A pleasant surprise was included in a recent Review of Biblical Literature. It contained a review by Professor James Dunn of Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom, of a new title on a subject on which I've been writing: Peter in Rome. Professor Dunn is a highly respected New Testament scholar. He provided a review of Petrus in Rom: Die literarischen Zeugnisse or to the non-German readers "Peter in Rome: The literary testimony". This was a monograph written by Professor Otto Zwierlein, a noted writer on classical literature and philology and published by Walter de Gruyter at $137.00. So don't expect to see it appearing on any best seller lists. Subsequent examination finds that another review was published in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (03/25/2010) by Pieter W. van der Horst a Professor at Utrecht University and a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.
Firstly a word of caution. The author of this book is not a theologian, but a classical scholar of some standing. The reviewers are both respected scholars within the area of the New Testament and related Jewish literature. None appear to be adherents of the Catholic faith. But Horst notes that the approach of Zwierlein is not that of a polemic (streichschif) against the Roman church but "a very sober and thorough philological and historical analysis of all the literary documents from antiquity that are commonly supposed to underpin the Vatican myth". Dunn corroborates this view with the opinion that Zwierlein provides a "painstaking examination of the textual traditions relating to Peter's residence and martyrdom in Rome, in which Zwierlein finds little or no sound history."
Both reviewers note the points of departure that Zwierlein takes with previous writers on this subject. Zwierlein's understanding that the use of Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13, not as a cipher for Rome but as "a metaphor equivalent to Jas 1:1 'in the diaspora' and hence equivalent to 'in exile'" is quickly noted. That is a new approach to the use of Babylon in 1 Peter that I have never noted before and judging from Dunn's literary raised eyebrow, he has never seen or considered previously. 1 Clement is also re-dated to the second century and Zwierlein argues that Clement simply bases his detail of Peter and Paul on Luke's writings in the Acts of the Apostles. Such a dating is a departure as of recent date; some have been seeking to date the writing of 1 Clement into the 60's of the first century. Similarly, the Epistles of Ignatius are noted to contain later interpolations or are the product of the late second century which makes them unreliable evidence for the subject at hand.
Dunn records that Zwierlein's thesis is that the idea of Peter being martyred in Rome developed in the mid second century as a response to the challenge to the church from Gnostic ideas and groups that were using Simon Magus as a focus. Horst notes that "[h]e proves how in this process of anti-Gnostic struggle, which went hand in hand with the consolidation of the monarchic episcopate, developments that took place in the second half of the second century were retrojected to the middle of the first century (as happened so often) in order to provide them with apostolic authority." This idea is of interest as it is the same point I sought to make in "The Birth of a Legend".
Both reviewers note the care and detail given to the textual and philological analysis by Zwierlein, which is clearly the man's forte.
Dunn concludes with an interesting wish for Zwierlein. While accepting the plausibility of Zwierlein's argument, Dunn notes his failure to connect with a lengthy article on this subject written by Richard Bauckham "The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature" (ANRW 2.26.2:539-95). This is an interesting article and I'm indebted to Professor Dunn for giving me the segue to discuss it here. I read the article in preparation for my own writing on the subject and then put it aside, hoping to be able to write on Bauckham's approach subsequently.
The article in question provides a comprehensive introduction to the earliest literature relating to Peter being in Rome. While a useful article as Dunn notes, my evaluation of Bauckham's article has a strong negative aspect. Bauckham starts his examination of all the literary testimony with the New Testament "evidence" as he sees it. He reads 1 Peter 5:13 as being a cipher for Rome. However, he then approaches the rest of the New Testament with the ‘fact' that Peter was truly in Rome and finds numerous New Testament allusions to support his conclusion. However, if those same texts were examined without such a precondition, then the same readings would not be reached. To my mind, Bauckham establishes his conclusion by circular reasoning, which then influences the remainder of his work so that it lacks the objectivity for which he is normally known.