It is no controversial claim to state that Peter’s legacy has been overshadowed by the Apostle to the Gentiles. Only two Petrine writings are found within the NT canon (the authenticity of which are often impugned), distinctive Petrine theological contributions are not easy to pinpoint, and Paul’s letters (particularly Gal. 2:11–14) do not always portray him in a particularly favorable light. Nevertheless, historical investigation of Peter is worthy of further attention. For, as Markus Bockmuehl argues, Peter is decisively important for the origins of Christianity. Peter is, after all, the “guarantor of the Jesus tradition that gave rise to the gospels” (p. 6), a key bridge-figure uniting the Palestinian Jesus movement with the mission to the Gentiles, and is crucial for understanding numerous theological and historical problems in earliest Christianity. In this book, then, Bockmuehl brings together nine missives devoted primarily to the reception and memory of Peter within the first two centuries. Bockmuehl’s method is to work “back-to-front,” or in other words to begin with the living memory of the apostle from the second century and move back in time to historical plausibility. This fresh method is plausible given that there was a widely recognized body of people who represented and maintained memories of the apostles (e.g., Papias, Polycarp, Justin, and Irenaeus).
In ch. 2 Bockmuehl asks, “Has the recent study of Jesus and Paul taught us anything new about the relationship between them, beyond the classic treatments of the last century?” (p. 31). Given that Peter is the sole figure featured in both the ministries of Jesus and Paul, one would expect scholarship on Jesus and Paul to reflect upon this figure of continuity. To this end, he examines the works of E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright, and John Dominic Crossan to see how the premier scholars of Jesus and Paul make use of the figure of Peter. Bockmuehl’s conclusions are largely negative, for while all four scholars agree that “Jesus and Paul are linked by a Petrine continuity in principle, in practice none of them carries this through to any significant analytical engagement beyond the answers given by previous generations of scholars” (p. 57). Peter most frequently comes across as a figure of no interest, as a straw man for Paul to knock down, or Jesus’ foil. Bockmuehl’s suggestive but undeveloped insight is that Peter is an indispensable bridge between Jesus and Paul and the Jewish and Gentile missions, and that this bridge needs further development in the scholarly literature.
In ch. 3 Bockmuehl examines the memory of the relationship between Peter and Paul and suggests that their partnership was “tense but vital” (pp. 68–70). In opposition to the majority of critical scholarship, both the NT canon and the mainstream patristic interpretation of Peter and Paul evidences powerful testimony to the memory of the two apostles as fundamentally harmonious despite their differences.
Chapters 4–6 present three studies devoted to the memory of Peter in Syria and Rome in the second century. In ch. 4 Bockmuehl examines Petrine memory in Syria in the individuals of Ignatius, Justin, and Serapion and demonstrates “that a ‘chain’ of living memory of the apostles can be shown to have survived until the late second century” (p. 77). Justin understands the Gospel of Mark to represent the memories of Peter. Ignatius, likewise, uses Petrine memory to combat docetic understandings of Jesus’ resurrection and uses shared memories of Peter and Paul to exhort the church in Rome.
In ch. 5 Bockmuehl turns to the murky waters of the Pseudo-Clementines, particularly their treatment of Peter and (supposedly) Paul. But one cannot even broach the subject without attention to F. C. Baur, who used the supposed opposition between Peter and Paul in the Pseudo-Clementines as a fundamental plank in his construction of Christian origins. According to Baur and the majority of scholarship since, these works portray Peter as the hero: he is the rock and defender of the church and the supreme adversary of heresy. Peter’s enemy, Simon Magus, has been taken to be a poorly disguised cipher for Paul. The Pseudo-Clementines are, then, on this construal anti-Pauline writings. Bockmuehl exposes, however, the weakness of the evidence supporting the equation between Simon Magus and Paul. Simon is quite simply never identified as Paul. When “Saul” does appear, he is clearly distinguished from Simon Magus. Of further significance is the fact that there is not one trace of an explicitly distinctive Pauline teaching in the teachings of Simon. Simon, in fact, mocks Pauline distinctives, including resurrection from the dead, the goodness of creation and the creator, and the divine sonship of Christ (p. 107). Bockmuehl concludes that the Pseudo-Clementines are
best seen as developing the well-established second-century Christian view of Simon as the stylized arch-heretic and founding representative of Gnostic errors. In other words, [the narrative] symbolizes . . . not Peter’s opposition to Paul but Peter’s role as the church’s apostolic defender against the personification of heresy. (p. 111)
In ch. 6 Bockmuehl challenges the scholarly consensus that denies the plausibility of Peter’s ever setting foot, let alone being buried, in Rome. Bockmuehl examines the appeal to memory of Peter’s death in 1 Clement 5 and suggests that Clement may presume that his readers are well-aware of Peter’s martyrdom given his reserve to mention details of Peter’s death. Further, Clement’s comparison of the “great multitude” of Roman Christians who were martyred (6:1) with the example of the two apostolic martyrs (5:3–7) gains rhetorical force if the apostles’ were actually martyred in Rome. Ultimately, the evidence is inconclusive, but Bockmuehl suggests as entirely plausible that Peter actually did die and was buried in Rome.
In ch. 7 Bockmuehl asks what, if anything, the four names of Simon Peter would have meant to ancient Palestinian Jews. He presents four conclusions. First, “Simon Peter” is the name of an Israelite patriarch, a name that had begun to be used again only about 200 years preceding Peter’s birth. Second, “Simon bar Yonah” is a common Jewish name. Third, “Cephas” was a highly unusual name, and apart from Peter himself there is no evidence that it was used in Palestine as a Jewish name. Fourth, the abundance of the usage of “Peter” to refer to the Christian apostle is accounted for by Greek speakers. In ch. 8 Bockmuehl examines Peter’s connection with Bethsaida and suggests that it is likely that Peter “grew up fully bilingual in a Jewish minority setting” as archaeological and literary evidence suggests that Bethsaida was largely Gentile (p. 185).
In ch. 9 Bockmuehl notes that in Luke 22:31–32 Jesus predicts a future conversion for Peter but that this conversion is left without narration in the remainder of Luke-Acts. Given that Luke does not narrate this event, Bockmuehl notes an important principle for his entire project: “if Luke is tacitly inviting his readers to reach certain conclusions, one of our best available exegetical guides may be to consult the conclusions the earlier readers did in fact reach” (p. 196). Bockmuehl examines three distinct pieces of effective history: the cock’s crow in Christian art, the Acts of Peter, and John 21. Each one of these texts connects Peter’s conversion, in some way, with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Bockmuehl’s The Remembered Peter draws together some interesting studies devoted to the early reception history of Peter. It should be of some interest primarily to students of early Christianity but certainly also NT scholars. I found Bockmuehl’s rereading of the Pseudo-Clementines in ch. 5, particularly his questioning of the scholarly consensus that Simon Magus is a cipher for Paul, to be one of the real gems of the book. Additionally, I found convincing his proposal that scholars of Christian origins, particularly those interested in the relationship between Jesus and Paul, are obligated to provide richer treatments of Peter’s historical significance if they intend to give a convincing historical account of Christian origins. Those looking for a broad treatment of Peter within the NT, however, must turn elsewhere or await Bockmuehl’s second forthcoming volume on Peter.