Writing in first person, Mackenzie Mulligan adopts the persona of the apostle Peter in this historical novel that gathers all that can be gleaned about the apostle’s life from the NT plus some church tradition. The setting is the last night of Peter’s life while imprisoned in a Roman cell, alternating with flashbacks to his time with Jesus and his ministry in the early church. Mulligan limits the scope of his story to the timeframe of Peter’s life presented in the NT with the exception of the account of Peter’s imprisonment and execution drawn from church tradition. Footnotes point the reader to the Scripture on which the episodes are based. For instance, “These events are taken from Matthew 26:17–29, Mark 14:12–25, Luke 22:7–38, John 13:1–38, modified and expanded from the esv” (p. 49n1). In addition to the NT material, Mulligan documents his extensive use of secondary sources, primarily major commentaries on the passages he expands and monographs on the apostle Peter. A substantial and selected bibliography is included.
Mulligan recognizes the ease of crossing “the line from scholarship and knowledge into irresponsible speculation” (p. xii) and attempts to avoid filling in the gaps of the biblical material on Peter’s life. Nevertheless, in order to redact the relevant biblical texts into a coherent and cohesive first-person narrative, Mulligan does judiciously add plausible, though speculative, details about events and reconstructs some internal thoughts and emotions of Jesus, Peter, and the other apostles. For instance, in an attempt to convert 2 Pet 3:15–16 into narrative, he writes in Peter’s voice from Rome, “I have not been allowed to see him [Paul]. Mark and Silvanus have, however, and they have brought me copies of his messages to the Church” (pp. 1–2). In a flashback to the day Andrew announced finding the Messiah we read, “‘Simon! Simon!’ Andrew’s voice jarred me out of my sleep. I turned over and pulled my blanket more tightly around me” (p. 3). It is possible that readers unfamiliar with the NT material itself will remember such fabricated details as truths about Peter, though what risk may result from that is probably minimal.
Mulligan attributes fatigue, fear, and anger to Jesus apparently by inference from what he thinks any human being would feel in such circumstances. For instance, during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Peter looks at Jesus, “expecting the frown, the tiredness, to be gone, but it was, if anything, worse than ever” (p. 35; see also reference to Jesus’s fatigue, p. 49). He then attributes “a flash of anger” to Jesus as he mounts the donkey (p. 36; see also reference to Jesus’s anger, p. 44). Peter’s thoughts are also provided, for instance, when we read that one of the angels at Jesus’s ascension “was smiling at us, and I felt as though he was holding back laughter” (p. 89).
Where there is scholarly disagreement about when and how many times Jesus cleared the Temple, Mulligan opts for twice, once at the beginning of the public ministry and again during the last week of Jesus’s life (p. 42). The unidentified disciple who questions Jesus in Mark 13:1 is identified as Andrew in Mulligan’s narrative “partly because he is included in the following conversation and partly because the narrative requires a name” (p. 45n18). One of the two unnamed disciples in John 21:2 also is identified as Andrew, the other as Philip, “[a]s their identity makes neither a theological nor a narrative impact on the story” (p. 84n3). Because Peter is absent from the New Testament accounts between his denial of Christ and the visit to the empty tomb, Mulligan notes that chapter 7 is entirely his own creation as he speculates that Peter returned to Gethsemane after denying Jesus three times (p. 71n1). Mulligan documents most of the assumptions he introduces so the careful reader can determine what material was not found in the biblical text. Even with many such assumptions and inferences, Mulligan’s narrative is faithful to the biblical account.
This book is very well written and carefully executed, but there are two minor typos. Note 14 on p. 42 refers to “footnote 63 above” though there appears to be no such note, and on p. 63 there is the misspelling “site” for “sight.”
This engaging “autobiographical” narrative of Peter’s life is reminiscent of Bruce Longenecker’s The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) and Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), though neither of those narrates the life of a New Testament figure. Mulligan’s monograph began as his senior thesis project supervised by Matt Jenson, a systematic theologian at the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Jenson writes in the Foreword that Mulligan has provided an aid to theological interpretation of Scripture by presenting “an imaginative immersion in Peter’s life in Peter’s own voice” (p. vii). This reviewer would raise questions with Jenson on that point but agrees that Mulligan’s book will be wonderfully effective with those readers and in those settings where such imaginative re-telling is suitable.