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REVIEWS

 

 

Arlo J. Nau, Peter in Matthew: Discipleship, Diplomacy, and Dispraise... with an Assessment of Power and Privilege in the Petrine Office. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 1992.

Reviewed by Robert M. Price

This creative study ought to have received more notice than it has. In a time when one exegetical fad seems to follow another in rapid succession, each furnishing a wedge for a raft of new dissertation topics, Nau's investigation of the Peter character in the First Gospel shows the abiding value of both older and newer methodologies by using each (redactional, rhetorical, and reader- response) at the proper stage. In many ways the project is reminiscent of Theodore Weeden's fascinating Mark: Traditions in Conflict, though Nau is perhaps able to use a set of superior tools. When Weeden wrote, the use of literary criticism in New Testament studies was just getting off the ground, and the result of his study was somewhat muddled. Weeden almost seemed to be subjecting Mark to a Levi-Straussian paradigmatic structuralist reading when a Greimasian syntagmic one might have been more appropriate. Was Weeden trying to trace the plot of Mark? Or the deep structure? It seems he confused the two. The similarity to Nau's work is simply that, as Weeden tried to account for the rough treatment of the Twelve in Mark, concluding that Mark was no fan of theirs, but rather tried to put them in the shade in order to make unnamed rival apostles shine the more brightly, Nau is trying to lay bare a milder, but no less important, Matthean "dispraise" of Peter in favor of apostolic collegiality on the one hand and in favor of Jesus as the only true foundation (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11) on the other. As such, Matthew's treatment of Peter, as Nau sees it, falls somewhere between the Fourth Evangelist's gentle downplaying of Peter in favor of the Beloved Disciple and Mark's polemic against the Twelve.

One of the glaring faults of the self-proclaimed Narrative Critics, mired in the tar pit of the old New Criticism and largely oblivious of contemporary Narratology, was their refusal to consider anything but the final text of each gospel as if it had been written de novo by its evangelist. This certainly made things easier! Is Matthew largely an expansion of Mark? Who cares! So they said. But as Tzvetan Todorov explained, the critic ought not narrow his vision in such a case. One may treat original de novo texts (if there are any!) as monovalent, but there are many works which are parasitic upon previous works (parodies, plagiarisms, pastiches), and if one fails to read the secondary text in light of the primary text, one will miss the point. The "in-jokes," so to speak, will go right over one's head. Matthew and Luke would obviously fall into this category. Todorov says such texts speak polyvalently. Or, as Bahktin might say, Matthew and Luke are in dialogue with Mark, and it will not do to try to make sense of Matthew as if it were a simple monologue, any more than it would to read 1 Corinthians oblivious of the fact that it is only half of an epistolary correspondence.

Nau is fully alert to the polyvalence of Matthew as a tendential rewriting of Mark. It is a redaction-critical commonplace to see Matthew's gospel as reflecting greater prominence for Peter than Mark does. And yet, Nau notes, Matthew often takes from Peter with the left hand what it seems (compared with Mark) he has given with the right. Why should this be? Here Nau is careful not to fall into the trap of over-simplification, as if we had all the pieces of the puzzle before us. Wrede had long ago warned us to be mindful of the very fragmentary character of the literary remains of early Christianity which we call the New Testament, lending a false impression of completeness. Nau realizes there must be missing pieces, though we may be able to discern their jigsaw shape from the contours of the once-adjacent pieces we do have. Thus he posits an intermediate stage between Mark and Matthew. Matthew does reflect a post- (or non-) Markan veneration and elevation of Peter, but this is not Matthew's own view of Peter, as if everything non-Markan in Matthew were Matthew's own innovation. No, Matthew is reacting to and satirizing this (previous) exaltation of Peter. In a sense, he is harking back to Mark! In this kind of argumentation Nau is right in line with much other recent Matthean scholarship which is able to distinguish between the non- and post-Markan tradition Matthew inherited from his community (e.g., re the Gentile Mission or the Sermon on the Mount logia) and his own redaction of it.

The traditional confusion as to Matthew's estimate of Peter (exalting him relative to Mark) is the result of correctly discerning the clear pro-Petrine character of much of the non-Markan material in Matthew, then assuming it represents Matthew's own redaction, and finally harmonizing away the Matthean anti-Peter material through frequent invocation of the "irony" dodge ("He must not really mean it. That Matthew: what a kidder!"). The same sort of redactional short-circuiting has resulted in the premature pegging of Luke as pro-women by some feminist New Testament scholars. As I try to show in my own "The Widow Traditions in Luke-Acts: A Feminist-Critical Scrutiny," the pro-women material is there all right, but it is all pre-Lukan, and Luke's redaction attempts to domesticate and defuse it. What is prominent in a writer's work does not necessarily represent his own contribution. It may be only the straw man he aims to knock down.

If Nau has an ear open for the polyvalent senses of Matthew's text vis a vis Mark's, he is careful to distinguish between the two levels appropriate to redaction criticism on the one hand and reader-response/rhetorical criticism on the other. That is, like Marxsen, Bornkamm, and Conzelmann, he is attuned to the small but revealing changes one evangelist makes in another's work (such as Luke's omitting "with power" from Mark's prediction of the coming of the kingdom). Such changes as these we cannot expect ordinary readers (whether ancient or modern) to have noticed, especially if, as seems likely, they were not reading two gospels alongside one another like the critic (the would-be "ideal reader" or "superreader") does. And yet the accumulation of such micro-changes does seem to characterize an author and his intention. That is what the redaction critics were trying to discover: the presuppositions (the "theology") of the evangelists, not necessarily what they tried to communicate to the common reader.

But reader-response criticism tries to discern the impact the text would make on readers, whether intended by the author or not. Nau is careful to work on both levels. Subtle redactional changes form a portrait of the implied author's own views of Peter and Petrine authority and thus give us a Matthew who might expect his readers to notice, not these small alterations, but broader ones consistent with them, those one need not be comparing Matthew with Mark in order to pick up. As for these latter, Nau lines up an impressive list of Matthean set-ups, places where Peter, as the reader would expect (like a Roman Catholic reader today), is held in honor, all of them matched by an equal number of put-downs or anticlimaxes. In Matthew 14:28-33, Matthew has added Peter walking on the water--only to sink like a "rock" once, like Wiley Coyote, he realizes nothing is holding him up! And Matthew's redaction of the Markan version makes all the disciples confess, "Truly, you are the son of God!", stealing the thunder from Peter's also-ran confession in 16:16. In fact, in the walking on water episode, Peter is embarrassed before the others, dismissed as a "man of little faith." Matthew has thus anticipated the disgrace of Peter's later denials. There, too, as in Mark, his Last Supper boast of loyalty to the death only adds to the disgrace when, not having fled the Garden like the rest, he nonetheless explicitly denies and damns Jesus in the high priest's courtyard. It is as if Matthew has rewritten the wave-walking story as a doublette of the denial episode.

As for the Caesarea Philippi confession scene, redaction critics had always wondered why, if Matthew wanted to tone down Jesus' rebuke to Peter, he did not (like Luke) simply chop it. Why let the Markan rebuke ("Out of my sight, Satan!") stand (and even elaborate it, specifying the fatal words of Peter) and insert the "Blessed art thou" saying in front of it? Scholars have often suggested this benediction originally belonged to an Easter context. Plausible enough, but why would Matthew have retrojected it here? And why not simply replace the rebuke with it? Simply because, Nau says, Matthew wants to remind the reader that the keys of binding and loosing were granted to a singularly fallible man. Like a counter-campaign message: "Clinton says he's patriotic now? Remember when he burned the flag in his student days?" And then in 18:18 we have a division of the power of the keys among the rest of the disciples, as if Jesus had suddenly seized the coat of many colors he had given Peter and ripped it up, giving one of the colored stripes to each of the other disciples! "I'll bet you say that to all the apostles!" Ouch!

Following the Rich Young Ruler pericope, Peter boasts (as if in contrast to the weak-willed, would-be disciple now walking away) that he and his brethren have done what he required of the young man: they have left all property and possessions. "What about us?" This calls forth, in Matthew, the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (uniquely Matthean) repeating as its punchline zinger, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last," from 19:30, the conclusion of the immediate answer to Peter's question. In short, by adding the parable as a commentary on the original reply of Jesus to Peter's boast ("What a good boy am I!"), Matthew has made the self-satisfied Peter into a duplicate of the Rich Ruler: he meets the basic requirement, and yet he lacks something crucial. "You'll make it, all right, but..."

Nau's key insight is that in all these instances Matthew is not correcting Mark, making Peter look better than Mark made him look, but rather correcting a post-Markan exaltation of Peter, taking Peter down a peg. By his use of careful redaction criticism Nau shows Matthew's motivation. By his use of reader-response criticism, he shows what measures Matthew actually took. Why has Nau's impressive study not been more widely welcomed? Perhaps because it tends to complicate the game, and the game is already complicated enough. Or, in other words, Nau has shown that with the same methods the critic may produce entirely new results from the same texts. This demonstration reminds us again that the days when we could delude ourselves to believe we had attained "assured results" are over. All we can hope for is all we ever had anyway: strong, fruitful readings which illumine the texts from new directions and are productive of renewed study and discussion. And Arlo J. Nau's Peter in Matthew certainly provides us with such a reading.

 

 

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