Title

Saint Peter: Apostle transfigured into trickster

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-1-2009

Abstract

At first glance there would seem little reason to view the Apostle Peter within the context of the New Testament as anything but a straightforward disciple of Jesus. Furthermore, within the ongoing tradition of the formal Christian interpretation and ritual presentation of Peter, where has it been suggested that he may also be a trickster? However, when popular interpretations of Peter are examined, particularly those within the Christian folklore of the Yaqui, Spanish, Mexican, and New Mexican cultures of the American Southwest, numerous instances of Peter as trickster can be found. How could such a seemingly disparate state of affairs come to be? Within mainstream Christianity, Peter has most often been viewed both as an exemplar of the imitatio Christi, wherein human chaos is conquered by belief in Jesus, and also as an ecclesiastical leader through whom the authority structure of Christianity, particularly in its Roman Catholic form, has been legitimated. At the same time, there are elements within the Biblical picture of Peter that depict him as a bumbler and liar. However, it is only within the unofficial realms of popular Christianity that these elements are subsequently developed. Here Peter has often been celebrated as a trickster who constantly does everything he shouldn't and who upends every situation and authority including that of Jesus himself. It will be argued here that although there are certain trickster elements in the New Testament picture of Peter, these are used in quite divergent ways by different groups within Christianity after the close of the New Testament canon, in accord with their respective symbiotic interests. Thus mainstream Christianity, largely intolerant of disruptive behavior in general and of the seemingly chaotic activity of the trickster in particular, often passes over the trickster elements in the scriptural portrait of Peter as anomalous to Peter's real character, or it simply views these elements as aspects of human sinfulness that were overcome by faith in Jesus. Popular Christianity, on the other hand, more enamored of the acknowledgment and celebration of disorder, seizes these same trickster elements and expands the picture of Peter to include a wider range of features typical of a more fully blown trickster figure. In short, popular Christianity seems far more disposed to appropriate the trickster potential in Peter, extending explicit elements from the Biblical picture and supplying additional components to augment and expand Peter into a more recognizable trickster. There are numerous examples of such stories, particularly in medieval European folklore. In fact, a more extensive treatment of this subject might attempt to trace linkages between European and New World Petrine folklores. However, this chapter will focus mainly upon the Christian folklore of the Yaqui, Spanish, Mexican, and New Mexican cultures of the American Southwest to demonstrate how popular Christian culture apparently supplies a number of components absent in the Scriptural picture of Peter so he can become a more ample and typical trickster figure. © 2009 by University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved.

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