In concert with Brandon Vogt’s promo of Support a Catholic Speaker Month, I was asked to interview a man who is not only a well-known Biblical scholar, Catholic author and popular speaker, but an esteemed colleague of mine at Notre Dame Seminary here in New Orleans, LA — Brant Pitre.
In the 45 minutes we spent talking about his life’s work, I found myself oscillating between intellectual fascination and raucous laughter. He’s a delight to speak with and brings a unique synthesis of gravity and levity into everything he says.
Brant is a cradle Catholic, and has always nurtured a passion for Sacred Scripture. When he was a child he would read his picture Bible again and again, but it was not until he met his Southern Baptist bride-to-be, Elizabeth, that his passion for biblical knowledge passed from flame to inferno — ‘My new found love of Scripture was entirely pragmatic here,’ he said with a smile, ‘since knowing the Bible meant keeping Elizabeth as my girlfriend.’
While Brant was an undergrad at LSU as an English Literature major, he discovered in his Western literature courses that the Bible was not just another literary text, but the literary text that informed so much of the canon of Western Literature. He quickly added LSU’s Philosophy/Religious Studies major to his English Lit concentration, and a budding biblical scholar was born. He continued his graduate work in biblical studies at Vanderbilt University, under the tutelage of Judaism/New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine. ‘It was there, working with Professor Levine, that my lifelong fascination with the roots of the New Testament in Second Temple Judaism emerged.’
Brant continued on to pursue and successfully complete (with honors!) his PhD in Theology with, again, a specialization in ‘Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity.’ There, working closely with Fr. John Meier and David Aune he continued his exploration the interrelationship between Judaism and early Christianity by focusing his dissertation work on ‘Jesus, Jewish eschatology and the atonement.’
After graduating, Dr. Pitre taught in New Orleans at Loyola University, Our Lady of the Holy Cross College, and at present is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary.
His Life Work
Brant is a very popular, engaging and dynamic speaker (see the video below for a sample), who makes accessible for general audiences the fruit of biblical scholarship placed in service to a prayerful and faithful catechesis for the masses. I can also affirm that he is very well received among the seminarians here at Notre Dame.
He has recorded dozens of Bible studies on CD, DVD, and MP3 through an excellent recording company, Catholic Productions (go to www.BrantPitre.com to see more).
Brant’s most famous book is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (Doubleday, 2011). The book’s focus was conceived in his graduate studies and gestated during the Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005), when he was asked to offer, along with Dr. Chris Baglow and Dr. David Liberto, a reflection to the priests of the Archdiocese of New Orleans on the Jewish roots of the Eucharist. The talk was extremely well received, and was repeatedly requested around the country, which convinced Pitre to enter into ‘labor and delivery’ and write the book.
The fruits of this book are abundant — it was, and is, a huge success and has allowed Catholics to enter more deeply into the Jewish face of the mystery of God revealed in Christ. ‘The Eucharist is not just the “source and summit of Christian life,”‘ he commented, but it’s the source and summit of all salvation history; and of all history! The whole of human history has been heading toward the Eucharistic mystery. Toward the Mass.’
Dr. Pitre is presently working on two books (in his spare time).
The first is about Jesus the Bridegroom, and is, of course, about the Jewish roots of this image of God seeking to wed himself to Israel in covenant love. Brant will place Jesus’ own claim to be Israel’s (and so humanity’s) Bridegroom in the context of the Jewish expectation of a divine wedding feast, and argue that the cross stands at the center of this nuptial drama. In addition, he will offer some strikingly novel and fascinating approaches to the Old Testament Song of Songs, attempting to retrieve its primal Jewish meaning vis-à-vis Jesus, the New Testament and the long and rich Jewish-Christian tradition of interpreting the erotic Song as lyric narrative of covenant love between God and his people. He refers to this book as a work in ‘Nuptial Christology.’
The second book he is presently writing is a scholarly work that is a much longer study (some 500 pages) on Jesus and the Last Supper in its ancient Jewish context. In this book, he will go into much more depth about the Last Supper than he was able to in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, engaging controversial topics such as the date of the Last Supper and how Jesus understood the coming of the kingdom of God.
A Last Word
In the brief time I have known Brant, I have found him to possess in his person a rare and marvelous synthesis of faith and reason. He loves to cultivate the life of the mind and lives amid a sea of books, but he is a man of living and evident faith who projects his love for the Subject of all his inquiries: Christ.