Friday, August 07, 2009

Simon Peter in Matthew's Gospel: Article and NT Pod 7

I made available the latest NT Pod earlier this week, NT Pod 7: Simon Peter in Matthew's Gospel. It's the first time I have done a kind of "sequel" episode, this one following on from NT Pod 5: Simon Peter in Mark's Gospel. In this latest piece, I explore the way that Matthew works with Mark's portrayal of Peter and suggest that we can see the same "Peter Pattern" here as we see in Mark. As in Mark, the "rocky ground" Peter is the one who enthusiastically receives the word with joy but stumbles when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word (Mark 4:16-17 // Matt. 13:20-21).

Matthew takes forward the characterisation of Peter as the disciple who is scandalized by the idea of "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23), and he underlines and enhances the same language of skandalon and skandalizomai ("stumbling block", "to fall away"). Far from whitewashing the disciples, Matthew in fact proves to be a strong reader of Mark, understanding and elaborating on his presentation. One of the reasons that we fail to see this is our over-reliance on redaction-criticism, and our tendency only to pay attention to the parts where Matthew differs from Mark; we do not take seriously the elements that Matthew takes forward and underscores in Mark.

For those who would like to follow up the discussion on this point, I have an article available on the issues. It was published in 2006, but I am happy now to make it available online in toto (PDF):

"The Rock on Rocky Ground: Matthew, Mark and Peter as Skandalon," in Philip McCosker (ed.), What Is It That the Scripture Says?: Essays in Biblical Interpretation, Translation, And Reception in Honour of Henry Wansbrough Osb (Library of New Testament Studies; London & New York: Continuum, 2006): 61-73

The essay has been available in the above Festschrift for Henry Wansbrough for the last three years, but I am happy now to make it available free for all on the internet.


Richard Fellows said...

Mark, I am splitting this comment into two as I have exceeded the character limit.

I am not at all convinced that Peter is in view in the parable of the sower. How was the reader expected to know that the parable alludes to Peter? Rocky ground is surely common in judea and elsewhere, so there is nothing surprising about its mention that would have alerted the reader to the possibility that there could be a reference to Peter. There is a (superficial) similarity between the behavior of the seed that fell on rocky ground and Peter's pattern of behavior, but the parable occurs BEFORE Peter's pattern of behavior has been described. You are asking much too much of Mark's readers, aren't you?

Furthermore, it seems to me that the behavior of the seed on rocky ground is described according to what actually happens. I am no expert, but it seems reasonable to me that seed on rocky ground should sprout normally but fade during a dry spell because of its inability to grow deep roots. If, then, the behavior of this seed conforms to agricultural reality, there is no evidence that it has been crafted by Mark or Jesus to match the behavior patter of Peter.

Also, there is a big difference between rocky ground and "Rock". Simon's new name, "Rock", has nothing to do with agriculture. Matthew is surely right that it is a metaphor for protective strength, since it was common in the ancient world, and especially among the first century Christians, for leaders to be given new names that reflected their role as a strong protector. Consider James Oblias ("bulwark of the people") and (I would argue) Mary the Magdalene (fortress/tower) and Crispus-Sosthenes (saving strength). My point is that Cephas/Petros is an architectural metaphor, not an agricultural one, and rocky ground was surely a commonplace, so Mark's readers would not have thought of Simon-Peter when they read (heard) the parable.

Also, there is an important differences between the bahaviors of the seed and Peter. The point of the parable is that the seed withers permanently and does not bare fruit. Peter, on the other hand, does not fall away permanently.

You suggest that Mark viewed Peter negatively. However, Peter is always named first where he is listed with others (contrast Judas, who is named last). This is a sure sign of his favorable prominence. Also, Mark records that Jesus gave him a new name and this also indicates that Mark recognized that Jesus had honored Peter, for new names were given to prominent disciples. Indeed we find in the NT that those who are mentioned first in lists of believers nearly always were recipients of new names and the converse is also true. Consider also that the two disciples of Plotinus who are listed first by Porphyry were given new names by Plotinus.

Richard Fellows said...

I think it is possible that the readers of Mark and Matthew took comfort in the fact that even a disciple of Peter's stature failed from time to time. This may have encouraged them not to give up. However, I can't agree that Peter was seen as an archetype of one who is scandalized by the cross. Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12) and eventually executed for his faith. He would have been remembered for this martyrdom (see 1 Clement), and could not have represented unbelieving Jews.

Anyway, you make a strong case that the gospels portray Peter as faltering when persecution threatens. We see the same pattern in Gal 2. Peter supports Gentile liberty in Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10) and does so again in a larger meeting a few days later (Acts 15), but then goes (runs away?) to Antioch and withdraws for fear of the circumcision party (Gal 2:11-14). This is the same pattern of behavior. Peter's behavior in Antioch was therefore caused by characteristic temporary lack of courage. This is important because it means there is no reason to suppose that he was deliberately going back on an agreement with Paul or that the episode started a permanent rift with Paul. Anyway, am I right in seeing the Peter pattern as historical? He was such a well known person in the church, at least up to 55 when 1 Cor was written, that his personality was surely well known.

The question of the significance of Bar-Jonah still intrigues me. You may remember that we discussed some of the possibilities by email in Dec 2005.

While I am not convinced by your main thesis concerning Peter and the parable of the sower, you have provided food for thought, so thanks, Mark.

Mark Goodacre said...

Many thanks, Richard, for your interesting comments. I suppose your main argument is with Mary Ann Tolbert's thesis, though I do find it a persuasive reading myself, with a few modifications.

I have wondered myself whether the depiction is in fact inspired by the behaviour of the historical Peter. Indeed, that might have made the literary "Peter pattern" itself more persuasive to Mark's and Matthew's readers.

J Andrew Doole said...

Good place for a plug!

"Matthew in fact proves to be a strong reader of Mark, understanding and elaborating on his presentation. One of the reasons that we fail to see this is our over-reliance on redaction-criticism, and our tendency only to pay attention to the parts where Matthew differs from Mark; we do not take seriously the elements that Matthew takes forward and underscores in Mark."

"What was Mark for Matthew?" was the title of my doctoral thesis, WUNT 344 (2013). The argument for continuity between the two is the main thrust (spoiler alert!).

Thanks for the thought, Mary Ann via Mark (Goodacre!)