Markan Fabrications: The Petrine Denial, VII. The Petrine Denial and the Fall of Peter
weedent at atw.earthreach.com
Fri May 26 13:30:54 EDT 2000
VII. The Petrine Denial and the Fall of Peter
After Caesarea Philippi and as a natural consequence of Jesus' insistence on fulfilling his self-defined christological identity, Mark's polemic against Peter and the rest of the disciples widens. From Caesarea Philippi on, every time Jesus introduces his christological identity as a suffering servant who adopts the cruciform way of life, Peter and the rest of the disciples, as Mark portrays them, either fail to understand Jesus and are afraid to ask him (9:31f.) or are just plain afraid (10:32-34). At this point Mark's hearers must have thought- as Mark wanted them to think- that it was strange that Jesus' disciples, who are supposed to be have been gifted by Jesus with an ability for discernment which others do not possess, are, nevertheless, unable to understand what is clearly and self-evidently understandable: namely, Jesus understands his christology to be defined by his divinely ordained mission as God's suffering servant. Even when God intervenes to tell Peter, James and John that Jesus is God's son and that they must listen to him (9:7), Mark's hearers find that nothing seems to change either in disciples' acceptance of Jesus' christological identity or in their understanding of it. And thus the hearers discover as the drama continues to unfold that Peter and the rest of the disciples, from Caesarea Philippi to the Garden of Gethsamene, persist in remaining out of sync with Jesus' understanding of his christology and its essential corollary, discipleship (see 8:34-38; 9:33-37; 10:35-45).
That brings me to Mark's account of the Petrine denial and what he, in my judgment, wanted to his hearers to experience and recognize in his dramatization of Peter's denial. With the same consummate skill that Mark used to stage the Petrine confession which led to Peter being denounced as Satan, Mark also stages the Petrine denial which reduces Peter to a traitorous apostate. As in the case of the staging of the confession, Mark sets up the scene of Peter's denial with a series of scenes essential to create and prepare his hearers for the dramatic impact of the denial.
Following the last supper, Jesus and the disciples go to the Mount of Olives. It is there that Jesus announces to his disciples that they will all desert him and backs up his prediction with scriptural authority (Zech. 13:7). Peter denies that Jesus' prediction will be true of him. Jesus retorts, to the contrary, that the cock will not have crowed twice before Peter denies him three times. Peter in response declares "vehemently, 'If I must die with you, I will not deny you.'" (14:27-31). What dramatically follows is the Gethsamene scene which Mark creates using as a model a parallel experience of the betrayal of David recounted in II Sam. 15-17 (see Funk and the Jesus Seminar,150f.). (I will address Mark's creation of this scene in my next post on Judas' betrayal.) In the Gethsemane scene Mark's hearers learn that Peter and two of his disciple companions cannot stay awake to watch and pray in support of Jesus, even when Jesus implores them to do so three times. It is clear that Peter and his two disciple companions are now totally out of sync with Jesus, not only with the christological path he has chosen, but also, in his hour of critical decision, his psychological and spiritual needs for support (14:32-41). Suddenly, Judas arrives, betrays Jesus and all the rest of the disciples flee (14:43-50f.), except for Peter.
Peter is the lone disciple, after the garden arrest of Jesus, who remains with Jesus, albeit at some distance. Peter follows the arrested Jesus to the residence of the high priest where the trial of Jesus is to be held. The stage is now prepared by Mark for the drama which follows, a drama of *two* trials with their contrasting ambiences. While the chief priests and the council seek charges to bring against Jesus in his trial inside, Peter, remains outside in the courtyard warming himself by a fire (14:53f.). There Mark sets the stage for a second trial, an ad hoc "trial" of Peter. Mark then plays the trial of Jesus off against the trial of Peter. By so doing Mark uses the trial of Jesus as a foil to underscore the traitorous denial of Peter in his "trial" in the courtyard. In the case of both trials, Mark's leitmotiv, the christological identity motif, is the driving force that propels them to both meaning and conclusion.
It is quite obvious that Mark's creative hand is at work in the drama at this point. The first indication is his use of his now recognized sandwiching technique, a sure sign of Markan literary "DNA" (see Funk and the Jesus Seminar,_Acts_, 140f. for indicators of Mark's "DNA." John Dominic Crossan [_ The Birth of Christianity_, 105] is, to my knowledge, the first to refer to indicators of Markan literary creativity as Mark's "DNA"). Mark sandwiches the trial of Jesus (14:55-65) between the "trial" of Peter (14:54, 66-72) to heighten the dramatic contrast between the two trials in a kind of "upstairs/downstairs" staging effect (so Burton Mack, 305). Although the scene of the trial of Jesus is sandwiched, between the scene of the trial of Peter, the trial of Peter does not actually begin until the trial of Jesus is concluded, with Jesus found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Mark, in my view, delays the ad hoc trial of Peter until the trial of Jesus is over in order to create the maximum dramatic effect on his hearers in their experience of hearing Peter deny Jesus. Luke eviscerates this whole dramatic effect by narrating the denial of Peter (22:54-62) before the trail of Jesus (22:66-71).
It is striking how parallel in structure and symmetry the two trials are. In the trial of Jesus, Jesus is placed on trial before the high priest, the chief priests, the elders and the scribes. In the case of the ad hoc "trial" of Peter, Peter is placed on trial before the guards and bystanders, among whom is a maid of the high priest. In a subtly that has to my knowledge gone unnoticed with respect to Mark's interest in creating symmetry between the trials, Mark has scripted the two trials so that the "prosecutor" in Jesus' trial has a direct relationship with the "prosecutor" in Peter's trial. Thus: the prosecutor in Jesus' trial is the high priest, and the prosecutor in Peter's trial is the high priest's maid. Talk about upstairs-downstairs! I cannot believe it is an accident that Mark made the high priest's maid the prosecutor in Peter's trial. Mark could have chosen any other bystander to play that role, including one of the guards who Peter was sitting with by the fire (14:54). In my judgment, he chose the high priest's maid as Peter's prosecutor to carry out the symmetry between the two trials and thus heighten the character of the foil that the trial of Jesus is intended to play to the trial of Peter. More on the foil below.
In a further effort at symmetry, Mark constructs each trial with three separate moments of accusation or challenge. Given Mark's penchant for dramatizing by "threes"- three disciples (Peter, James and John) who serve as Jesus' closest confidants, three passion predictions, three occasions upon which Jesus prays in the garden and three occasions in which the three confidants fall asleep, three different sets of persons taunting Jesus on the cross, and three persons crucified (Jesus and two thieves), three named women at the cross and at the empty tomb- it is not surprising to find that Mark scripts the trials of Jesus and Peter with each having three moments in which they are separately and respectively accused.
In the case of Jesus' trial, the three separate moments in which Jesus is accused or challenged are the following. The first moment is when an initial group of accusers "bore false witness against him" but "their witness did not agree" (14:56). The second moment follows immediately upon the first with another group of accusers charging Jesus with planning to destroy the temple (57f,.). The third moment occurs when the high priest rises and interrogates Jesus (14:60ff.) and then charges him with blasphemy for his answer. The three distinct moments in which Peter is accused are these. The first moment occurs when the high priest's maid accuses Peter of "being with the Nazarene, Jesus" (14:66-68). The second moment occurs when the same maid takes her case against Peter to the bystanders and accuses Peter of being "one of them(14:69)." The third moment occurs when the bystanders themselves, evidently as a result of the initial prompting of the maid, accuse Peter of being "one of them" because he is a "Galilean" (14:70).
However, the responses of Peter and the responses of Jesus to their respective accusers are quite different. Jesus remains silent in the face of all the accusations hurled against him until he is challenged by the high priest with the question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And then Jesus answers, "EGW EIMI..." ("I am"). Peter, on the other hand, responds with a denial each time he is accused of being a follower of Jesus. In his first denial, in true "Clintonese" style, he adamantly disclaims any understanding of the accusation brought against him by the high priest's maid: "I neither know nor understand what you mean" (14:68). In the second denial, Mark states that he denied the accusation of the high priest's maid before the bystanders but Mark does not give the substance of that denial. However, when Peter is accused the third time "he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear," I do not know this man of whom you speak" (14:71).
The impact of the contrast between the peak moments of the two trials can only be fully appreciated when the way in which the peak moment in Jesus' trial is recognized for what Mark intended it to be, a foil for the peak moment in the "trial" of Peter. At the peak moment of Jesus' trial, the high priest presses Jesus with the identity question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" With the high priest's question christologically phrased in that way, it marks the first time in the gospel drama since its beginning that Mark has Jesus interrogated concerning his christological identity. And also in phrasing the high priest's question as he does, Mark for the first time since the opening line of his gospel (1) permits the christological titles "Christ" and "Son of Blessed [God]" to be publicly presented in tandem with each other and (2) presents Jesus as publicly acknowledging these titles as an accurate representation of his christological identity.
There is a significant difference, however, between the introduction of these titles in the trial in the narrative world and when they were first introduced in tandem in the opening line of the gospel. Mark's hearers when they first heard the titles for Jesus in 1:1, "Christ the Son of God," did not know at that point what meaning Mark was giving to those titles. That is, the hearers did not know by what christological content Mark intended those titles to be defined. But now at the trial Mark's hearers know well what meaning Mark gives those titles. Mark has made that incontestably clear by having Jesus proclaim on three occasions, starting with his visit to Caesarea Philippi, that the only christological role he will actualize is that of a suffering-servant who is rejected by the religious authorities and put to death (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f.). It is the christological role that the hearers of the drama know that the disciples reject.
Thus the climatic import of the high priest raising the question as to whether Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed" is this. When Jesus for the first time in the whole gospel drama acknowledges before the high priest that he is "the Christ, the Son of Blessed [God]," it causes two things to happen from the perspective of the hearers of the drama, as I see it. First, Jesus' affirmation of the high priest's christological identity question causes the high priest such consternation that he rips his garments open, charges Jesus with blasphemy and condemns him to death. Second, Jesus' affirmation of the high priest's question now serves as an ultimate dramatic contrast to Peter's denial. What Jesus now affirms is precisely what Peter denies. When Peter swears with an oath, "I do not *know* this man of whom you speak" (14:71), it is not just the "man" whom Peter denies. It is also the christological role with all its cruciform meaning which that "man" claims for himself that Peter denies. Therein lies the poignantly dramatic meaning of the denial of Peter in the face of Jesus' christological affirmation. It is a dramatic meaning which Mark skillfully created through his effective use of his leitmotiv. It is a meaning, I submit, that Mark's first hearers could not have missed, seared in their minds, as it was, by that poignant, wrenching climax and its two voices still echoing in their ears: the voice of the tragic figure of Jesus affirming in the face of death his divinely ordained christological mission, and the voice of the scandalous figure of Peter, Jesus' avowed faithful follower, adamantly disavowing that he ever knew the man Jesus.
The curtain closes on the Petrine denial scene with the cock crowing and Peter breaking down and weeping. With the fall of the curtain, the fall of Peter is sealed. For contrary to what some may think, Peter's weeping is not a sign of sudden remorseful contrition on his part and not an indication on Mark's part that he is preparing his hearers for Peter's future rehabilitation. Quite the opposite is the case, as Burton Mack (305) correctly reminds us by drawing attention to the echo of Jesus' words in Mk. 8:38 in the context of Peter's adamant denial. The words which Jesus spoke shortly after Peter's confession- which now in his denial he has completely renounced- were these: "Whoever is ashamed of me and my words [my claim to christological identity, etc.] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of the Human One be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." What causes Peter's tears, as I see Mark 's mind working, is Peter's thought of facing, in the ultimate conclusion to his trial, his pending condemnation at the eschatological court and the final judgment of the exalted and enthroned Son of the Human One, the one whom he has just shamefully denied.
To conclude, I need to state clearly that in my judgment the evidence argues strongly for the fact that Mark is anti-Peter, at least "anti" the Peter of his drama, the surrogate, along with the Twelve, for Mark's opponents. Peter's denial, as well as Peter's confession and Jesus' denunciation of him as Satan, are fictitious creations of Mark. There is no convincing evidence that the historical Peter ever denied Jesus. Nor is there any convincing evidence that the historical Peter ever proclaimed the historical Jesus as "the Christ." Nor is there any convincing evidence that the historical Jesus ever denounced the historical Peter as Satan. Through deftly employing his leitmotiv, Mark fabricated the Petrine confession, Jesus' denunciation of Peter and the Petrine denial in the service of Mark's polemic against his opponents, their christology and their christological authorities.
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