Saturday, June 29, 2013

C.K. Barrett and Raymond E. Brown: Two Giants in Need of Biographies

I have repeatedly expressed my admiration for two of the preeminent New Testament scholars of the second half of the twentieth century in Raymond E. Brown and Charles Kingsley Barrett. Their immense contributions to scholarship continue and will continue to influence scholars in the years to come. That being said, it is a bit curious to me as to why there has yet to be a definitive biography written of either man.

With the recent spate of biographies written on George Eldon Ladd, George Beasley-Murray, F.F. Bruce, Rudolf Bultmann, and older ones such as the one written on C.H. Dodd, I believe it is high time that Brown and Barrett join these other luminaries and have their stories told.

In the case of Raymond Brown, the lack of a definitive biography is extremely curious. Brown passed away fifteen years ago this August, so this task is long overdue. Marion Soards, a former student of Brown's, has written an excellent bibliographic entry on him for the Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, but by virtue of the dictionaries objectives and space, the entry is more of a outline of Brown's career and contributions. The same can be said of Barrett, who has his entry penned by former student, John Painter. It too, is an excellent entry, but is far from a full-scale treatment that the great man deserves. In the case of Barrett, however, his passing has been much more recent, as it will have only be two years this August since his passing.

Raymond E. Brown
C.K. Barrett

Perhaps there is something in the works that I am as of yet unaware, and two recent developments may be pointing in this direction. On May 13th, Barrett had a day in his honor, "C.K. Barrett Academic Day" at Durham University where he served as Professor of Divinity for some twenty-four years. During this event, both Robert Morgan and John Ashton reflected on Barrett's legacy, with Morgan focusing on his contribution to New Testament Theology, and Ashton on Barrett's place among Johannine commentators.

Brown's legacy will be honored just before the SBL annual conference (Nov 20-22), at St. Mary's Seminary and University in conjunction with the John, Jesus, and History section of SBL, where he served as a professor for thirteen years before leaving for Union Theological Seminary. I blogged on this before and the program can be found here.

So, the question remains: "Will both Barrett and Brown get a biography written about them?"; and a related question, "Who will write it?" Robert Morgan, Marion Soards, Ben Witherington, John Painter, might all be viable candidates. Or perhaps, could this be someone's dissertation topic?

 It is imperative that we remember these men and learn for the great example of scholarship and their exemplary service for the church. In the words of the twelfth-century theologian and author, John of Salisbury in his Metalogicon:

"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours."

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