In Partial Response To: Mark Matson
To keep things as short as possible, I will here concentrate on the basic
methodology issue, which I think is the most important one, and leave points
of detail for later (if ever). I will take only three points, all of them
from Mark's first paragraph.
1. The Roman Question
BRUCE [Quoted by Mark]: If we want to understand Roman history, we have
roughly two choices: (1) read Gibbon, or (2) read Roman documents. I favor
MARK: 1), this issue was not discussing Roman history. In fact I'm not sure
where you jumped to that.
BRUCE: Sorry, didn't mean to be obscure. It was meant as a metaphor. A
metaphor is an implied comparison. The meaning of this metaphor was: we can
either read highly processed later books, or we can read unprocessed early
documents. And I still favor the latter. In the case under discussion, this
means Mark (and a few other things, which at worst include some early
segments and strata), and not Luke (which is highly processed and
concept-driven and artistically schematized). As von Ranke said once, in a
moment of wishful thinking,
"Ich sehe die Zeit kommen, wo wir die neuere Geschichte nicht mehr auf die
Berichte, selbst nicht der gleichzeitigen Historiker, ausser insoweit ihnen
eine originale Kenntnis beiwohnte, geschweige denn auf die weiter
abgeleiteten Bearbeitungen zu gründen haben, sondern aus den Relationen der
Augenzeugen und den echtesten, unmittelbarsten Urkunden aufbauen werden."
(Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, 1839)"
And lest I seem to be suddenly and inscrutably recommending the study of
German history, let me at once explain that I mean merely to point out that
in 1839, one historian of note felt the possibility, and the desirability,
of using "the most authentic, the most immediate, sources" in historical
research. Had this taken place, it would have constituted a veritable
revolution in how history was then done. How far has the practice of history
moved in that direction, in the, let's see, 170 years since that hope was
I forbear to make an estimate, but I continue to recommend movement in that
2. The Relevance of Luke/Acts
BRUCE [Quoted by Mark]: Acts is a highly schematic History of Christianity.
It is not a primary document. . . Everyone will be aware that in some
current scholarly opinions, Acts dates from well into the 2nd century. . .
MARK: I don't think Luke's second volume is inherently out of bounds. It
does, after all, deal with the church's growth (which was, by the way, the
issue -- whether Acts' speeches contained a summary of Peter's or the early
church's early proclamations in any way useful for our consideration).
Granted, it is Luke's interpretation. But every history is interpretation..
so that doesn't rule out Acts as possibly useful.
BRUCE: OK, It is granted that Acts (by whomever written) is late, and that
it is an interpretation. It also stands uncontradicted that Luke is a
reinterpretation based on at least two earlier interpretations, that of Mark
and that of Matthew. Insofar as that is true, then Luke stands relatively
far from the things it purports to describe. And in that light, it is surely
dubious procedure to begin with Acts in our search for the Historical Peter,
since by a familiar psychological principle (or if unfamiliar, see the
extended example in The Original Analects, Appendix 5), doing so is likely
to privilege Luke's version over any other we may later consider. As for
"the church's growth," which I would rather render as "the growth of some of
the churches and the extinction of others," which period of growth are we
considering? By "early Christianity" I mean the views and organizations of
the followers of Jesus, in and out of Israel, in the years 30-33 inclusive.
I do not mean the Patristic period.
Ranke, as quoted above, deprecated the use of "histories" as "sources." He
meant that processed sources are not as reliable as the sources themselves.
To say that "all histories are interpretations" puts all histories on a par,
which is doubtful - histories may be more or less processed, and more or
less close to the events which they process. There is thus a basis for
choice even among histories. This would lead, for example, given our
agreement on their relative dates, to an initial a priori preference for
Matthew over Luke, and in turn for Mark over either or both of them (and
indeed for the early layers of Mark over the later layers of Mark - but that
belongs to advanced technique, and I pass it for the present). As for the
choice between between histories (processed sources) and sources, I still
maintain that there is no contest. If we intend to write history, we go to
the earliest available sources for that history. Not to the work of some
previous historian, or to the Britannica, or to Wikipedia, or any other
result of long digestion and redigestion of what facts of history may have
been available to be thus reprocessed. But instead, insofar as still
possible, to the original material on which these predecessors, at some
remove, also worked.
(2a. Excursus on the Evaluation of Acts as a Source)
I mentioned Ranke's desideratum, but Ranke famously (and his students no
less famously) left no extended description of how to develop his maxims
into a full-fledged practical methodology. How then might a Rankean
researcher proceed in the case of Acts? Might Acts indeed contain something
true about Peter that had somehow escaped both Mark and Matthew? Certainly
it might. So might the writings of Justin, or of Jerome. But how can we form
an estimate of the likelihood of that possibility?
One way, available to all but as far as I know unexploited by any, is to
take note of Luke and Matthew at the Petrine points where they both give
testimony. Let us then extract (as it were) Matthew's Peter, and separately
extract Luke's Peter, and then compare the two. Are there details in the
Lukan version of Peter which are plausibly construed as authentic, or at any
rate more authentic than the corresponding details or absence of details in
Matthew? Or are all the points of contrast explicable in the light of Luke's
known historical agenda as displayed elsewhere?
Then we would repeat the experiment with Matthew's Peter and Mark's Peter.
This has more or less been done with the disciples collectively. Done by
whom? I can't say offhand, but everyone will probably recall the oft
repeated phrase "Matthew spares the Twelve." Meaning, Mark is harder on the
Twelve, including Peter, than is Matthew. Well, good: now we have a point of
contrast, and thus a possible point of evaluation. Which of the two is
likely to be the more accurate portrait? Is Matthew (for example) already
influenced by an early version of the ecclesiastical tradition which would
later regard Peter as the first Bishop of Rome? If so, then Matthew may not
only "spare" the disciples, he may be intentionally portraying Peter in a
favorable light, virtually a founder's light. This and other possibilities
need to be considered, as we evaluate our possible source materials.
Is Luke's portrait of Peter, including the Acts portrait of Peter in the
years after Jesus's death, construable as a further step in this
evolutionary direction, or in any other direction?
My guess would be that Luke is moving in another direction. And what
direction? (1) I think we can see in Mark's reading of Jesus history that
Jesus meant Peter, however fallible during his lifetime, to be a leader of
the disciple group after his death. That need not be historically true, but
it is Mark's picture. (2) I think we can see in Matthew's reading of Jesus
history that Jesus meant Peter to be not merely the leader of the disciple
group, primus inter pares, but in some sense the founder of the organized
church, (by which Matthew probably meant the Jerusalem Jesus movement, and
not those small scum congregations back in Galilee, whose members he damns
unhesitatingly to hell). (3) I think we can see in Luke's reading of Jesus
history a remnant of Mark's idea that Peter was a main figure in the very
early movement, but that he was a sometimes harsh leader in that role (poor
Sapphira, who did not sufficiently impoverish herself), but that he had
become already tangential in the Jerusalem period (as soon as Brother Jacob
comes on the Acts scene, Peter functions as little more than an errand boy),
and that once Paul appears in that narrative, Peter simply exits, to a fate
unspecified. So Matthew may hint at the idea of Peter's martyrdom in Rome,
but for Luke, the only Roman martyr of consequence (a martyrdom also only
hinted at, to avoid anachronism and to preserve the politically necessary
pro-Roman stance of the work) is rather Paul.
It has also been repeatedly pointed out, over the past century, that the
Acts image of Peter and the Acts image of Paul have been very much
assimilated to each other. Paul, meaning the guy who wrote some of the
Epistles now going under his name, regarded Peter as a phony and a coward,
who was really bound by the old food laws when it came to the crunch, as
apparently it did in the early days of the Gentile churches. And how does
Peter fare on this issue in Acts? As an unprogressive and retrograde
curmudgeon on the food issue? Not at all, but rather as the first proclaimer
of God's ruling that all foods are licit (the Cornelius episode). What does
this do for Peter's image in Acts? Nothing; Peter simply fades out of Acts,
leaving neither an image nor a shadow behind him. What does this do for
Paul's image in Acts? It gives literal divine advance sanction to the
position of Paul (or something like it) in the foods controversy. It makes
Paul more than orthodox. It establishes his tradition (in contrast to
anything with which Luke's readers are likely to have associated Peter) as
the genuine one, the divinely ordained one. Not fallible Paul, squabbling
ungracefully with Jacob, but God himself, from the clouds and not with any
mere flannelgraph but with live animal illustrations, is presented as
canceling the Deuteronomic doctrine of purity.
So in Acts, Peter is more or less chewed up and spat out, and Paul (with the
chewed up Peter as his functional harbinger, and no less than God as his
doctrinal guarantor) becomes the real bearer of Jesus tradition to the wider
world. The last word on Jesus, not to mention God. Sole, definitive, and
victorious in all the ways in which victory really matters.
I do not advance this interpretation as anything novel. I regard it as
obvious and patent, and precedented in its major details by one or more
genuinely learned persons, from Bacon to Goulder inclusive. But to the
extent that this is so, then it surely becomes proportionately risky to
start out the search for the Historical Peter by taking in the Acts Peter as
a first basis of construction. No?
3. The Date of Acts
BRUCE [Not quoted by Mark, but here reinstated from my original response to
his message]: Everyone will be aware that in some current scholarly
opinions, Acts dates from well into the 2nd century. To the extent that
these opinions may be well founded, Acts is out as a source for Early
Christianity. And even if those opinions are ill founded - if Acts is as
early as anybody so far cares to make it (namely, later than Luke, with Luke
in turn put at the earliest tenable date so far advanced, which is not
itself very early) - we are a long way, not only in date but also in
intention, from any really early material we may happen to possess. We are
grabbing hold of the elephant at a perhaps inadvisable end.
MARK: 2) I would disagree on your dating of Acts. Granted, some argue for
2nd century. I would argue that Luke and Acts are the last of our written
canonical gospels. But I would still put Luke and Acts in latter first
century. Besides, lateness doesn't inherently mean inaccurate. But those
who suggest very late Acts usually have a tendentious point.
BRUCE: That was not MY dating of Acts, as I thought I had made plain. My
personal best guess at the date of Acts seems to agree roughly with yours.
My point was that the 2c date has recently and prominently been argued, and
that it is probably necessary in a careful inquiry (and what is to be said
for a slapdash inquiry?) to give one's reasons for not accepting that
proposal. The suggestion that all such persons "usually have a tendentious
point" does not quite cover it for me. Admittedly, this and similar
preparatory details are perhaps best taken care of in a parenthetical
separate lemma, and not in a paragraph in the main discussion, but I do miss
Even given (for present purposes) an agreement on the late 1c date of Acts,
it remains a late text, about 60 years after the facts with which we are
here supposed to be concerned. 60 years is more than two human generations.
It is a lot of time even on the scale of cultural history, which usually
operates to reshape its past to its own present needs and preferences, and
which does so the more thoroughly the longer the facts are exposed to its
workings. 60 years is a lot of exposure, and it gives room for a lot of
workings. So I have to doubt that the "1c" date here agreed on for Acts can
mean very much to the present investigation, if it turns out that there is a
more than two generation "give" between what Jesus (or Peter) did and what
As for "lateness doesn't inherently mean inaccurate," of course not. But the
exceptions are precisely exceptions, and can be accounted for in special
terms. Of this I will now give an example:
My family's KJ Bible, the one with pictures of ancestors whose names my
generation has forgotten, was printed in the very early 20c. It would now
(if I knew where in the attic to put my hand on it) be more than a hundred
years old. My copy of Vaticanus, on the other hand, is a color Xerox made in
Bloomington Indiana in the early years of the present century. In terms of
paper, the KJV Bible is a century older, its pictures sepia, its pages
foxed, and bearing other physical signs of age and indeed decrepitude. It
thus might be thought worthy of greater credence than my Vaticanus, which is
a mere shiny recent figment of the Kinko copyshop chain. Such a conclusion
would of course be worthless, and worse than worthless, it would be
downright amusing, because what counts is not the date of the transcript,
but the date of the contents, according to which test Vaticanus is at least
two centuries, and in places more than ten centuries, anterior to the text
that lies behind my KJV.
Can such an exception be made for Acts? Can we at any point credibly say
that, despite its known late date and its openly flaunted post-Petrine and
supra-Petrine agenda, it nevertheless contains at least some material
antedating Mark, and more credible as reflecting the Historical Peter than
anything in or out of Mark? I haven't so far found any places in Acts which
strike me as inviting that conclusion. If anyone has, let them speak up. Now
is their chance, the recording Angel's pen has still not descended on the
page. Failing that, I think we must put Acts where its known qualities, and
its agreed date, coincide in putting it, which is not only long after the
fact, but as intentionally, and on the largest scale, embroidering and
reinterpreting and ultimately transforming the fact.
Everything I read so far in Mark's comment seems to me to be in the
direction of disabling the most obvious criteria for the evaluation of
sources, and of equiprivileging the known early and the known late sources.
If not indeed for ranking the late sources, in effect, above the early ones.
I think von Ranke would have been disappointed.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst