Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Markus Bockmuehl, The Remembered Peter: In Ancient Reception and Modern Debate. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 262. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010. Pp. xii, 263. ISBN 9783161505805. €79.00.

Reviewed by Matthew W. Mitchell, Canisius College (matthew.mitchell@canisius.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


Table of Contents

This book contains a selection, with some revisions, of Bockmuehl's previously published essays and articles on the figure of Simon Peter. According to the Preface, this volume will form the first part of a two-book project on the figure of Peter, although whether this statement means they are part of a single project, as one might automatically assume, is a trifle uncertain, as Bockmuehl indicates a second volume's target audience will be broader, and its focus more restricted to the New Testament materials. Bockmuehl's Preface helpfully lays out the methodological issues and currents that inform the essays in this collection: memory studies, reception history, and the "increasing recognition of the fluidity of historical and cultural boundaries between New Testament and second-century Christianity" (p. v).

The book is loosely organized into three sections (Simon Peter Re-Remembered, Peter in Syrian and Roman Memory, The Memory of Peter's Futures), and each individual chapter covers a discrete topic (e.g, Peter and Paul, Peter in the Pseudo-Clementines, Peter's relationship with either Bethsaida or Rome), but the organizing principle is obviously less to be found in the book's structure than its interest in approaching the figure of Peter from various angles. In practical terms, then, one can easily select a chapter for reading on its own rather than feeling any need to be attentive to a sustained, book length argument or discussion.

The individual essaysvary in quality quality (none poor, some merely good, and some quite good), and Bockmuehl advances interesting and occasionally compelling arguments against scholarly consensus on several fronts. In Chapter 3, he asserts that the traditional notion of an irreconcilable rift between Peter and Paul in Antioch (Galatians 1-2) has been overplayed by scholarship in English and German over the past 170 or so years (he specifically draws a line from F.C. Baur through to Ernst Käsemann in the German tradition, and from C.K. Barrett through to Douglas Campbell in anglophone scholarship). In contrast, Bockmuehl argues that the New Testament presents a "more nuanced and symbiotic view" (p. 69) of their relationship. As interesting as conflicts and feuds are, disagreements are rarely avoided between people who work together towards shared goals, and the later tradition certainly sees more common ground between these two apostles than differences. Similarly, in Chapter 5 the relatively mainstream reading of the Pseudo-Clementines (the Homilies and Romances attributed to Clement of Rome) as a thinly veiled Ebionitic (Jewish-Christian) attack on Paul and Pauline Christianity, with the figure of Simon Magus standing in for Paul, is dismissed. That there may be "a degree of anti-Pauline sentiment" (p. 111) present does not indicate any sense of "an obvious polarity between a Petrine mission to Jews and a Pauline mission to Gentiles. The Pseudo-Clementines are not Ebionite, and their Simon Magus is not Paul" (pp. 112-3). In a similar vein, Chapter 6 argues for the likelihood of some historical basis for the association between Rome and Peter that appears in various sources, and Bockmuehl additionally observes that the tradition of both Peter and Paul meeting their ends in Rome is itself an additional argument against the notion of "two permanently irreconcilable poles of early Christianity" (p. 132).

The few overarching arguments ( which amount to recurrent themes in this volume) are largely methodological, even though methodology as such is the topic only of a very compact discussion in Chapter 1. One way of describing Bockmuehl's methodological position is to view it as simultaneously generous and modest. By describing it this way, I mean that rather than adhering to simple articulations of what constitutes reliable or unreliable historical evidence, or making declarations about this or that text's authenticity, Bockmuehl notes that scholarly studies of Peter have been both "excessively" and "insufficiently" historical. That there was a historical figure named Peter who followed Jesus, who was remembered solely because of his having been a disciple of Jesus, whose legacy was argued over and written about over subsequent years, is not debatable, however unreliable or unhistorical any individual story, tradition, or text may be.

There are thus no "clear-cut 'historical results'" to be achieved, but rather "a dialectical evaluation of the remembered Peter as a tool in discovering the impressions he left on those around him" (pp. 15-16). This approach is, Bockmuehl admits, "messy" (p. 15). As he rightly observes, discussions of Peter often fall prey to ideological issues, or accusations of ideological distortions, such that simple historical questions about whether Peter was ever in Rome (there are only a few answers beyond a "who knows?" or claiming not enough evidence: yes, no, likely not, likely yes) become intertwined with arguments about papal primacy or late datings of the monepiscopacy. Bockmuehl helpfully downplays and contextualizes some of this occasionally overheated discourse.

One thing that gradually dawned on me is that Bockmuehl has done something subtle in this book, whether purposely or not. On the one hand, he repeatedly seeks a middle ground between what he portrays as methodological extremes, while on the other he seeks to downplay the use of conflict models or either/or options for understanding our sources (e.g., Peter vs. Paul, Ebionite vs. Pauline, Rome OR Bethsaida), some of which have been central in scholarship. Thus, Bockmuehl can pursue a path of reasonableness, while simultaneously launching a very sharp offensive on a tradition of scholarship that goes back to 1831. That the historical models inherited from F.C. Baur involved understanding the sources of early Christianity (e.g., Acts) as engaging in a retrospective rapprochement between polarized views to build consensus where there historically had been none sounds to me very much like Bockmuehl positioning himself between the poles of excessive and insufficient historicism. This observation means nothing as to the merit of his arguments or conclusions, some of which I find compelling and some not; I merely mention it to observe a methodological and rhetorical note that is slightly dissonant with the measured tone of Chapter 1. That I only became aware gradually of this aspect of the book, however, means that readers of individual essays will likely not notice it, and indeed, it may simply be a marker of the book's origins in stand-alone essays as much as a concerted attack on the lazy reproduction of scholarly consensus.

On the whole then, this volume contains much to interest readers on a variety of topics, and a good deal to commend it. In terms of shortcomings however, its cost, although not at all extreme compared to similar monographs, is likely to be an issue for individual scholars, especially given that it is a relatively slim volume whose contents are already in print in other places.

Happily, the book seems largely free of typographical or printing errors, although my eye caught a small mistake on page 127 n. 51, where the rough breathing on ἕως θανάτου is smooth (in a quotation from 1 Clement 5.2).

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