Thursday, May 05, 2005

Rock on Rocky Ground

Things have been quiet on the blogging front recently because I have been writing a paper. I am giving it in Oxford at their Graduate New Testament Seminar today. Here's the abstract:
The Rock on Rocky Ground: How Matthew Read Mark’s Characterization of Peter

It is a commonly held view that Mark’s negative portrait of Peter is overwritten in Matthew, with its positive depiction of Peter as the Rock on which the Church will be built. But the standard view underestimates the extent to which Matthew’s characterization of Peter builds on Mark’s, repeating the pattern of immediate, enthusiastic response followed by falling away. Peter is temporarily successful in walking on the water but then falters (14.30-31); he is commended for his confession of Jesus as Christ but then is rebuked for rejecting Jesus’ suffering (16.13-23); and he promises to stand by Jesus in his Passion but then forsakes him (26.33-35; 69-75). Peter in Matthew behaves like the seed that fell on rocky soil (πετρῶδες) in the parable of the Sower (Matt. 13.20-21 // Mark 4.16-17). What Mary Ann Tolbert famously observed for Mark turns out to be just as true for Matthew.

While a narrative critic might see this pattern, it is often missed by redaction critics placing undue emphasis on Matthew’s difference from Mark, allowing Jesus’ commendation of Peter in 16.17-19 to eclipse everything else. But careful attention to the development of Matthew’s narrative as a whole encourages one to explore his Gospel as a successful reading of Mark. Far from supplanting or vanquishing Mark’s characterization of Peter, Matthew underlines, clarifies and nuances his source. The analysis of this rock on rocky ground sheds light not only on Mark but also on Matthew, his first interpreter.
I discovered the answer to why Matthew embarks on this course after I had written the above abstract (which I prepared for the forthcoming SBL in Philadelphia). My handout is available here. Once I've done a bit more work on the paper, I will make it available on-line.

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