Review: The Remembered Peter (Bockmuehl)

Title: The Remembered Peter

Author: Markus Bockmuehl

Bibliographic Info: XIII + 205 + 56 (biblio and indices)

Cover: Hard

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.

ISBN: 9783161505805

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With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy!

Bockmuehl’s The Remembered Peter seeks out to examine the early reception history of Peter, whom Bockmuehl sees as a key figure bridging the Palestinian-Jewish “Christians” with the Gentile mission and converts. The opening paragraph of the introduction nicely summarizes the topic at hand:

This book examines the remembered impact or “footprint” of an ordinary man whose identity largely eludes historical inquiry by conventional methods. He was not born great; nor did visible greatness of merit or office come his way. Neither wealth nor power was in his grasp. He could boast of no prodigious talents or achievements. Though apparently singled out among his master’s students, there is little to suggest that in his lifetime he lived up to that promise. Here was a small-time spokesman of a few scattered and divided enthusiasts, whose loyalty to him was never more than ambiguous. Others, like James the brother of Jesus, had great preeminence in leadership or, like Paul of Tarsus, greater (or at least more visible) success as protagonists of the Christian gospel. Even his own tradition concedes that time and again he failed spectacularly to rise to life’s pivotal challenges. Unsurprisingly, critics ever since have dismissed him as a coward, a turncoat and a dunce. How can we make sense of Peter as a historical, and historic, figure? (3)

Bockmuehl seeks to trace the effective history of Peter through the first three generations of Petrine memory by using a dialectical evaluation of the remembered Peter as the means to discover the impressions Peter left on those around him. Bockmuehl, of course, doesn’t approach Petrine memory without his critical glasses on, for one has to take into account the variegated contexts and agendas that underlay our sources on Petrine memory. The interesting thing about Bockmuehl’s historical method is that it is backwards (in a manner of speaking). He seeks out Petrine tradition from the second and third centuries and then tries to deduce whether this tradition/memory can be traced back as being historical plausible.

In the first chapter, Bockmuehl shows us that there was significant interest for a century after Christ in regards to procuring and transmitting the “living personal memory” of the apostolic generation. This then gradually turned into a situation where authoritative written texts were turned to in order to demonstrate the apostolic tradition. In the following chapter, Bockmuehl turns to the “New Perspective” on Paul and the “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus in order to glean information about Peter’s profile. Bockmuehl does this by examining the works of Sanders, Crossan, Wright, and Dunn. He first looks at what they say regarding Paul, then Jesus, and then what this reveals about Peter. I liked this approach as Peter is essentially the only major character to feature in the ministries of both Jesus and Paul, forming a bridge of sorts between the Jewish mission of Jesus and the Gentile mission of Paul.

The third chapter deals with apostolic conflict at Antioch between Peter and Paul as seen in Galatians and Acts. A person’s understanding of this conflict between Peter and Paul determines to a large degree how one understands the nature of early Christianity. The Tübingen school of thought on this matter (as exemplified by the likes Wrede and Bultmann) sees the Gentile mission (spearheaded by Paul) as in direct conflict with the mission to the Jews (to which Peter and James belonged). Bockmuehl intriguingly labels these differing missions as “charismatic freedom v. hierarchical institutionalism” (63). This Baurite view of early Christianity, while undergoing modifications over the decades, still exercises a large field of influence in New Testament and early Christian studies. Bockmuehl states his view on the Antioch incident as follows:

What chiefly divides the two apostles at Antioch is neither a matter of basic “gospel” doctrine nor straightforwardly of halakhah, but rather the practical (and indeed theologically and halakhically articulated) arbitration between different but equally passionate ecclesial loyalties to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (69)

The next three chapters take a look at the memory of Peter in Syrian and Roman traditions. In the first chapter of this trio, Bockmuehl looks at the memory of the house of Peter in Capernaum, and then looks for Petrine memory in three Syrian individuals: Serapion, Justin, and Ignatius. The next chapter concerns the Pseudo-Clementine literature and this is where Bockmuehl has definitely provided a lasting contribution, because ever since Baur and the Tubingen school, it has been almost an axiomatic truth in early Christian studies that Peter’s nemesis in the Pseudo-Clementines, Simon Magus, was in fact a thinly veiled reference to the Apostle Paul. Thus, the Pseudo-Clementines were seen as support for the Baurite notion of diametrically opposed missions of Peter and Paul. Bockmuehl evaluates this thesis and persuasively shows it to be in error. Thus, the Pseudo-Clementines do not reveal a conflict between Peter and Paul.

The third chapter in this trio concerns the death of Peter which supposedly took place in Rome. Bockmuehl interacts with Goulder’s work on this subject, and takes an extensive look at what 1 Clement tells us and does not tell us about Peter’s martyrdom. In the end, Bockmuehl sees that Peter “was remembered  as the leading apostolic witness of Jesus, who, like Paul, came to Rome to advance the gospel and gave his ultimate testimony there.” (132)

The final three chapters of this book focus on Simon-Peter’s name, his relation to Bethsaida, and the conversions (plural!) of Peter. This latter chapter focuses upon the logion in Luke 22.31-32 and the apparent lack of Peter’s conversion in Luke-Acts that the logion leads us to expect. Bockmuehl posits that Luke is in fact inviting his readers to reach the conclusion themselves, and so Bockmuehl attempts to draw on the early footprints that this logion left in the first three centuries of Christian tradition. He does this by drawing upon early Christian art that depicts Peter’s denial of Christ, and the literature of the Acts of Peter, 1 Peter 1, and John 21. Essentially, Bockmuehl sees the death and resurrection of Christ as becoming the point of Peter’s own conversion; that is, Peter experiences penitent turning from false hopes to a true hope through the passion and resurrection of Christ. Bockmuehl says:

[P]erhaps the closes Luke comes to filling his own silence on this matter is in the unnarrated resurrection appearance at 24.34: “The Lord is risen, and has appeared (ωφθη) to Simon.” It is Jesus’ looking at Peter (22.61) that convicts peter of his guilt, and Peter’s “rising” (αναστας, 24.12!) to run to the tomb and above all his “seeing” of Jesus (24.34) that marks his turn from darkness to light. The rooster symbolizes the entire narrative, declaring the end of the night and heralding the beginning of dawn. (205)

All in all, this book was a fascinating read. I have read quite a few books which seek to provide historical portraits of important figures in early Christianity (e.g. James), but this volume definitely stands out from all the ones I have read. I found it a bit strange that he didn’t tackle the depiction of Peter as seen in the New Testament but I have heard that is actually going to have a second volume devoted to it. I can only hope that is in fact true! I will finish this review with a brief snippet of Bockmuehl’s conclusion:

Simon Peter in early Christian memory embodies, for individual discipleship as much as for the church, what it means to turn – from denial to faith, from despair to hope, and from deserting Christ to shepherding his flock. (205)

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