Raymond Brown in the Introduction of his book, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, p. 15-20 (copyright, 1973)

(emphasis in bold, Gary’s)


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