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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 56, 2008

RICHARD J. CASSIDY, Four Times Peter: Portrayals of Peter in the Four Gospels and at Philippi (Interfaces; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006). Pp. xiv + 154. Paper. $US15.95.

This study of the apostle Peter appears within the fourth set of Interfaces volumes edited by Barbara Green, OP. Designed to make biblical studies engaging as well as instructive at college level, the series focuses upon a single biblical character (or pair of characters) and aims to introduce students to new methodologies current in biblical studies.

In this study, Richard Cassidy, well known from a series of works relating the Gospels and Acts to the Roman world, adopts the methodology of narrative criticism, the chief aspects of which he sets out in an opening chapter. In strict adherence to the narrative approach Cassidy takes each Gospel as a finished whole, eschewing any consideration of sources or of relationships between the Gospels themselves. Thus, the main body of the work consists of distinct and independent considerations of the figure of Peter in each of the four Gospels. A concluding chapter imaginatively reconstructs the reception of the portrayal of Peter in each of the four Gospels as they arrived one by one at Philippi.

A major thesis is that, in writing principally about Jesus, each evangelist presents a fundamentally positive evaluation of Peter, an evaluation that first-century readers/auditors at Philippi would have themselves endorsed. Each chapter concludes with a chart plotting the evaluative ‘trajectory’ of Peter as this emerges from the narrative, including the external predictive prolepsis of his post-Easter career, as chief pastor of the church and martyr.

The contribution of narrative criticism with respect to story time in this way is perhaps the most interesting feature of the work. In other respects, though clearly based on wide reading, it adds little to the scholarly literature on Peter—which, admittedly, within the ambit of the series, it was hardly called upon to do. The separate trawl through each of the Gospels, focusing first upon the figure of Jesus, then of the disciples in general, then upon Peter, while possibly enlivening in lecture presentation, becomes tediously repetitive as a written text.

The concluding study of the reception of the four Gospels at Philippi is at once the work’s most creative and most problematic feature. Cassidy’s previous research has equipped him well to present a convincing portrayal of the highly Romanised colony of Philippi and of the community of believers there. One wonders, however, whether this is not where the narrative critical and the historical critical approach come crashing into conflict. Cassidy speculates whether “paradigm readers” of each Gospel were to be found in Philippi or would eventually evolve there through re-reading of the narratives and further information. He opines that the Philippians’ image of Peter would already have been informed by their reading of two letters of Paul, 1 Corinthians and Galatians. He then surveys the likely reception of each Gospel as it arrived in Philippi. But all this is done without any reference to possible times or dates of the arrival of these documents in Philippi. Yet we simply do not know when any of these works arrived in the community; the time-range could be from as early as the late 50s to 120 C.E. Moreover, if the impact of the presentation of Peter in Luke’s Gospel is considered, why is the witness of Acts, where Peter also bulks large, simply not mentioned? Did Acts not reach Philippi? And, if it had, what would the Philippians have made of the very different presentations of the relationship between Peter and Paul in Acts and in Galatians? In short, there is so much conjecture and speculation in this attempted reconstruction of readers’ reception of the texts in question that one wonders about the pedagogical usefulness or even validity of this final exercise.

The material collected in this work overall would doubtless have made for a stimulating lecture series or intensive workshop. As a written text, it is less successful.

Review by
Brendan Byrne
Jesuit Theological College
Parkville VIC 3052