Simon Peter

© 2007 Dr. Barbara Thiering

"You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church".

Those words were attributed to Jesus in Matthew's gospel only (16:18), giving rise to the usual suspicion of 19th century biblical scholars that it was yet another "prophecy after the event", composed and put in the mouth of Jesus long after Peter had become the first Christian Pope in Rome.

That was not the case. The words were in fact said by Jesus to Peter in 32 AD, before the crucifixion. But the wording itself implied a limitation, to those who understood the organization. Peter was only to be in charge of the ekklēsia, the church, which meant the pilgrims from Essene villages who were "called out" (from kaleō "to call" and ex "out of"). They left their homes temporarily to come to Qumran to bring the food tithes to the Essene priests. They were married men, not celibates.

The term kath holon was also used for them, meaning "according to the whole ones" (holos)- not celibate "eunuchs", from the point of view of the married class. The term became "Catholic", which originally meant "universal" because it included the "unclean" married and Gentile class. In the course of history, it came to emphasise the celibate ministry, the opposite of its original application.

Peter was called "the Rock", Cephas in Aramaic, as a reminder of his status as a sexually active man, whose place was on a row 13, that of the genitals of the Heavenly Man. The testicles were called "stones". Gentiles taught by Peter were given the image of "seed", for it was from Peter as a Jew that their "seed" came. The eastern stone was additionally called the Rock, with an allusion to a different set of images, that of the Exodus, where Moses struck the Rock at Petra to produce water. Pilgrims were given a drink of holy water. It is further shown in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that the heir of David, head of Gentiles, was called "the Rock". "The Rock was Christ". Thus Peter as Chief Pilgrim was ex officio the representative of the David in his work of teaching Gentiles.

As a married pilgrim, Peter was denied the opportunity of the long period of higher education that was given to the celibates in monasteries. The best he received was the month's instruction that was given to the 120 pilgrims in the outer hall when they brought the food tithes to the priests. They were given that much as a concession, out of gratitude for the food, and recognition that they had traveled a long way from Galilee in the north. But on the Pythagorean model, higher learning was only given to celibates living in closed communities, totally devoted to scientific studies and their application.

In 44 AD another of the Christian reforms was to give a more advanced abbey education to men like Peter. His progress into a degree is recorded through the "miracle" story in Acts 12, when at Qumran he was taken through the iron door in the Israelite wall that shut off the outer hall. The door opened "automatically", that is could be opened only from the inside by resident celibates. By the time he reached Rome, however, Peter was counted in the ranks of celibates, so was no longer over the ekklēsia only. He was then given a new name, Aristarchus (Acts 27:2, Colossians 4:10).

As Peter advanced in status following the promotion of Gentiles, differences with Jesus began to show up. These led to Peter's denials at the time of Jesus' trials. Peter did not have the experience to go beyond what he saw as already a great advance, when the liberal Sadducee priests of the Annas dynasty gave higher status and forms of ministry to Gentiles. But Peter could not conceive of a mission that was not under Jewish priests, for that would mean that it had lost its Jewish identity altogether. Peter believed that Jesus was the legitimate Christ (Mark 8:29), but he meant that Jesus was only the Christ, that is the Messiah of Israel in the Qumran organization of two Messiahs. There had to be a superior Messiah of Aaron, a Jewish priest.

There was in fact a personal antipathy between Jesus and Peter, despite the fact that Peter was ex officio his representative. When Peter came to producing another gospel in 44-45 AD in Rome, using his Gentile subordinate Mark as the scribe (1 Peter 5:13), Peter followed the example of John's gospel in inventing "miracles" that had actual historical meanings. But whereas Jesus' "miracles" such as "walking on water" were humorously transparent and would leave the pesharist feeling goodwill, Peter's surface form presented Jesus as hardly lovable. He cursed and destroyed a figtree when it did not have fruit to satisfy his hunger, even though it was not the season for figs. He destroyed a farmer's livelihood, sending 2000 pigs rushing down into the sea. He made yet another impossible feeding of a multitude with a few loaves and fish, this time adding a riddle about the numbers involved, and telling the disciples they were stupid for not solving the riddle.

Working on the pesher of Mark's gospel, it is often the case that it fails to give necessary information, and its application of the rule of the last referent sets out to trap the pesharist rather than educate. It could not be solved by an interested outsider without the information that the other gospels supply. The scribe Mark may have been responsible for this character, but he was an unfortunate choice. He replaced Philip the Evangelist who had assisted Jesus with John's gospel, and who had remained with Simon Magus at the time of the schism.

The end of Peter's life is recorded in the Acts of Peter, another "apocryphal" document once believed to be late fiction, but now better understood as contemporary, as reliable if not more reliable than the New Testament. It records that at the time of Nero's persecution Peter tried to run away from Rome. As other sources show, he had been one of those who "rioted at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ)". The year 64 AD was believed to be the south solar version of the year 4000 from creation, in its most recent correction. Peter was the one who at the trials of Jesus believed most strongly in the End, the prophecies of the future originating in the Apocalypse of Enoch. If the heavenly intervention had not come in the gospel period, as Peter had hoped, it should come in the year 4000. Shortly before that date he foresaw his arrest as leader of the rioting Christians, and fled to the building outside the south wall that came to be called Domine Quo Vadis, meaning "Lord, where are you going?" It was the upper entrance to the catacombs, where Jesus and others stayed at times of persecution. Peter there "saw the Lord entering Rome". That is, Jesus came up through the secret entrance and spoke to Peter, who asked him where he was going. Then Peter resolved to return to Rome and accept a coming crucifixion in the place of Jesus. In the church that still stands there, a pair of marble feet commemorate the event. Peter went back, was arrested, condemned to death, and his request to be crucified head-downwards was granted. His martyrdom, as could be predicted, greatly strengthened the Christian cause.

Return to Biographies
  • Return to main page