The house of Peter in Capernaum is probably one of the most important archaeological findings in Israel. Millions of people are coming from all over the world to have a glimpse over the remaining of the house. But who was Peter? The transformation of a headstrong Galilean fisherman, into to first head of the Jerusalem church; then later as legend tells as the First Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is a remarkable story.
The House of Simon Peter:
It’s inspirational on the one hand, it’s also confusing on the other. Because we have numerous portraits of Peter to find; both on the New Testament Canon and in Post Canonical development. We first meet this fellow his name is Simon Son of Jonah. In another text Son of John. In another text, as he is fishing with his brother Andrew on the Sea of Galilee, He’s called from his boat by Jesus to be a fisher of men. Simon then becomes the spokesperson for Jesus Twelve Apostles, so he is the head of that group. According to Matthew’s Gospel Jesus names him Peter which means rock and in trust to him the Keys of the Kingdom.
When Jesus is arrested Peter denies Him three times; After Jesus is Resurrected, Peter would affirm his love for Jesus three times. Jesus will commission him to strengthen his brothers and in fact to guide the Post Resurrection Church. According to the Book of Acts Peter facilitates the gentile mission. In a Post Canonical Legend Peter eventually makes his way to Rome; where he is Crucified Upside Down; He says he is not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as was his Lord.
Who Was Simon Peter?
Who was this figure named Peter? How do we trace him back from these layers of legend to the historical great figure? We can determine a little about him historically from the account of the New Testament. We know something about his background from the Gospels presentation his given name is Simon. It’s a Greek name like the name Andrew his brother as the name Philip. We read from the Gospel of John, That Simon, Andrew, and Philip are all from the city of Bethsaida. Which is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee; Bethsaida was quite a Hellenized city with a big gentile population as well as a strong Jewish contingent there.
In the Book of Acts, chapter 15:14, Luke the author of Acts presents him not as Simon but as Simeon which is the Semitic name. It may have been that Peter actually had two given names or two names by which he was known. Simon the Greek name or Simeon the Aramaic or Semitic name. This is similar to what we find with Paul of Tarsus. Paul is the Greek name but he is early on referred to as Saul the Semitic or Hebrew name.
From the archaeological investigation done at Bethsaida, we can tell a little bit about Peter. It is in the area on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, near the connection to the Jordan River. it’s a prosperous city, highly Hellenized, the name of the city actually means ‘House of the Fisherman’.
The House of Peter in Capernaum
The Tetrarch Philip, the brother of Herod Antipas. Yet another son of Herod the Great; one of the few that did manage to survive. He ruled this particular area and he elevated the city from simply a village to a full-fledged city called a Polis about when Jesus was born. At some point, Peter & Andrew are moving to the nearby town Capernaum, a much smaller town.
The fishing business there was thriving, the economy was in part bolstered by the taxation system because certain duties were collected on fish that were obtained in Capernaum. So we do have some economic impetus going on in Capernaum at this time.
We also find fisherman with employees like James and John that leave their father in the boats with the hired man. We have a little class stratification there as well. Fisherman at Capernaum found already there a market for their products. Capernaum was not an upscale city but it’s certainly much more grandiose let’s say Nazareth where Jesus is from.
Peter and His Family
Peter was married because the Synoptic Gospels report Jesus healed his Mother-In-Law (Mark 1:29-31). Who may have lived with them and because the text continues on saying that Peter’s mother-in-law “she rose Up to serve him”. Some scholars suggested that the home is actually her home. They perceive it was the duty of the hostess of the home to provide the service for the guest. In which case, he perhaps moved in with his wife and mother-in-law, it may not be his house, it may be Mrs. Peter’s house.
Paul notes in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:5) that Peter was accompanied by a sister wife (that in the Greek version, in most English translations it’s translated to “a believer wife” or a “fellow believer who was a wife”). Whether this wife Paul knows was Peter Actual wife, the daughter of the mother in law who was healed or not, we simply do not know. During Peter’s ten years with Jesus while they are on the road engaging the mission; the wife is not there and she is never named in the text.
Conflicting Information In The Gospels
Archaeologists recovered an Ancient Galilean Boat from this particular period and of course the House of Peter that inside the structure they found a couple of fish hooks. We know that this particular structure was later a fourth-century House Church which was then converted later into an Octagonal Church and eventually into a basilica.
It may well have been Peter’s House because people would early on locate these sacred sites and build on them over and over, so it could be Peter’s House. We know it wasn’t the wealthiest neighborhood in Capernaum but probably Peter did not Join Jesus because of economic insecurity.
But it’s not really sure why he joined because here we have conflicting information presented in the Gospels. According to Mark 1:16-18, Jesus was passing along the Sea of Galilee and he saw Peter and his brother Andrew casting a net into the Sea and Jesus says to them: “follow me and I will make fish for men”. Immediately says Mark they left their nets and followed him. Peter will letter remark to Jesus (Matthew 19:27) that “He left everything to do this”. Following this call, according to Mark 1:29-31, Jesus then heals Peter’s mother-in-law.
The Events in the Sea of Galilee According to Luke
The Third Evangelist Luke tells this story somewhat in a different order: Luke 4:31-44 depicts Jesus preaching and performing an exorcism in the Synagogue of Capernaum. This is a building we have later evidence of. Following Jesus preaching tours Jesus then entering Simon’s House as it’s called and Cures Simon’s Mother In-law of her High Fever. In that evening, Luke goes on to tell us Jesus healed those who were sick with various kinds of diseases; at daybreak, Jesus insists on continuing delivering his message proclaiming the word throughout the Cities of the Galilee. He takes that word to the various synagogues not only in Galilee, according to Luke in Judea as well.
Peter is yet to be commissioned. In the next chapter, Luke 5:1-11 finds him at the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee). Jesus arrives, he sees a boat, he gets in and orders the owner of that boat, Simon to put it out into the water. From the boat he teaches the crowds; he tells Simon “To lower their nets”; Simon protests he went out fishing all night and he hadn’t brought up a thing. Jesus insists and the nets go down and come up full with fish. Simon here that inexplicably was called Simon-Peter because we had no explanation of the name Peter is actually petrified this miracle; he falls at Jesus’ knees and says to him: “depart from me because I am a sinful man”.
Who Is Really the Beloved Disciple?
Jesus responds, “do not be afraid henceforth you will be catching man”. Again the same basic story but in a different order. The Gospel of John 1: 35-42: Andrew that is Peter’s brother, that he’s a Disciple of John the Baptist; He then joins Jesus’ movement and brings Peter along with him. Andrew joins Jesus‘ movement with a man called ‘The Beloved Disciple’ later identified as John. Here John ‘the Beloved Disciple’ also joins before Peter. John and Peter are continuously shown in the Fourth Gospel to be in rivalry, but John gets to places first and proves to be the better disciple.
What Can We Learn From All This?
Peter’s call then leaves us with a couple of questions: was he a member of the group who followed; or was he at the least influenced by John the Baptist and transferred his allegiance to Jesus? Or was he just summoned out of the blue? It’s certainly possible. Did he follow Jesus because he has seen the cures Jesus was able to accomplish or did he simply follow because of the charismatic pull Jesus offered? What did he mean when he referred to himself as a ‘sinful man’? On this Christian legend remains primarily silent.
Along with Peter, Jesus summons Andrew and the Two Sons of Zebedee, James & John. Peter, James & John becomes the Inner Circle of the Twelve. They engaged in activities with Jesus which other disciples don’t. For example, they are the only three privileged to see the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 16:24-28, Luke 9:28-36). In the scene where Jesus’ face is changed, his clothes become dazzling white, and the disciples with him even see him conversing with Moses (representing the Torah or the law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) from the Old Testament.
Peter in Gethsemane
We also find Peter along with James and John following the Last Supper going with Jesus to Gethsemane before Jesus’ Arrest, but the three would fall asleep and so failed Jesus during the final night of his agony. In Matthew Peter’s role is particularly highlighted according to Matthew 14: 22-33. It’s just in Matthew when Peter sees Jesus walking on the Water he calls out to him:
“Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” Peter is asking for a major miracle on his behalf. Peter does in fact begin to walk but at a strong wind he becomes frightened and calls out with indeed with the voice of traditional prayer: “Lord save me”
So here Peter becomes the model for later people in the church in danger.
In Matthew 17:26-27 as well Jesus has Peter pay the temple tax for the two of them together by means of a Miraculous Fish: Jesus simply says to Peter takes the first fish who comes up and when he would open his mouth Peter will find in it a Tetradrachm (or a Shekel, depends on the translation) and of course Peter finds the fish and pays the tax.
The Central Role Peter Plays in the Gospel
In Matthew in Particular but indeed in all the Synoptics, we find Peter in a pretty imminent role. On the one hand, he receives special privileges and revelations, on the other he does wind up failing Jesus. He emerges as a character indeed in whom many can actually identify, flawed but fateful. The characteristics of both loyalty and the lack of it are both epitomized in the pericope (a set of verses that forms one coherent unit or thought) usually known as the Confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi.
In Mark 8:27-30 Jesus asks his disciples: Who do people say that I am? They give him various answers, but then finally he asks his Disciples so who do you think I am? Peter responds, “You are the Christ”. Matthew (16:13-20) adds to Mark, “The son of the living God” and then Matthew further adds to this account by including a blessing of Peter and then a commission. Jesus says, Peter:
“Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah; for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my father who is in heaven and I tell you; you are Peter (Petros) and on this rock (Petra) I will build my church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it; I would give the keys of the kingdom and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth would be loosed in heaven”
The Meaning of the Name Peter?
Although other Gospels refer to Simon as Peter and although John (1:42) actually depicts Peter as getting his nickname:
“you are Simon Son of Jonah, you are to be called Cephas”
Which is to be translated, Peter. The Gospel according to Matthew provides us the Etiology. The Etiology is not perfect in Greek. One has to turn from the masculine. “you are Petros” to the feminine “you will be Petra”. In effect the pun would work in Aramaic, the name given to Peter is Cepha and on this “Cepha I will build my church”.
The word Cepha shows up in the Dead Sea Scrolls where it refers to rocky cliffs so in effect Jesus has named Peter a Rock.
Here is also, by the way, the first appearance in the Gospel of Matthew of the word Church; the Greek term is Ekklesia from all the Gospels only Matthew uses the word. The scene at Caesarea Philippi ends at best at an ambivalent note, following Peter’s confession in Matthew’s commission. Jesus Announces (Matthew 16:21-23) for the first time that the Son of Man, (Jesus’ favorite self-designation) will undergo great suffering in the hands of the elders and the Chief Priest and the Scribes and be killed and yet on the third day will rise. This is the first of the Three Synoptics Passion Predictions.
As Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus Christ is the first one to reject the idea that Christ must suffer. We are told Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him saying: “God forbid it Lord” and Jesus responds here (Mark 8:33) “Get behind me Satan Because you are not on the side of God, you are on the side of men” it seems Peter has to learn the importance of suffering. But he will continue to misunderstand Jesus’ role and his own as we move closer and closer to the Passion.
The Last Supper
In the same way that John and the Synoptic Gospels offer a different picture of Peter’s call or a different picture of John the Baptist. So do they offer a different picture of the last supper? Unlike the Synoptics where Jesus takes bread and wine and institutes the Eucharist “take, eat, this is my body”. In John’s account (13: 3-10) Jesus insists on Washing the Feet of the Disciples, as a sign of service and humility. When Jesus tries to wash Peter’s feet, he says to Jesus “you will never wash my feet”. When Jesus makes it very clear that unless Peter would permit this wash, he would have no share with him; then enthusiastically responds not just my feet; also my head; my hands also. He does not quite get the symbolism yet.
In the Synoptics Gospels, he is similarly eager but still a little clueless according to Luke: Peter tell Jesus: “Lord I am willing to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33-34). Jesus responds: “I tell you, Peter, the cock would not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me”. This happens in the Garden of Gethsemane (In Fact only John mentions a Garden while in the Synoptics it’s mentioned a site called Gethsemani). So when we talk about the Garden of Gethsemane we are conflating the two texts.
Peter at the Arrest of Jesus
In this scene (Mark 14:32-38) Jesus following the Last Supper asks Peter, James, and John to remain awake. While he prays, they fall asleep. He’s forced to wake them up three times and to Peter, he says: “Simon are you asleep? could you not keep awake an hour? keep awake and pray you will not come into the time of trial”. Jesus concludes his speech to Peter with the famous line “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.
The arrival of Judas and the Arrest of Jesus follow swiftly, the tradition says that at the arrest of Jesus someone sliced off the ear of a servant of the High Priest. In Mark 14:47 the ear of the servant is clipped off by “those who stood by”. According to Matthew 26:51, the clipper is somebody with Jesus. Luke (22:35-38, 49-51) Indicates that the disciples had swords and Jesus cured the slave’s ear. By the time we get to the Gospel of John (18:10-11.26), it’s Peter who had cut off the ear of the slave who even gets a name for himself.
So as we move from the earlier Gospel Mark to the later John we see the development of this Petrine tradition; but here not to the good because Peter is showing violence. The other disciples flee, Peter follows the arresting party to the High Priest House and he waits in the courtyard as Jesus is being trialed inside. Jesus’ prediction comes true three times Peter denies knowing Jesus. and for Mark 14:66-72, the scene is one as literary artistry as well as a great emotional appeal: Jesus inside being faithful, Peter is outside denying him and we know Peter remembering the prophecy of betrayal and we are told he broke down and wept. In the Gospel of Mark, this is Peter’s last appearance.
Peter and Jesus’ Crucifixion
Jesus goes to the Cross according to the Synoptics alone his disciples had forsaken him and fled as Mark 14:50 puts it. We next have a reference to Peter in the announcement to the women who visit the tomb on Easter morning. Mark 16:7-8 records the young men commissioned to tell to his disciples and Peter that Jesus goes before them into Galilee but in Mark’s Gospel the three women failed Jesus as the three men did in Getsemani. The last of the earliest manuscripts of Mark says: “the women said nothing to anyone” (“Because they were afraid” in the Greek).
Peter does appear in Matthew’s great commission (Matthew 28:16-20) the Eleven Disciples had gathered on a mountain top in Galilee. Jesus tells his disciples to go evangelize to all the nations and then he would be with them always. Although matters are different in Luke 24:34 there Luke depicts Peter here called Simon and as the First Major Witness to the Resurrection and the others say about him “the Lord had surely risen and has appeared to Simon”. In another tradition for example Matthew and John Mary Magdalene is the first witness, Paul suggests that Peter is the First Witness (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) and we may have here competing traditions. Mary, on the one hand, Peter on the other.
The Last Time Peter Meets Jesus In John 21
In an appendix to John gospel chapter 21, Peter receives a new commission, he is rehabilitated, the scene appears to be a conflation of the commissioning story in Luke the one with the miraculous catch of fish and Matthew walking on water story. In John’s post-resurrection account after a night of failing to catch fish the disciples see a figure on the shore at dawn he has them cast their nets in, they bring up lots of fish, and realizing the stranger is Jesus Peter jumps into the water.
Peter Leading the New Community Faith
Jesus forgives Peter’s denial by three times asking him to express his love to him; Three times commanding Peter to “feed my sheep”. He does become the First Leader of the Jerusalem Church, the Book of Acts presents his activities like Determining Judas Replacement; Delivering Missionary Sermons; Defending The Church Against Detractors; Exorcising; Fiscal and Moral Responsibility. He’s in effect in the positions of Jesus leading this new community of faith. Peter like Jesus Heals the Sick (Acts 3:6) to a Lame Beggar in the Temple he states: “I have no silver or gold but I give what I have in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” and of course he does.
Peter cures a man named Aeneas (Acts 9:32-41), he raises Tabitha. We know he is also a figure who ranges, as he does from the Gospels from pathos to humor. He has a humorous Escape From Prison prompted by a very impatient angel (Acts 12:6-11). He has a bizarre dream about a sheet filled with animals (Acts 10:9-16) which eventually tells him that he no longer needs to follow the Jewish dietary regulations.
The Episode of the House of Simon the Tanner
He even moves in the House of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10:6); Where nobody would move. Tanners used urine to tan leather, People tend to spend as much time far away from them as possible. In a sense, what we found in the Book of Acts is the fulfillment of Jesus’ statements in Luke. Peter did say he would go to prison – In Acts he does. Jesus did say to Peter you will turn and strengthen your brothers – He does. Peter Converts the Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:23-48). The first uncontested gentile conversion. Peter does end up disagreeing with Paul, not in Acts but in Paul’s own Letters.
Peter in Paul’s’ Letter
Paul in his own letters insists that gentiles come into the church apart from following the law. He accuses Peter of hypocrisy and continuing to eat according to Jewish dietary regulations. It may have been that historically Peter adopted a more compromised point of view while Paul a more radical one. John 21:18-19 suggests that Peter’s martyrdom might be known. In 1 Peter 5:13, a pseudonymous document located Peter in Babylon; for the early Christians Babylon was the codename for Rome. Gaius in the late 2nd century claimed Peter was martyred by Nero and buried on Vatican Hill. A tomb was there or at least a monument with the suggestion of a tomb; Beneath by 3rd century and 4th-century graffiti written by Christians indicate prayers were offered to Peter there.
Peter’s Own Crucifixion in Rome
According to a legend Peter eventually makes his way to Rome but because of Nero’s persecution as followers insists he leaves Rome. As Peter leaves Rome he sees a figure comes in towards the city: “where are you going?”. He asks the figure, who was Jesus. “I am going to be crucified again”. Peter realizes that his faith rests with his flock back in Rome. He returns to the city where the legend has it he is Crucified Upside Down.