This is concise and efficient examination of two question central to Catholic theology: (a) Was Jesus conceived of a Virgin? and (b) Was Jesus resurrected bodily? The book is slim - about 133 pages - but the pages are filled with information, as Brown goes to work surveying the available information and scholarly consensus to analyze the various issues that surround these questions.
Brown's agenda is pursue the issues in a scholarly and objective manner. He does not assume the truth of the Catholic position ab initio as part of his scholarship, but argues cogently that Catholicism is not well-served by anything less than an adherence to the best traditions of objective scholarship. As a faithful Catholic, I had no problems with his approach, and I found nothing in his text or conclusions that was in the least bit threatening to my adherence to either the doctrine of the Virgin Birth - or, more specifically, the Virgin Conception (since as Father Brown points out, the Virgin Birth extends to the less well-known doctrine that the Blessed Virgin Mary remained virginally intact after the birth of Jesus) - or the Resurrection.
The book is really two monographs with an epilogue that summarizes Brown's conclusions. The short length of the book makes this book a less daunting book to read than either Brown's The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library) or The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave (2 Vol. Boxed Set). In addition, Brown seems to be less technical in his language than in either of his major works. All of that makes this book a good entry point for readers of Brown.
In the section on the Virginal Conception, Brown surveys the arguments pro and con for the historicity of the Virginal Conception (the "VC.") This meens that Brown looks at arguments and data that support the VC, as well as those that point in the other direction. This is important because one runs into opportunistic quoters of Brown who will argue that Brown (or the Catholic Church) do not accept the VC by quoting the con arguments and ignoring the pro ones. For example, critics of the VC will quote Brown's comments that the infancy accounts are of "dubious" historical value, but ignore Brown's observation that the VC is correlated with the claim of Jesus' Davidic descent, which is not without some historical support::
>>>But Burger does not really solve the objection to his thesis raised by the fact that James, the brother of the Lord, was known widely in the Chritian world and lived into the 60's. The popular thesis of his "brother's" Davidic descent must have circulated in James' lifetime and could scarcely not have reached his ears. Can we posit James' acquiescence in such a fictional affirmation abut the family ancestry? Would not others who knew the family and, expecially, his Jewish opponents have raised some objection? Paul makes his own creedal statements about Jesus' Davidic descent (Rom 1:3); he knew James and he was scarcely indifferent about questions of family origin (Rom 11:1; Philip 3:5.)(p. 55, no. 87.)<<<<
Brown points out that the appearance of VC narratives in the separate traditions of Luke and Matthew points to an origination of a belief in the VC prior than the time that either text was written. If that was the case, is it likely that those stories were unknown to James and that he would have been silent to such stories.
Similarly, Brown points out that that the famous Septuagint text of Isaiah 7:14 that the "Virgin shall conceive" was not the basis of the VC story:
>>>"But we have no evidence that in Alexandrian Judaism the LXX of Isa 7:14 was understood to predict a virginal conception, since it need no more than that the girl who is now a virgin will ultimately conceive (in a natural way). Moreover, it is dubious that Isa 7:14 was the origin of Matthew's tradition of a virginal conception; elsewhere, including chapter 2, it is Matthew's custom to add fulfillment or formula citations to existing traditiosn. And, indeed, there is no proof that Isa 7:14 played any major role in shaping the Lucan account of the virginal conception."(p. 64.)<<<
So, where did the idea of the VC come from?
Brown discounts the idea of pagan influence for the reason that the famous examples involve physical intercourse with something. (p. 62.) Brown does mention a "few seeming exceptions," but these seeming exceptions involve intercourse of some kind or "epiphany celebrations." (p. 62, n. 104.)
Nonetheless, for every argument there is a counter-argument, and Brown concludes that the "totality of the scientifically controllable evidence leaves an unresolved problem."
This is a passage that gets a lot of use for the anti-VC advocates, but one thing about Brown is that one must pay very close attention to his actual language. Brown is economical with words and he really means his qualification. So, Brown is not saying that he agrees that the VC is not supportable; instead, he is saying that based on the "scientifically controllable evidence" - i.e., the evidence we can test - we don't have a definitive answer.
In the Epilogue, Brown explains:
>>>Nor do I think that modern biblical study favors abandoning the idea of virginal conception, although the situation here is more ambiguous because of the very limited NT evidence and the need of more examination in the context of ecumenical scholarship. Scripturally I judge that it is harder to explain the tradition about the virginal conception by positing theological creation than by positing fact. (p. 132.) <<<<
In the section on the Bodily Resurrection, Brown also surveys the scholarship and makes some interesting observations about the nature of Christ's Resurrected body and whether our language can truly describe it. Brown also points out that while the post-resurrection appearances can not be harmonized, the likely explanation may be a composite of several earlier traditions. (p. 109, n. 182.) Brown suggests that the most reasonable way to read the post-Resurrection appearances is that the appearances started in Galilee and continued in Jerusalem. (p. 109 - 110.)
Brown also addresses the issue of the Empty Tomb. It is interesting in light of Bart Ehrman's claim in his recent How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee that he recently discovered that Roman burial practices would have prevented an individual or honorable burial of Jesus, that in 1973 Brown raises - and promptly discounts - Ehrman's argument:
>>>>A few adventurous scholars have suggested that the very idea that the body of Jesus could not be found sprang from the impossibility of correctly identifying his body ina common burial ground. However, an almost insuperable obstacle to such theorizing is raised by the person of Joseph of Arimathea who appears in all four Gospels. It is virtually certain that he was not a figment of Christian imagination, that he was remembered precisely because he had a prominent role in the burial of Jesus, and thus there was someone who knew exactly where Jesus was buried. (p. 114.)<<<
Take that, Bart.
Brown points out that Joseph of Arimathea was part of the Sanhedrin and so part of the "Jewish rulers" who took Jesus down from "the tree and laid him in a tomb." (Acts 13:29; p. 114.)
Brown ultimately concludes that "current scientific methods continue to favor the idea of a bodily resurrection" (p. 132), albeit with the useful correction that it was not a "physical resuscitation." (Id.)
There is a lot in here that might offend people of a more "fundamentalist" bent. For example, Brown thinks that a lot of the infancy story is theological infilling. He also thinks that the angels at the tomb were a classic Jewish literary trope to provide information to the reader, as opposed to there actually having been angels at the tomb. Nonetheless, the Christian faith does not stand or fall on those details, and he might well be right, or he might be wrong, but on the core doctrines of Catholic Christian doctrine, there is nothing in this book that is not orthodox.