"The Death Of The Messiah: From Gethsemene To The Grave: A Commentary On The Passion Narratives In The Four Gospels," by Raymond E. Brown (Doubleday, 2 vols., 1,608 pp.; $75.00, hardcover). Reviewed by Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary.

Jesus studies are alive and well. Twice in the space of four months both Time and Newsweek featured lead religion stories focused on the words and teachings of Jesus through the lens of recent New Testament scholarship. The Jesus Seminar was the topic last Christmas, while Raymond Brown's exhaustive two-volume treatment of the Passion narratives headlined the Easter editions. But one should not equate the two efforts.

The Seminar (CT, April 25, 1994, pp. 30-33), which has popularized the radical wing of Jesus studies, dismisses much of the material in the Gospels as inauthentic, the product of distorted reshaping and outright invention that reflects the agenda of the early church. In contrast, Brown—following the same procedure he established in "The Birth of the Messiah," his exhaustive study of the gospel accounts of Jesus birth—presents the Gospels as individualized, dramatic historical narratives, neither pure history nor simple fabrication. He argues that sometimes the evangelists used popular Christian folk tradition (Matthew) or their own sense of drama to frame the story in ways that are not strictly historical. Nevertheless, Brown concludes, vast portions of the gospel narrative and its teaching have roots in real events in the life of Jesus. For Brown, both the history and the drama are important to the makeup of the narrative.


Brown highlights the individual emphases each author brings to his account. In ...

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