The Rev. Raymond E. Brown, Roman Catholic biblical scholar and prolific author of books analyzing the New Testament, has died. He was 70.
Brown died Saturday of a heart attack at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, Calif.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese, called Brown “the most distinguished and renowned Catholic biblical scholar to emerge in this country.”
He said, “It will be difficult for anyone in the future to rise to his stature of knowledge and scholarship. Father Brown was the only U.S. biblical scholar ever appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Society, first by Pope Paul VI and then by Pope John Paul II.”
Mahony plans to attend Brown’s funeral Mass on Friday in Menlo Park, Calif.
Brown’s final book, “An Introduction to the New Testament,” was published by Doubleday last year.
Considered a centrist in biblical studies, he had written more than 35 books explaining various aspects of the New Testament, particularly on the life of Christ. His 1977 book, “The Birth of the Messiah,” won a National Religious Book Award, and three others earned the National Catholic Book Award.
Brown’s rigorous and exacting approach to his subject in books and lectures, placing biblical accounts in the context of early Christian history, often irked Catholic traditionalists. But he was quick to point out that he affirmed such hallowed Christian doctrines as Jesus’ virginal birth and bodily resurrection.
“My whole career has had the goal of showing people that it is possible to be scholarly and orthodox at the same time,” he once told U.S. Catholic magazine.
A winning speaker, Brown cheerfully told The Times in 1980 that he never minded serving as a “lightning rod” to divert “bolts” from the right.
He was at the time the subject of an advertisement placed by the Fullerton-based Catholics in Defense of Truth, criticizing his selection as a speaker at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim. Brown, the group contended, made a practice of questioning fundamental truths of the Catholic faith and represented “a spirit of schism from Rome in this country.”
But addressing some 7,000 Catholic teachers at that conference, Brown drew repeated applause when he said: “Truth is always complicated by the human envelope in which it is enclosed. It’s not only an intellectual problem, but one at the heart of the gospel itself. It was not sinners who turned Jesus off; it was the righteous religious types who felt they had all the answers.”
Mahony said Brown was a popular speaker at the Los Angeles archdiocese’s annual Religious Education Congress. Brown also led retreats for archdiocese priests.
In addition to his research and writing, Brown taught at Union Theological Seminary from 1971 until his retirement in 1990.
He served as president of the Catholic Biblical Assn. as well as the Society of Biblical Literature, which includes Protestant, Catholic and Jewish scholars.
The priest studied at Catholic University, the Gregorian University of Rome and the Pontifical University of Baltimore. He was ordained in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1953.
Brown is survived by a brother, Robert J. Brown, of Harrisburg, Pa.