It is rare indeed for a specialized monograph to still be the authority on its topic of choice after nearly thirty years. In the case of this book, "The Community of the Beloved Disciple," which stirred controversy at its publication and still does today, it is even more remarkable. Building on the seminal work of his associate, J. Louis Martyn, at Union Theological Seminary, Brown explicates a fully fleshed out historical and textual criticism of the Johannine Corpus. And what did Brown posit that still manages to raise such passions? He posits five persons named John plus an unnamed Beloved Disciple as responsible for the corpus instead of one solitary John the Apostle. For Brown, these persons named John were John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John the Redactor, John the Presbyter, and John the Revelator. The only one that might not be important for the development of the Johannine corpus in Brown's read is the Apostle John.
Mainstream Reformed Protestant seminaries are still willing to to deal with only one John who was the Apostle and the Beloved Disciple and all else rolled into one. Generally, Conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants along with Fundamentalist Protestants all find Brown's work in this book anathema. Apostolic authority seems to be the rock upon which their textual acceptance is built in the case of the Johannine corpus. Therefore, against all odds and facts, they firmly reject Brown's well grounded historical analysis and textual criticism for what appear to be little more than dogmatic reasons. Upon the Reverend Father Brown's death recently, the Catholic Commonweal Magazine opined that American Catholicism had lost its greatest scholarly treasure. Few are willing to deny that Raymond E. Brown was one of the greatest if not the greatest of recent Johannine scholars. As well as this book, almost all his other far less controversial works are magisterial. In almost every other matter orthodox, in this case, Brown chose to depart from received orthodoxy based on the facts as he read them.
Anyone, deeply interested in the Johannine corpus must deal with this work. This is not a book for a beginner in Johannine or New Testament studies. However, considering the complexity of the material covered, the book is clearly understandable and very readable. Nothing here is surpassed or outmoded by later scholarship. Are there other ways to look at the Johannine corpus from a historical point of view? Certainly there are, but single author attribution is not one of them. The facts militate against such a reading. The work of Gunter Stemberger and others place the Johannine community in the Galilee/Syrian border area not in Ephesus. Unfortunately, most of that scholarship is not translated out of the German language. Can one avoid this controversy? Most assuredly, Leon Morris in his magnificent commentary on the Johannine corpus in the New International Biblical Commentary Series says nary a word about historical analysis. However, this work explains a great deal quite persuasively while still leaving intact a marvelous, faith affirming set of sacral documents for the reader's edification. I recommend this book most highly.