Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mary in the New Testament: Book Review.

 This collaborative work on the aspects of Mary in the New Testament (and in the second century literature as well) was first published in 1978. Usually a project dealing mainly with NT material published in the late seventies would be considered dated by now. However, this book is unique in the sense that it is not by a single author but it is a collaboration of New Testament specialists, and specialists from differing theological traditions (Protestant / Catholic)1. Therefore, one is treated not to a single view point on Mariology but an overall consensus voice of this committee of scholars2.

The final product that we are given is one of the sanest and controlled outlooks on Mary via the data of the New Testament (and the second century) that still holds water today. The contributors are masterfully familiar with the best of the secondary literature in question. Highlights of the book are:

  - The mature handling of the difficult textual and grammatical problems over the question, did Jesus have siblings or not? according to the New Testament, (this discussion was led by Paul Achtemeier and Karl Donfried.) 

- Raymond Brown leads a jaw dropping exegesis and overview of the interpretive history over questionable Marian inferences that have been drawn from the New Testament. Such views as Mary / Daughter of Zion motif, Mary / Ark of the Covenant motif (that are endlessly peddled today by popular Catholic apologists) Brown uncovers as nothing more than poor eisegesis. 

- Fitzmyer's entry on Mary in the book of Revelation is astounding3. Fitzmyer demonstrates that all views that see in the woman figure of Rev 12 as primarily referring to Mary face two insurmountable difficulties: First, the earliest patristic commentary that we have available see this primarily as a reference to the Church. Secondly the best modern commentators do not see this as singularly referring to Mary. 

- Where this book could have gone horribly wrong is in its treatment of the late first and second century corpus4. However, Elaine Pagels and K. Froehlich to a superb job at presenting an even handed and fair investigation into the matter5.

Overall, Mary the mother of Jesus is presented in her historical context fairly and accurately. The contributors while admitting what one is hard pressed to truly uncover a portrait of the historical Mary through the NT and the second century (since little is actually written of her) they give on the the finest efforts that has been written.


1. I first read this work in 1987 and thought it was time for a second and fresh analysis (and it was well worth the time). The contributors are some of the best and brightest of critical Catholic and Protestant (mostly Lutheran) of the time. Such scholars such as Paul Achtemeier, Reginald Fuller, Gerhard Krodel, John Reumann, J. Louis Martyn, along with arguably the greatest Roman Catholic NT specialists of the twentieth century; Raymond Brown and  Joseph Fitzmyer (among others). 

2. Where there is disagreement among the committee it is stated in footnotes. It must be stated that these scholars are not exactly the most conservative bunch that could have been assembled for such a project. On the other hand they would not be considered wildly liberal and I think such a group (moderately critical) gives the best opinion in that they are not driven to guard nor champion a particular theological stance, (too conservative nor too progressive). This naturally does not apply to every member of this ecumenical committee, each should be weighed on a case by case basis. 

3. One could only hope for a full length treatment of Revelation at the hands of Fitzmyer. 

4. One only need to read one of the popular Protestant and sometimes Catholic/Orthodox treatments of Patristic interpretation in order to witness how theological presuppositions tamper with the primary writings. 

5. Not every single point is convincing yet I found the treatment like a breath of fresh air. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. I remember reading parts of this when I was looking into Rome and contrasting it with the articles on NewAdvent.org. Needless to say, there were differences. Ultimately, I choose to accept NewAdvent over Mary in the New Testament, because I was told that the former was orthodox and the latter was liberal!

Have you read Edward Sri's Queen Mother: A Biblical Theology of Mary's Queenship?

R. E. Aguirre. said...


Yes I have read Queen Mother. It has been a few years ( I purchased it when it was just released, 04 if my memory serves me right). I did not find the parallels that Sri drew persuasive at the time ( I think his main NT texts were out of Matthew / Luke / Rev 12, again, if my memory serves me correctly).

It has been a while but I doubt my disagreements with him on an exegetical level would have changed much.

George Weis said...

Rick, as per usual you prove to be extraordinary dear friend. You are by far one of the most level headed fellows I know. I think I ought to take your suggestion and give this a read. I have been hearing some of the leanings that you mention since investigating the Church... I appreciate your willingness to be honest at all costs... you continue to inspire me.