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A Letter from Raymond Brown

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  • Thomas W Butler
    Dear JL listers, I mentioned in my last post that I had applied Raymond Brown s criteria for identifying the BD to Mary and Martha of Bethany and found that
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 28, 2001
      Dear JL listers,

      I mentioned in my last post that I had applied Raymond Brown's
      criteria for identifying the BD to Mary and Martha of Bethany
      and found that Mary of Bethany satisfied them.

      I wondered if perhaps a papal directive to which Brown had
      made reference in Community of the Beloved Disciple had
      prevented him from considering Mary or Martha as candidates
      for the BD.

      I wrote to Brown and asked him about this. I'm honored by
      the fact that he replied to me on Jan. 13, 1998. Here is the
      full text of his letter.

      Dr. Thomas Butler,
      Dear Sir:

      A brief answer - I shall be away for weeks and I am hastening
      to cover correspondence.

      (1) Sorry I would not have the time to read your manuscript.

      (2) I was a bit astounded that you suggested some papal
      directive stopped me from considering Mary or Martha
      as candidates for the Beloved Disciple. Catholic biblical
      scholarship is as free as any body else's and has been so
      for a long while. I had thought that should have been
      apparent. (over)

      (He added this footnote on the back of the letter:)
      You cite the note on p. 193. That concerns what
      scripture teaches for our salvation. Scriptural reliability
      on that is not a matter of papal directive but the common
      faith of the undivided church. But the purpose of the note
      is to point out the liberalizing effect of understanding
      inerrency correctly. How could the male or female
      identity of the BD effect our salvation?

      (3) John 19: 26-27 where the BD is clearly a son O UIOS
      is one of several factors that make it impossible for the
      BD to be a woman. There were Christians opposed to
      John's Gospel - they would have been delighted to
      criticize it if a woman was the BD, even as early church
      writers criticized Montanus & the gnostics on that ground.

      (4) In something I have been working on, in light of many
      recent studies on the importance of the anonymity of the BD,
      I wrote that efforts to identify the BD with a name are largely
      misplaced effort. I am sure that will disappoint you, but that
      is my honest judgment.

      Sincerely, Raymond Brown

      I respect Raymond Brown very much and have gained a great deal
      from his work, but I respectfully disagree with him here. It amazes
      me that he did not apply his own criteria to two of the three people
      that are identified in the FG as persons loved by Jesus. His reason
      for not considering them was not that he was restricted in doing so
      by the authority of his church, but limitations imposed by his own
      scholarship and assumptions. He assumes, as do many if not most
      scholars, that Jn. 19: 26-27 identifies the BD as a male. I have
      shown that it does not necessarily, since the "son" identified there
      may well be Jesus himself. In the context of that argument (#3 in
      his letter), he offers an opinion that actually supports my theory,
      rather than refutes it: that those who opposed the FG would have
      been delighted to criticise it if they thought the BD was a woman.
      That, as I have contended, is why the identity of the BD had to be

      I also disagree that the efforts to name the BD are misplaced. A
      great deal of excellent scholarship has been offered, largely in an
      effort to solve the mystery of the BD's identity. It is hard for me
      to believe that a scholar of the stature of Raymond Brown
      apparently gave up on that challenge.

      I say all of this because I believe the credit for the approach I
      am about to offer for identifying the BD as Mary of Bethany
      should go to Raymond Brown. I shall use his method and
      criteria, applying it to the two out of three persons that he
      points out are listed in the FG as persons that Jesus loved.
      He, however, had chosen at the time that he wrote to me
      not to lay claim to the conclusions that I have drawn.

      Yours in Christ's service,
      Tom Butler

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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