Francis J. MOLONEY, SDB, The Resurrection of the Messiah: A Narrative Commentary on the Resurrection Accounts in the Four Gospels. New York: Paulist Press, 2013. pp. 219. $21.95 pb. ISBN 978-0809148479. Reviewed by Jeffrey MORROW, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ 07079
The Resurrection of the Messiah is a slender volume written by a seasoned New Testament scholar who treats his topic masterfully. Francis Moloney has certainly become one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world. He mentions at the outset that his work is inspired by the work of Raymond Brown (ix-x, xii, and 154), and indeed, Moloney’s volume reads very much like Brown’s later works, albeit more in the style of narrative criticism than most of Brown’s writings. What Moloney hopes to accomplish in this volume is to address the resurrection accounts in the four Gospels from a narrative perspective (xi), but guided, all the while, by “current scholarship” (xi), by which Moloney clearly intends historical critical scholarship. As to be expected, he accomplishes this task very well.
His first four chapters treat the resurrection accounts in Mark (1-32), Matthew (33-68), Luke (69-99), and John (101-136), respectively, and his final chapter treats an historical and theological set of reflections on Jesus’ resurrection (137-182). This volume is not intended for specialists but for a much broader audience. With that in mind, he has very useful bits of information scattered throughout his volume that will be of real benefit to readers, helping them understand better the broader cultural and religious context in which the Gospels were written, which will no doubt add important insights to their reading of the Gospels. One example of this is Moloney’s comment regarding the fact that Jesus dies on Friday, is raised on Sunday, and yet is said to be in the tomb three days. Moloney helpfully explains that, “Jewish ‘days’ are counted by the presence of daylight. There was daylight on Friday, Saturday, and ‘the dawn’ of Sunday: three days. What happens takes place ‘on the third day,’ or ‘after three days’” (63 n. 37). Later in his volume, addressing the historical matter of the women at the tomb, Moloney notes the important fact that, “Within the Jewish world (and indeed elsewhere at the time), the witness of women was valueless” (145). This of course is helpful when assessing the historical fact of the empty tomb, since the early Christians, in light of the context Moloney brings up, would never have fictionalized women, or in the case of John’s Gospel, a woman, as being the first to find an empty tomb.
Moloney’s inclusion of textual critical matters is also very helpful, and he presents a variety of alternative options in light of the manuscript tradition. Another strength is Moloney’s careful attention to the different emphases, omissions, and inclusions, of the resurrection accounts in the four Gospels. This attention to diversity makes his narrative approach particularly interesting, and serves to strengthen his reading of the four Gospels together. He is able to show, for example, that the four Gospels include quite a number of core elements in common, despite their many differences in recounting the events surrounding Jesus resurrection (see his helpful discussion on 139-140). In the end, Moloney emphasizes how, “The central message of all four gospel accounts lies in the proclamation that the Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified is no longer among the dead” (153).
One weakness, in my mind, is what I take to be Moloney’s overreliance on assured results of historical criticism of the New Testament. He sometimes departs from these standard views, and in his defense, this volume is not the place for engaging with alternative historical reconstructions. At the same time, traditional historical critics would probably be uncomfortable with the narrative approach Moloney takes. In many ways, and to his credit, Moloney is building upon the redaction approach Brown took, and carrying forward the more narrative approach in which Brown was beginning to engage near the end of his life. One major strength, which will likely bring Moloney criticism from traditional form critics, is how Moloney reads the four Gospels in unison—by no means in a harmonizing fashion—as he writes at the outset: “The gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection must be read together” (xi). His highly selective (and yet diverse) sources in his endnotes, and comments therein, are very helpful for readers. Moloney includes many alternate readings, useful sources for further study, and highly illuminating details in these notes, which readers will skip only to their detriment. With his historical grounding, his narrative approach which includes clear pastoral concerns, Moloney’s volume will be of benefit to educated New Testament readers who are interested in reading the Gospels both by the reigning standards of contemporary diachronic methods of interpretation, as well as a synchronic approach.