In the region of Caesarea Philippi
The so-called "confession of Peter" - located by Mark at Caesarea Philippi in the far north of the Jordan catchment area - comes at a critical point in Mark's narrative, and is elaborated in new directions by Matthew.
The Seminar's voting on these texts can be represented as follows:
- Thom 13:1,5
- Mark 8:27,29
- Matt 16:6
- Matt 16:13,15
- Luke 9:18,20
The choice of Caesarea Philippi for this scene is somewhat puzzling. Mahlon Smith comments as follows:
City built by Herod's son Philip on a large plateau at the foot of Mount Hermon where the headwaters of the Jordan river emerge from a grotto. From ancient times the place was the site of worship of pagan nature gods, first Ba'al & then Pan. A grotto shrine dedicated to Pan & the nymph Echo led the site to be called Paneas in early Roman times [Banias in Arabic]. Herod built a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor Augustus there. But the city was a totally new foundation by Philip. The fresh water pools, fertile environment, thousand foot elevation & scenic vistas made it one of the most pleasant resorts in Palestine. As a center for pagan worship, miles north of Galilee & without Jewish settlements in the region, it is a puzzling site for the gospels of Mark & Matthew to locate the story of Peter's confession that Jesus was the Anointed [Christos, Messiah].
In his 2003 study, "The Two Jesuses: Jesus of Jerusalem and Jesus of Nazareth" (Forum NS 6,2), Ted Weeden suggests that the Gospel of Mark may have been written in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, and that the city was the focus for a refugee Jewish community - under the leadership of King Agrippa II - following the war with Rome. If Weeden is correct in that suggestion it adds some additional dimensions to the meaning of the scene in Mark's narrative.
Set in the vicinity of the "government in exile" and in the shadow of the tragic results of the war with Rome, Mark has Jesus demand that his followers clarify who they think he is:
- John the Baptist returned from the dead?
- Elijah the anticipated prophet of the end time returning from heaven?
- some other prophet - perhaps like Jeremiah, or the Jeremiah-like character of Jesus ben Ananias (invented by Josephus)?
- or the Messiah?
So soon after the end of the Jewish War, and in the context of Caesarea Philippi in the time of Agrippa II, the affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah is a provocative claim indeed.
Such a claim adds another dimension to the words of the angel at the empty tomb:
Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7)
The additions made by Matthew perhaps reflect the situation a decade or so later, when hopes for a revival of a local Jewish administation have evaporated. In any case, he modifies the tradition found in Mark so that it serves as a commissioning theme for Peter as much as it celebrates the Messiahship of Jesus - and even that Messiahship is clearly nuanced into a religious role as Mark's direct phrase "the Messiah" becomes "... the Messiah, the Son of the living God."