Markan Fabrications; The Petrine Denial, IV. The Outsiders' Breakthrough...
weedent at atw.earthreach.com
Fri May 26 13:07:00 EDT 2000
IV. The Outsiders' Breakthrough, Disciples Still "Missing the Boat"
All of a sudden, from an unexpected quarter, a breakthrough appears to be in the making. Herod Antipas makes his stage entry for the first time, and in doing so he announces that he believes Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. He comes to this conclusion as a result of what he has heard about Jesus' ministry (6:16). That is, he makes that announcement after the hearers of the drama are informed that, prior to Herod's revelation, others had previously thought Jesus was John the Baptizer raised from the dead. They arrived at that conclusion as the only possible explanation for "why these powers are at work in" Jesus. Still others apparently have speculated, the narrator tells his hearers, that Jesus was actually Elijah; and even others believe now he "is a prophet like one of the prophets" (6:14-15).
Herod and the others, as the hearers know, are wrong. But at least Herod and these others recognize that Jesus is no ordinary human. In fact they, by speculating that Jesus is John the Baptist raised or the returning translated Elijah, are ascribing a supernatural status to Jesus And even if wrong in their designations, at least their "supernatural"speculation is a sign of progress in the perceptiveness of people in the narrative world. The hearers will also soon discover that this public speculation regarding Jesus' identity prepares the way for the dramatic turning point in the narrative when on the way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus himself joins the identity "game."
What, however, is astonishingly absent in this human speculation about the identity of Jesus is any speculative contribution from the disciples. It is amazingly ironic that those outside of the circle of Jesus' disciples are spurred on in their speculation about Jesus' identity by the successful mission of the disciples (Herod, 6:14a) and the fame of Jesus because of "the powers at work in him" (6:14). But the disciples, Jesus' closest associates and confidants, who are present whenever "the powers at work in him" are manifested and who themselves are commissioned by Jesus to perform the same works of healing- and are successful at doing so (6:13)- fail to register any thought as to what the success of Jesus' miracle-working, as well as their own empowered by Jesus, means with respect to the unique identity of Jesus. Can the hearers have missed that irony? I doubt it.
Before the dramatic turning point in the drama occurs at Caesarea Philippi, the hearers learn that the disciples are to be given yet another chance to recognize the true nature of Jesus in an event with supernatural overtones (6:45-52). While out on the sea in a boat, the disciples suddenly see Jesus walking on the sea towards them. They immediately think supernaturally. They think Jesus is a ghost and are terrified. Jesus tries to calm their fears by indicating it is he, not a ghost. They are "utterly astounded." But their astonishment does not translate into them being any more perceptive about who Jesus is. Nor have they in this incident gained any insight into the meaning of Jesus' previous acts, in particular the feeding of the five thousand. There is apparently a reason for this.
Mark informs his hearers that the disciples' problem is that they have hardened hearts (6:52). By depicting the disciples as having hardened hearts, could Mark have in mind here, and is making an allusion to, Is. 6:10: "For the heart of this people has become dull"(or: "has become hardened:" EPACUQN GAR hH KARDIA TOU LAOU TOUTOU [LXX])? That is the divine declaration that immediately follows Is. 6:9, which the Markan Jesus uses to explain why the disciples will understand the secret of the kingdom expressed in parables but outsiders will not. The Markan Jesus' explanation is this. Everything is expressed in parables to outsiders (per Is. 6:9) "so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven." When Mark declares that the disciples' hearts are hardened in 6:52, is he saying that the status of the disciples is now that of outsiders, per Is. 6:9 and Is. 6:10? Yes, and the dramatic scene of 8:14-21 will confirm it. Would Mark's hearers in the real world have picked up on Mark's declaration that the disciples, as a result of their denseness, have now made themselves "outsiders?" If not, they cannot miss recognizing that when they hear Jesus' sharp and pointed interrogation of the disciples in 8:14-21.
With great skill Mark sets the stage for the scene in 8:14-21 by narrating just prior to it another feeding miracle. In this feeding miracle, which has many of the same elements of the previous one, Jesus feeds four thousand people(8:1-9). Following the feeding the disciples are out at sea in a boat again. They discover they have forgotten to bring bread along and have only one loaf amongst them. Jesus cautions them to "take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" (8:14). My guess is that Mark has in mind and is drawing his hearers' attention to the previous decision of the Pharisees and the Herodians to destroy Jesus (3:6). The disciples, then, are being warned against becoming like the Pharisees and the Herodians, those who have turned against Jesus and want to get rid of him. The disciples, however, persist in discussing the fact that they have no bread. Whereupon Jesus, apparently finding it incredible that they should be worrying about the lack of bread, asks, with what now must be some irritation, "Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, having ears do you not hear?" Then he proceeds to recount with them the success of the miracle feedings and closes his interrogation with the incredulous question: "Do you not yet understand" (8:16-21).
There! It is clear. And it must have become clear to the hearers in the real world. Mark's framing of Jesus' questioning is done so with the assist of Is. 6:9 and 10. In ascribing to the disciples hardened hearts in Mk 6:52 and 8:17, Mark has in mind the prophetic judgment against the people of hardened hearts in Is. 6:10. Because of their denseness and inability to comprehend, the disciples, as portrayed by Mark, have now become like the outsiders Jesus referred to in 4:11f. And that is clearly the point of Jesus' questioning. Namely, what the Markan Jesus is asking the disciples is this: "Have you, my chosen ones, now become outsiders, seeing but not perceiving, hearing but not understanding because your hearts are hardened? Have you become corrupted by the leaven of those who are opposed to me and want to get rid of me?" The disciples do not answer. But the hearers must wonder if this is not in fact the case. This carefully and skillfully drawn dramatic portrayal of the disciples' complete inability to comprehend has been created by Mark, as I see it, to serve as a foil to set off in dramatic relief the Caesarea Philippi scene where Mark's use of his leitmotiv, the christological identity motif, produces a surprising turn in his drama.
Following the double healing of the blindman of Bethsaida (8:22-26), the Markan Jesus for first time, as I mentioned earlier, changes his stance of remaining silent about himself and his identity. Without prior explanation Jesus himself joins the identity "game." He forthrightly and pointedly asks the disciples on the way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, "Who do humans say that I am?" The disciples report what the Markan hearers have already been told earlier on in the drama, namely people have been speculating that Jesus is John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets (8:28). Then Jesus pops the identity question that will serve as the catalyst to launch the drama in a radically new direction via Mark's leitmotiv. Jesus asks his disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" (8:29).
Now up to this point in the drama, as must now be apparent to the hearers, the disciples have been totally dense and completely non-perceptive. The disciples do not get anything, even when Jesus tries to explain to them what they do not "get." So the hearers of this drama are, I submit, totally unprepared for Peter's response to Jesus' identity question, even though Mark has prepared the way in part by narrating, prior to the Caesarea Philippi questioning, a story that is intended symbolically to prepare the hearers for the startling breakthrough in Peter's capacity for comprehension. Before proceeding to Peter's remarkable revelation, it is important to take a closer look at the Bethsaida healing story (8:22-26) in order to appreciate how Mark uses it as a lead in to the Petrine revelation.
The double healing of the blindman's blindness (8:22-26), in my judgment, is a dramatic device used by Mark to suggest symbolically that the disciples, who have been "blind" to almost everything about Jesus, are about to gain insight- though, as the hearers shall learn, it is only a partial healing of the disciples' blindness of insight. Nevertheless, Peter, out of the blue, now recognizes and identifies Jesus christologically by proclaiming that Jesus is "the Christ." "Christ," of course, is one of the titles Mark ascribes to Jesus in 1:1. However, it is somewhat surprising that Peter identifies Jesus as "the Christ" rather than the "Son of God," the title that both God and the demonic forces, with the possible exception of the unclean spirit in 1:24, ascribe to Jesus up to the point of the Petrine confession- and by the way the only christological title ascribed to Jesus prior to the Petrine confession. ( I do not now interpret the phrase, "Son of the Human One" which Jesus uses self-referentially in 2:10 and 2:28, as well as in the latter half of the gospel, as a christological title Jesus claims for himself. I view it as a phrase which Jesus uses to link himself with the common person. See my previous post, "Re: Provenance of GMark," 3/17/00, in which I give the rationale for this position.). In any event, Peter's stunning confession can only have come as a complete surprise to the first hearers of the gospel. Given Peter's total imperceptiveness prior to his confession, the hearers in the real world must have been quite unprepared for it and its suddenness, in spite of Mark's rather subtle clue to them in the healing of the Bethsaida blindman.
Let me pause a moment and draw attention to how skillfully Mark has crafted his drama to spring this unexpected surprise upon his hearers. He does so by setting his hearers up with such a thorough-going portrayal of the disciples' perceptive incompetence that it is quite unlikely, I submit, that they would entertain the possibility of Peter being capable of anything like his insightful christological revelation. By 8:27, Mark, in my judgment, has convinced his hearers that the disciples are completely obtuse, incapable of any significant insight, much less one that is as perspicacious as Peter's confession. That is certainly the conclusion Mark intends his hearers to draw after 8:21. As I have shown the exasperated querying Jesus engages in (8:17-21) leaves little doubt that as hard as Jesus tries the disciples just do not "get it." But that is a conclusion that Mark's hearers can draw only after he orchestrates a series of episodes that lead to this self-evident conclusion about the disciples' comprehension deficit.
This series of episodes underscores that what is revealed in 8:14-21 is but a pattern which dogs the relationship between Jesus and the disciples almost from the beginning of their relationship. To recapitulate briefly, recall how Mark establishes this pattern in the mind of his hearers prior to 8:14-21. Early on in their relationship with Jesus, the disciples are told (4:10-12) that to them belongs the secret of the kingdom of God and to everyone else what Jesus teaches is in parables (or "riddles" in this Markan use of the word PARABOLH). But after Jesus teaches with parables, and also with various aphorisms, the disciples, who are supposed to understand Jesus' teachings, always seem to require special tutoring by Jesus in private in order to understand what Jesus has just taught (see 4:33f. and 7:14-22).
Moreover, and ironically, it does not always follow true to form, as the disciples and Mark's hearers are led to believe (4:12), that Jesus' teachings remain obscure and inaccessible to outsiders. The Syrophoenician women understands Jesus' aphorism about the crumbs of children and the dogs under the table perfectly well. And she responds to Jesus in kind with a retort that causes Jesus to fulfill her request to have her demon-possessed daughter exorcized (7:25-28). I doubt that Mark's hearers could have missed the irony of how this Syrophoenician's ability to grasp astutely the meaning of Jesus' rather oblique aphorism, even though she has never met Jesus before, stands in sharp contrast to the inability of Jesus' disciples to understand anything Jesus says without tutoring, even though they are suppose to have the insiders' "key" to understanding Jesus' teaching.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the GMark