In his excellent article, Kim Allan Johnson offers a vivid description of Peter as swordsman:
“Peter rushes forward, raises a sword above his head, and lunges at the nearest assailant, the servant of the high priest. The victim sees moonlight glint off the blade just in time to shift his head to the left. The blade misses the center of his skull and slices off his right ear.”
Mark does not specify which ear was severed, nor who was the swordsman.
John identifies Simon Peter as the swordsman, and Malchus as his victim. He also specifies loss of the right ear.
The “beloved physician,” Luke, was not a witness to this assault but, perhaps quoting John, also mentions only the right ear.
I am not a forensic pathologist, only an ophthalmologist, and my speculations may be no more accurate than others.
If Peter used his sword in a downward skull-cleaving blow, it would not have stopped after slicing off the ear. The weapon would continue its swift journey to strike Malchus again, somewhere between the base of his neck and his right shoulder. The results would be far worse than loss of an external ear: There would be severe destruction of the brachial plexus, with instant paralysis of the right arm.
No reporter mentions any damage to the victim’s right arm.
So let me propose a different path for the sword:
We could assume that Peter was right-handed, and deployed his sword in a strong horizontal backhand. Or maybe he used a dominant left hand, with a forehand sweep. But I agree that Peter did not intend to cleanly excise an ear. I think he sought to remove his victim’s head.
Wanting to keep his head, Malchus ducked, tilting sharply to the left.
Missing its primary target, Peter’s horizontal sword sliced off the right ear, but caused no further damage.
That’s how I imagine it.
“But then,” as Carl Sagan used to say, “I could be wrong.”
Thanks to Mr. Johnson, for his stimulating description.
[References: Mark 14:47, John 18:10 and Luke 22:50; Colossians 4:14.]
Robert R. Wresch, M.D. is an ophthalmologist in the Adventist Clinic on Guam.