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The Road to Caesarea Philippi

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  • Jan Sammer
    In The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer criticises W. Wrede for an inconsistency in his understanding of GMark s Messianic secret as part of an
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2002
      In The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer criticises W. Wrede
      for an inconsistency in his understanding of GMark's Messianic secret as
      part of an overarching literary conception. When discussing the incident at
      Caesarea Philippi, where Peter designates Jesus as the Messiah, Wrede was
      unable to explain on what basis Peter had made the statement, and thus
      resorted to a the explanation that it came from a tradition, outside of the
      bounds of the Markan literary scheme. The fact that it is Peter who reveals
      the secret to Jesus, and not the other way around, "makes nonsense of the
      whole theory about the disciples' want of understanding," says Schweitzer.

      Schweitzer's own suggestion was to transpose the Transfiguration story to
      precede, rather than follow Peter's declaration. In this way the basis of
      Peter's declaration would be his experience of the Transfiguration. This
      hypothesis is open to a number of objections. By identifying Jesus as the
      Messiah at Caesarea Philippi, Peter would have disobeyed Jesus' command to
      the disciples who accompanied him to the Mount of Transfiguration not to
      tell anyone about what they had witnessed; in fact he would have spilled the
      beans at the earliest opportunity. Furthermore, he would have done so on the
      basis of a direct question asked by Jesus. If Jesus did not wish the secret
      of his true identity that he had revealed to Peter, James and John at the
      Mount of Transfiguration to be disclosed to the other disciples, why ask
      them in front of the rest of the disciples the direct question, Who do you
      say I am?

      Schweitzer's suggestion is intriguing, but manipulating one's sources in
      this way is a hazardous enterprise. I believe it breaks the crescendo of
      self-revelation by the Markan Jesus. After stating that no sign from heaven
      would be given to this generation, Jesus reveals his true nature indirectly;
      the most momentous and mysterious way in which he does so is by feeding the
      multitudes. The disciples fail to understand the meaning of the feedings,
      for which they are rebuked by Jesus. Then a few verses later Peter figures
      out the answer to the question posed by Jesus in 8:21, and identifies Jesus
      as the Messiah. And after that Jesus picks Peter and two other disciples for
      a display of his true nature at the Mount of Transfiguration.

      What I am arguing, then, is that contrary to Schweitzer's perception the
      road to Caesarea Philippi is well prepared in the Markan narrative. After
      all, in the 8:17-21 Jesus berated the disciples for their lack of
      understanding, and by having them recall the figures relevant to an
      understanding of the feedings, he presumably brought their puzzlement to an
      end. When discussing about the loaves in the boat, they are in a state of
      ignorance, and the purpose of Jesus' forceful exchange with them that
      follows is to dispel their ignorance. We are not told if this effort was
      successful, but a few verses later the brightest of them, Peter, voices his
      understanding that Jesus is the Messiah. Thus Peter's understanding is a
      direct consequence of having figured out the meaning of the feedings, on the
      basis of Jesus' leading questions recalling the relevant numerical details
      of the two episodes. However the reader does not yet know if Peter's
      understanding is well founded. That is the function of the Transfiguration
      scene that immediately follows.

      The question thus becomes how had Peter figured out from the questions asked
      by Jesus 8:19-21 that Jesus was the Messiah? I have already suggested an
      answer (the specific numbers and volumes mentioned prove that Jesus was the
      divine shepherd of the age to come), but I would like discuss this idea
      further in the context of some comments to Jeffrey's fascinating article on
      the Rebuke.


      Jan Sammer
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