by HENRY WANSBROUGH, O.S.B. The COspel according to Jolla
translated with an introduction and notes by Raymond E. Brown The Anchor Bible, vols 29 and 29a (Geoffrey Chapman £7.00)
THE completion of Raymond Brown's massive commentary on the Gospel of John gives him a status which is unique among contemporary Catholic New Testament scholars, perhaps unique among all contemporary New Testament scholars . . perhaps unique among all Catholic New Testament scholars since scientific biblical scholarships began a couple of centuries ago.
Full-scale Gospel commentaries have been rare indeed in the last half-century, perhaps the only one in any language to have been internationally recognised as authoritative being Vincent Taylor's on Saint Mark. Catholic scholarship was, until very recently, notorious for its obscurantism; until very recently few Catholic names were mentioned with respect in international biblical circles and even fewer were English.
In the last 25 years, however, the buds have begun shyly to appear. Two major one-volume commentaries on the Bible, one on each side of the Atlantic, have shown that Catholics arc at least able to use and learn from modern discoveries by scholars of all faiths.
This commentary might be described as the first flower of the second spring of Catholic biblical scholarship in the New Testament. Its erudition is encyclopaedic; yet in spite of ample documentation and astonishing digestive capacity. the author seems still able, as one would expect after his
many original contributions to periodicals, to give his own synthesis.
One may disagree with his judgment of a particular issue, but it is always calm, wellbalanced and authoritative; there follows the result of his own reading, not merely of other writers on the Gospel. but of the Gospel itself. In such a painstaking work one cannot expect a thrill a page, but there is enough excitement in any of the eighty-four sections and six appendices to leaven what might have been a very soggy mass of dough. Yet, curiously enough. it is the
humane-flood sense of the author which is the most at• tractive of all the good qualities of the work.
In the introductory matter only one wint may he men
tioned. i -ontfoversy over
the date and authorship of the Gospel is well-known; for long known in scholarly circles simply as "the Fourth Gospel," it had been relegated by some sceptics to a date well down in the second century, without substantial connection with any apostolic figure. Raymond Brown both confirms the earlier date which is becoming more widely accepted (he finally opts for a date of about 100 A.D. for the final written form), and traces back four other stages of composition, spread over a number of years.
Some of the material used shows access to sources at least as early and as reliable as those of the synoptic Gospels. Yet it has all been moulded by one school of thought and expression, dominated by a single powerful figure. in such a way that it transmits a message about Jesus.
These developments, as Brown so well expresses it, are to some extent "refractive" of the exact circumstances of the historical Jesus. Whatever may be said of the author and can one speak of a literary author in such a complicated process which is mostly pre-literary?--this version of the Good News is firmly presented as the witness of the Beloved Disciple. It is by his loving relationship to Jesus that he has the sensitivity to the Lord's message which brings him, first of all Christians, to faith in the resurrection.
By this love he is the hero as well as the guarantor of the Gospel. None other can have been the dominant figure of the school from which the Gospel emerged. Whether this Beloved Disciple was the apostle John is less clear; but
certainly no other figure fits so well.
The whole mass of the commentary cannot he discussed in these columns. But, for example, in the section on the resurrection-stories, the prominence which the story of the empty tomb has acquired in the Church is explained: the original resurrection faith was dependent on the appearances of the risen Lord, and the emptiness of the tomb was only a sort of confirmation and exillanation. The vexed question of why Christ forbade Mary Magdalene to cling to Him is solved (Continued at foot of next column).