A Letter from Raymond Brown
- 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,
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
(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,
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