Bible Review 11:2, April 1995

Bible Books

A Play in Four Acts

The Death of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels

Raymond E. Brown (Anchor Bible Reference Library; New York: Doubleday, 1994) 1,630 pp., 2 vols., $37.50 each; $75 boxed set

Already hailed as a “classic,” this two-volume commentary has long been anticipated. Its appearance has caused no little stir in churchly as well as in scholarly circles—and in the mass media. With a work of this magnitude and profundity, reviewers—and I include myself—may refrain from their cavils and simply attempt to capture the tone and tenor of the work.

Brown provides a detailed analysis of the story of Jesus’ passion. This story is told in a dramatic narrative in four acts, with each act (except the third) divided into two scenes. Beginning with the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane, the story tells of Jesus’ encounters with the Jewish authorities (trial, mockery, denials by Peter, Judas) and the Roman governor Pilate, and of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial.

Brown focuses on each successive episode of the Passion Narrative as depicted in all four Gospels without losing sight of the Passion Narrative as rehearsed in each Gospel. But he acknowledges the virtual impossibility of giving equal attention to the individual Gospels and to the overall narrative.

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