Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 15

Click here for the (continually updated) series outline.

Chapter 7 continued.

The role of Peter in Mark

Bauckham shows that Mark’s use of the device tends to cluster together with appearances of the mention of the name of Peter, at least at the beginning and at the end of the sequences of the device. However, only four pericopae ‘that are introduced by this narrative device are pericope in which Peter appears as a character’, leaving eight pericopae using the device that do not feature Peter. To answer the obvious question: ‘what of those pericopae that lack the narrative device but do feature Peter as a character?’, Bauckham turns to analyse the role and character of Peter in Mark.

To address this issue, Bauckham builds on the work of Timothy Wiarda in casting doubt on an understanding of Peter in the Gospel of Mark as ‘representative’ of the disciples. Bauckham’s analysis of the material leads the following conclusion:
‘Peter, we could say, is always aligned with the other disciples, whether as typical or as giving a lead. Even before the story of the denials, Peter has much more individuality in this Gospel than any of the other disciples, but it is an individuality that always emerges within the context of the group’
What is the significance of this conclusion? Tying this to the result of the analysis of the plural-to-singular device - in which it was argued that it gives ‘the readers a perspective on events from within the circle of the disciples’ - it is possible to understand this individuality as indicative of Peter himself. Bauckham suggests that ‘we could call it Peter’s “we” perspective (distinguished from his “I” perspective)’.

What Bauckham’s study of the role of Peter has enabled is an appreciation of the tension between the portrayal of Peter as a typical disciple yet also with his own individuality. This coheres with the two main themes explored in Mark, that between understanding in contrast with non/misunderstanding, and loyalty in contrast with apostasy. The tension of Peter’s typifying yet also individual role in the Gospel coheres precisely with this double themed Markan concern, as 8:27-9:13 and 14:29-72 show. While this is highly suggestive, Bauckham is perhaps not entirely clear what it all has to do with the questions stated at the outset of this subsection. Yet the answer would appear to be that Peter need not be in all of the pericopae introduced by the singular-to-plural device because Mark is in complete control of his sources, using his main eyewitness for his own purposes.
As with the plural-to-singular narrative device, we must recognize that Peter’s role in the Gospel is not merely a reflection of the way Peter himself told the stories. It is too well integrated into the overall message of the Gospel and into the way in which Mark’s masterly composition of his narrative is controlled by his main concerns as an author. But this is no argument against the claim that Peter himself was Mark’s major eyewitness source, or that the prominence of Peter in the Gospel reflects this. It simply means that Mark is an author in full control of his sources
However, another objection to Bauckham’s thesis needs to be addressed: if Peter played such a significant role in the formation of this Gospel, why is his pre-eminent role in the early Christian community not underscored as it is in the other Gospels? Bauckham cleverly turns this potential objection on its head so that it actually supports his case. Not only must one recognise the limited focus of Mark’s Gospel (Peter’s concern would have surely been to relate Gospel information, not biographical details), but more importantly the question itself generates, in turn, another: How can one account for the prominence of Peter in this Gospel if it ‘is not connected with the role he would later play in the Christian community and its mission’? Bauckham writes:

We need to account for the large extent to which the point of view that the narrative gives its readers or hearers is either Peter’s “we” perspective (the plural-to-singular narrative device) or Peter’s “I” perspective (when Peter acts as an individual in the story). Taken together, these features make Mark a Gospel that presents, to a far larger degree than the others, a Petrine perspective on the story of Jesus. The explanation must have two aspects: relating to the source of Mark’s traditions and to the way in which Mark has shaped these traditions in the service of his main concerns in his overall composition of the Gospel.

(Artwork from http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/features/gospels/gospels_monks_at_work.shtml)

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