The following review first appeared in Reviews in Religion and Theology 1998/3, pp. 93-4. It is reproduced here with permission.
Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (The Anchor Bible Reference Library) New York: Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0385247672 $42.50 pp. xlvi + 878
In our text-book culture, Raymond Brown’s enormous Introduction to the New Testament will be warmly welcomed by many, and for good reason. This is a solid survey written by a well-known expert with years of experience of teaching and publishing on the New Testament. The book features good introductory bibliographies to each New Testament text and topic, the whole nicely peppered with ‘at a glance’ information like charts, maps and tables.
Here is a resource to which the student can go for all those first year essay topics, in suitably digestible chunks, and featuring much good, basic data. Indeed it is the student who is in mind throughout -- Brown ‘would not expect scholars to learn from the book’ and he sees Kummel’s parallel Introduction as ‘absolutely deadly for beginning students’ (p. vii).
How then will Brown’s intended audience rate this book? They will find it helpful but limited, and in two particular ways. First, Brown shows a distinct lack of enthusiasm over certain topics and sometimes writes in such a way as to deter the reader from pursuing a discipline in any more detail. ‘Most beginners in NT study’, for example, will apparently find textual criticism ‘uninteresting or too difficult’ (p. 53) and worse still, ‘most readers’ will find the Synoptic Problem ‘complex, irrelevant to their interests and boring’ (p. 111). This is not the way to engender enthusiasm over topics that, in my experience, students can find scintillating.
Second, Brown’s Introduction is wedded to historical-critical approaches often to the exclusion of any other methods (with some limited concessions to Rhetorical Criticism and Narrative Criticism). In a culture in which students are often eager to know about feminist hermeneutics, reader-response, liberation perspectives and deconstruction, the solid focus on historical-critical matters will inevitably be seen as a shortcoming. But this has an important and valuable pay-off: Brown’s Introduction is useful but not exhaustive, and students will continue to need to take more than one book off the shelf.
University of Birmingham