Markan Fabrications: The Petrine Denial, V. The Disciples' Breakthrough: Peter's Revelation
weedent at atw.earthreach.com
Fri May 26 13:11:06 EDT 2000
V. The Disciples' Breakthrough: Peter's Revelation
Thus it is, with the pattern of disciples' inability to comprehend anything Jesus teaches or does clearly established, as well as underscored with Jesus' exasperated querying of the disciples in 8:14-21, Mark has skillfully set the reader up for a total surprise, the sudden, inexplicable and penetrating insightfulness of Peter: Jesus is "the Christ." But that is not the only surprise which Mark has in store for his hearers. He actually scripts a series of four surprises, all of which together produce a parabolic jolt that sends his drama into a completely unexpected direction. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and point out how, in the surprise confession of Peter, Mark has so skillfully crafted the moment of the startling Petrine revelation and subsequently crafts the other surprises.
Mark leads into the surprise confession of Peter by having Jesus, in a unusual departure, join the identity "game" and actively pursue pressing the ultimate christological identity question with his disciples. Mark constructs this engagement of Jesus in identity-probing by having Jesus ask a general question that purposely leads to the specific question that evokes Peter's confession. In Jesus' first question to his disciples, Mark has Jesus asks them to tell him who humans say he is. This gives Mark an opportunity to recapitulate for his hearers the previous human speculation about Jesus' identity. That previous speculation surfaced the following possible candidates: John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. And those are the candidates that the disciples list for Jesus in response to his inquiry (8:28). Parenthetically, Mark does not tell us how the disciples became aware that people were speculating about Jesus' identity. Given the fact that Mark has portrayed disciples as totally oblivious to what happens around them, it is a bit surprising that they suddenly appear to have been aware of what others were saying about Jesus. I chalk this dramatic inconsistency up to Mark not thinking through how his need to rehearse the public speculation about Jesus' identity, for the benefit of his hearers- repetition being a common technique of oral performance-, has undermined the logical coherency of his drama.
It is at this point that Mark demonstrates his dramatic craftsmanship in framing Jesus' critical question that prompts Peter's confession. In framing the identity question that Jesus next poses to the disciples, Mark returns to the identity question which the disciples posed to themselves regarding Jesus following his stilling of the storm, "Who is this....?" Mark took this former question which he had scripted for them, rephrased it and has Jesus throw it back at them for an answer they failed to give when they posed it to themselves in the first place. Thus, Jesus says to them in effect, "All right, who do * you* say that I am?" (8:29).
To return to the likely response of the hearers in the real world to Peter's confession, I think, as I stated, that they would have been stunned that dense Peter could have come up with such an answer to Jesus' question. I surmise also that the hearers would likely have wondered why it took so long for Peter to catch on and wondered, as well, what brought about this sudden clairvoyance on his part. I also surmise, that Peter's surprising confession may also have come as a relief to the hearers. It would have been a relief to know that the disciples have now recognized Jesus' christological identity, and that they really are the insiders and trusted followers of Jesus and not the outsiders they have made themselves to be by their denseness, hardness of heart, and total lack of comprehension. The hearers might well have concluded, as a result of Peter's burst of insight, that "we" are headed for a happy ending, at least as far as the disciples' future relationship with Jesus is concerned. But they quickly discover that is not the case. Mark has more surprises for them.
The next surprise is Jesus' response to Peter's confession. Mark tells his hearers that Jesus silenced Peter's confession by commanding the disciples not to tell any one what they now know about him (8:30). Why would this command to silence come as a surprise to Mark's hearers? For this reason: since Peter, by his confession identified Jesus christologically with the title "Christ," one of the christological titles Mark ascribes to Jesus in his gospel's opening line, and since the purpose of a gospel is proclamation, then I would surmise that Jesus' command to not tell away one about his christological identity, presumably accurately perceived by Peter, would have come as quite a surprise to the hearers in the real world (8:30). I imagine that Mark's hearers might well be asking themselves, "Why does Jesus tell his disciples to keep silent about Peter's christological insight?"
Why did Mark once more employ his literary device of silence after Peter's christological confession, as he did previously when the demonic forces recognized Jesus' christological identity? I think in this case, as well as the previous cases where Mark employed it, the purpose of his literary device is both for dramatic impact and to maintain christological control.
It is certainly clear later on in the drama that the Markan Jesus' suppression of his identity is not for the purpose of keeping his christological identity a "messianic secret," to be hidden from the public. For Jesus himself publicly acknowledges his christological identity before the high priest (14:61f.), ironically before his enemies. My theory is that the suppression of Jesus' identity here as earlier in the drama is in part for dramatic effect. That is, its purpose is to pique the hearers' curiosity and thus have them "sitting on the edge of their seats" to find out what comes next. The suppression of Jesus' identity is also intended, in my judgment, for christological control. I will get to that purpose shortly.
But for the moment I turn to Mark's next surprise for his hearers. Immediately, after commanding his disciples not to tell anyone who he is, Jesus proceeds to do something he has never done before. At Caesarea Philippi, for the first time, the Markan Jesus reveals to persons in the narrative world something definitive about his christological identity. And what he reveals must have come to hearers of the real world as a tremendous shock. It certainly does come as a shock to the disciples in the narrative world. With virtually no previous warning to the hearers of the gospel (Mk. 3:6 being the one possible exception), and certainly no previous warning to the disciples, the Markan Jesus lays out his christological profile: namely, he sees himself as having, and in fact declares that he has been mandated by God (the divine DEI : "it is necessary"), to suffer, be rejected by the chief priests, elders and scribes, killed and then be resurrected (8:31; 9:31: 10:32).
Then comes Mark's fourth and final surprise to his hearers in this part of his drama. However, this time it is not just a surprise Mark presents them. It is a total shock. No sooner does Jesus reveal his self-defined christology, previously unknown to any one, than Peter turns on Jesus. With language previously reserved for the exorcism of demons (EPITIMAW: 1:25; 3:12; 4:39 [I read Jesus' stilling of the storm as an exorcism of demonic forces disrupting the natural environment]), Peter rejects Jesus' christological revelation in the most scathing way. Jesus, Mark's hearers then discover, in retaliation turns on Peter and with the same scathing language repukes Peter. But Jesus does not stop there. He goes one step further in his scathing repudiation of Peter. He declares that Peter is Satan himself (8:32f.).
This whole exchange between Jesus and Peter must have been extremely disturbing, if not completely dismaying to the hearers. How might they have responded to such shocking behavior manifested by Peter and Jesus against one another. It must have been shocking, particularly as it effects their image of Jesus. For at no other time prior to this exchange with Peter has Jesus ever evidenced such a scathing attack, such a damning condemnation, on another person. He does not turn on any of the Pharisees in this fashion, and they seem to stalk his ministry at every point, challenging Jesus, finding fault with him (e. g. 3:22) and generally being a "thorn in his flesh." The hearers know that they have plans to kill Jesus (3:6). But Jesus up to this point in the drama has not turned upon them and castigated them as he has Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Moreover, after this castigating of Peter, Jesus, as the first hearers will soon learn, never attacks any of the religious leaders who are out to destroy him as he attacks Peter.
For the most part Jesus remains silent when under attack from his opponents, as is the case in his trial before Pilate (15:3-15). Even in his trial before the religious leaders, Jesus does not strike back against his accusers when they level their trumped-up charges against him (14:57-61a). The only time Jesus breaks his silence in that trial is when the high priest pushes him to answer the priest's christological question (14:61f.). But then after the high priest charges Jesus with blasphemy and condemns him to death, Jesus does not retaliate, let alone castigate the high priest as he does Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Not even on the cross does Jesus hurl down condemnation upon his mockers below (15:29-32). The only other time in the gospel drama that Jesus unleashes a scathing attack upon another, as he does with Peter, is in the case of one other disciple, namely, Judas (14:18-21). Given Jesus' normal pattern of response to those who oppose him, given the fact that he deviates from that pattern, aside from the incident with Peter, only one other time, and that in the case of his damning condemnation of Judas (14: 21), it is hard for me to come to any other conclusion but that Mark is purposely "anti-Peter."
I return now to suggest the likely response Mark's hearers had to this verbal battle going on between Peter and Jesus. Even though Jesus' scathing condemnation of Peter is uncharacteristic of what the hearers know of Jesus thus far, I doubt that the hearers would have questioned Jesus' repudiation of Peter, because of the exalted reverence for Jesus they likely would have held. Thus, my guess is that it is Peter, and not Jesus, who would have evoked the hearers' disdain, if not condemnation, for turning on Jesus and rejecting Jesus' God (DEI)-mandated christological mission. And in their disdain or contempt for Peter, the hearers in the real world, I submit, would likely have come to the realization, as unsettling as it was, that Peter had, by his rejection of Jesus' christology and Jesus' denouncing him as Satan in return, "crossed over the boundary line." Peter had put himself perilously close to being an apostate. That, I am convinced, is precisely what Mark wanted his hearers to conclude. For Mark once again carefully crafts this exchange to produce that effect on the hearers.
What Mark does to the image of Peter is clearly iconoclastic. Why is Mark out to destroy Peter in the eyes of his hearers? Mark's treatment of Peter would not seem so invidious if Mark had not for a few brief moments elevated Peter to the most exalted position anyone in the narrative world has been placed through 8:29. If Mark had just maintained Peter as essentially a dunce, along with the other disciples, and then had Jesus turn upon Peter with something like the scathing debasing in 8:33, one might see that it was all "par for the course" insofar as Peter and the disciples' relationship with Jesus was concerned. But what Mark does to Peter comes across as being almost cruel. In one moment he exalts him with a profound, perspicuous revelation regarding the nature of Jesus' identity, a christological confession no other human in the drama even comes close to. And then just a few moments later Mark has Jesus debase and almost anathematize Peter. When the character of Mark's treatment is seen in the light of Mark's scripting of the passage, it is difficult for me to see Mark's treatment of Peter as anything else but "anti-Peter."
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