Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Death of the Messiah; Reading and; the Anchor Bible Reference Library

The Passion Narrative (henceforth PN), as it proceeds from arrest through trial to condemnation, execution, and burial (thus from Gethsemane to the grave), constitutes in each Gospel the longest consecutive action recounted of Jesus. Aesthetically, more than any other section of the Gospels, indeed even more than the infancy narrative, it has captured the attention and imagination of dramatists (passion plays), artists, and musicians. Literarily, passion vignettes have left their mark on language and imagery : thirty pieces of silver, Judas kiss, cockcrow, washing one's hands of blood. Historically, Jesus' death was the most public moment of his life as figures known from Jewish or secular history (Caiaphas, Annas, Pilate) crossed his path. Indeed, alongside "born of the virgin Mary", the other phrase that made its way into the creed, "suffered under Pontius Pilate", has become a marker anchoring Christian belief about the Son of God to a Jesus who was a human figure of actual history. Theologically, Christians have interpreted the death of Jesus on the cross as the key element in God's plan for the justification, redemption, and salvation of all. Spiritually, the Jesus of the passion has been the focus of Christian meditation for countless would-be disciples who take seriously the demand of the Master to take up the cross and follow him. Pastorally, the passion is the centrepiece of Lent and Holy Week, the most sacred time in the liturgical calendar. The custom of Lenten preaching has made it a most favoured subject for homilies, In sum, from every point of view the passion is the central narrative in the Christian story.

-from "Preface and Acknowledgments" in Raymond E. Brown's two volume The Death of the Messiah, from the Anchor Bible Reference Library (Doubleday 1994).  (The link is to the website for an online bookstore known as PrintAsia, specifically to PrintAsia's page on this work.  That page has the first three paragraphs of the "Preface and Acknowledgments" and the table of contents.  In that short excerpt, Brown's marvelous prose is on display.)

Amazon sells this work in paperback for $26.25 per volume, $52.50.  There is a hardback, boxed set edition of the two volumes, selling new for much more.  I was able to get the boxed set, in very good condition for $29.88, plus shipping, through  The internet makes such bargains in books available!  The main temptation to "retirement" is simply to quit and spend the rest of my days reading.  With such accessibility to good books and a few more authors like Brown and Stott, the practice may be history.

Brown's, The Death of the Messiah, is published as part of the "Anchor Bible Reference Library."  The General Editor of this attractive series, in 1994 David Noel Freedman,  describes the library as follows:

THE ANCHOR BIBLE REFERENCE LIBRARY Is designed to be a third major component of the Anchor Bible group, which includes the Anchor Bible commentaries on the books of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Apocrypha, and the Anchor Bible Dictionary. While the Anchor Bible commentaries and the √Ānchor Bible Dictionary are structurally defined by their subject matter, the Anchor Bible Reference Library will serve as a supplement on the cutting edge of the most recent scholarship . The series is open-ended; its scope and reach are nothing less than the biblical world in its totality, and its methods and techniques the most up-to-date available or devisable. Separate volumes will deal with one or more of the following topics relating to the Bible: anthropology, archaeology, ecology, economy, geography, history, languages and literatures, philosophy, religion(s), theology.

As with the Anchor Bible commentaries and the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the philosophy underlying the Anchor Bible Reference Library finds expression in the following: the approach is scholarly, the perspective is balanced and fair-minded, the methods are scientific, and the goal is to inform and enlighten. Contributors are chosen on the basis of their scholarly skills and achievements, and they come from a variety of religious backgrounds and communities . The books in the Anchor Bible Reference Library are intended for the broadest possible readership, ranging from world-class scholars, whose qualifications match those of the authors, to general readers, who may not have special training or skill in studying the Bible but are as enthusiastic as any dedicated professional in expanding their knowledge of the Bible and its world.

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