Simon Peter (3): Case Studies

Bockmuehl’s Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory concludes with two brief case studies that, he claims, demonstrate how the Petrine memory can illuminate our understanding of this central figure of the early church.

220px-Pope-peter_pprubensFirst, Bockmuehl looks at an exegetical issue. While Paul has a dramatic conversion story (regardless of how exactly said conversion is to be understood), the NT, at least on the surface, fails to give us one for Peter. Bockmuehl (155-157) focuses on Luke 22.31-32, in which Jesus tells Peter that Satan will sift him, but that when he has turned back (ἐπιστρέψας), he will strengthen the brothers. Ἐπιστέψω is a verb that is often used to denote moral or spiritual conversion (Lk 1.16-17; 2 Chron 24.19 LXX). Interestingly, despite the fact that by Luke 22 Peter has “left everything” (Lk 5.11), is given a promise to judge the twelve tribes (22.28-30), and has some amount of faith, Jesus clearly implies that his turning/conversion/repentance is still future. Luke does not give us a clear account of Peter’s “conversion” in the rest of his Gospel, but by the time Acts opens, Peter is clearly a different man, boldly proclaiming Christ and strengthening the others through his witness (fulfilling Lk 22.31-32). So when does the change happen? This is where Bockmuehl brings in reception: having demonstrated from other examples that Luke often “implicitly invites his readers to draw certain conclusions,” then “one of our best available exegetical guides is to ask what those earliest readers themselves concluded” (158). Looking at the Good Friday Rooster in early Christian art, the Acts of Peter, and 1 Pet 1 and John 21, Bockmuehl concludes that the it is the “crucifixion-resurrection sequence,” in which Jesus gazes disappointedly at Peter, who has disowned him (Lk 22.61), and in which Peter beholds the risen Lord (Lk 24.34) that brings about Peter’s repentance/conversion/turning.

Second, Bockmuehl examines an archaeological issue. How plausible is it that Simon Peter, the fisherman from Galilee, would lead a global mission culminating in his martyrdom in Rome? Bockmuehl notes that John 1.44 tells us that Peter and his brother Andrew came from the village of Bethsaida (presumably, the family later moved to Capernaum, where the Synoptics locate Peter’s mother-in-law’s house). The NT makes very little of Bethsaida, portraying it as highly resistant to Jesus’ ministry (Lk 10.13), but archaeology can help us fill in some of the gaps: Tell Bethsaida, 2.5 km north of the Sea of Galilee and just east of the Jordan, has been the site of annual excavations since 1988. The fascinating thing is that this site has no synagogue, no baptismal pools, no Jewish inscriptions, and a great deal of pig and non-kosher fish bones as well as some degree of Hellenistic fineware. From all of this, Bockmuehl concludes that “Bethsaida’s culture in the first century was under strongly Hellenistic influence” (174), so that “Peter almost certainly grew up fully bilingual in a Jewish minority setting […] the political context of Bethsaida would have afforded the young Peter a strong awareness of larger imperial realities” (175). Thus, “the young Peter’s Judaism in marginal circumstances would have left him precariously balanced between two very different, if equally religious, construals of his identity and vocation–nationalist zeal, on the one hand, and a global and multicultural articulation of faithful Jewishness, on the other” (176). Peter, it seems, was far better equipped, both culturally and linguistically, than James or any of the other Judaean-born leaders of the early church to take the gospel to the Jews of the diaspora.

Moving effortlessly from standard historical-critical fare to exegesis of non-canonical gospels, patristic texts, and archaeological data, all while seeking to find patterns and integrate elements across various strata of evidence, Bockmuehl’s careful historical work is certainly worth reading and emulating. I still wish the publisher would have included maps and images where appropriate, but on the whole Bockmuehl’s Simon Peter never fails to intrigue and illuminate.

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About krhughes14

Smyrna, Georgia
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