In the fifth part of her detective novel style investigation of the whereabouts of St Peter, Vynette Holliday turns her focus today to his whereabouts from the time of the Jerusalem Council (around 50CE) up until 62CE.
ARTICLE NAVIGATION: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII |
Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII
In Part IV, I said that:
"...it is reasonable to conclude that between 30 AD and 50 AD, between Pentecost and the Jerusalem Council, Peter had been pursuing his mission to the Jews and, according to Paul, his intention in 50 AD was to continue the way he had begun, as the Apostle to the Jews."
I further said that:
"...there is sufficient data in Acts and Paul's letter to the Galatians to situate Peter either in Jerusalem, or engaged on various missionary journeys in the regions of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, or finally in Antioch between 30 AD and 50 AD."
Before we attempt to discover Peter's possible whereabouts after 50 AD, we must first turn our attention to source material that militates against Peter being in Rome in the period immediately following the Jerusalem Council.
In Part IV, we discovered that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia in late 52 AD. According to Acts 18:11, Paul resided for 18 months in Corinth before he was brought before Gallio. Therefore, we can date his arrival in that city to early in 51 AD.
In Acts 18:2 Paul meets Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth:
"There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome."
Priscilla and Aquila, Jewish Christians, were already present in Corinth when Paul arrived there, having "recently come from Italy".
According to the Roman historian Suetonius, "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome". [Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 25:4] This expulsion of the Jews from Rome can be dated to 49 AD.
The Statue of St Peter's at the Vatican. Click to enlarge and for further information.
Most scholars agree that this statement does not refer directly to "Christ" or to an individual named "Chrestus", but most likely refers to Jewish Christian preachers who caused a disturbance among other Jews by proclaiming that "Jesus is the Christ". The edict probably did not apply to Gentile converts at all but, whatever the case, the expulsion order certainly applied to the Jewish Christians, Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul met in Corinth in early 51 AD. Just like Priscilla and Aquila, Peter was a Jewish Christian and, if he were in Rome at that time, then he would certainly have been expelled with them.
The expulsion edict would have gone out of effect at the death of Claudius in AD 54 and since the following emperor (Nero) did not renew the edict, those expelled could have returned to Rome after 54 AD.
It is therefore reasonable to conclude that Peter did not go to Rome after the Jerusalem Council of 50 AD because of the Claudian edict. It is also reasonable to conclude that the earliest possible time that he could journey to Rome was after 54 AD when the edict lapsed.
54 - 62 AD
Material that militates against Peter journeying to Rome after 54 AD can be found in Paul's letters and in Acts.
In Acts 2:9-10, we find that visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, were present at Pentecost and heard Peter preach that Jesus was their long-awaited Israelite Messiah. It is more than likely therefore that the gospel message was carried to Rome at a very early stage. However, on the question of when the Christian community in Rome was established, and by whom, the New Testament is silent.
When Paul writes to these Roman Christians circa 56-57 AD, it is at a time when Jewish Christians were trying to re-establish themselves in Rome after the Claudian edict had lapsed. We know, however, that the wider Christian community in Rome at that time was flourishing and well-established and, as Paul said, "...your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world" i.e. where the gospel has been proclaimed in the provinces of the Roman Empire. [Rom. 1:8]
Paul's purpose in going to Rome...
"I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong — that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles." [Rom 1:11-13]
In Romans Chapter 16, we find a named list of Christians resident in Rome, including those of Priscilla and Aquila who must have returned to Rome after the Claudian edict had lapsed. Note that Paul does not directly greet these friends and co-workers, but rather has Christians pass on his greetings to one another. The purpose of this strategy is to establish contacts, build community support networks, and unify Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians as elsewhere in the letter it is obvious that there existed some contentious issues between the parties. Conspicuously absent from this list of names is the one person we would most expect to find included if he were present in Rome, a unifying force par excellence, the man who knew Jesus face-to-face — Peter the Apostle.
In Romans Chapter 10, Paul claims that he has been appointed by the God of Israel to preach to the Gentiles. He has already "fully proclaimed the good news of Christ" in the Eastern Mediterranean, having preached from "Jerusalem as far around as Illyricum", [north of Macedonia on the Adriatic] and he now intends to travel westwards to Rome and thence to Spain.
He must first, however, deliver to the "saints" in Jerusalem some poor relief resources collected from Christian communities in Macedonia and Achaia.
Paul arrives in Jerusalem circa 58 AD and meets with James and "all the elders" [Acts 21:17-18]. For our purposes, there is little to be gained by recounting Paul's subsequent tribulations, except to say that circumstances allowed him to witness to the gospel of the God of Israel before the Sanhedrin, before Roman Governors Felix and Festus, and before Herod Agrippa.
According to Acts, Paul was a Roman citizen by birth and this gave him the right to appeal directly to Caesar in any dispute over which he felt aggrieved. It was because Paul wished to avoid being handed over to his Judean opponents that he appealed to Caesar during his witness before Festus and Herod Agrippa in Caesarea Maritima. Festus and Agrippa both agreed that Paul was innocent of any crime and could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. But appeal to Caesar he had, so to Caesar he must go. By the time Paul was handed over to the custody of the Centurion Julius and had boarded ship for Rome, he had spent about 18 months in detention in Caesarea Maritima.
After a harrowing sea voyage, Paul eventually arrived at Puteoli on the Gulf of Naples circa 60 AD. Paul stayed in Puteoli for a week, enough time for word of his arrival to spread to Rome, about 200 km distant. Upon receipt of this news, a number of Christian converts set out from the city along the Appian Way to meet Paul. Some travelled as far as Appian Forum, about 65 km from Rome, while others travelled a lesser distance to the Three Taverns, about 50 km from Rome.
Paul was greatly heartened by his enthusiastic welcome and the entire entourage proceeded towards the city.
Paul and the Jews of Rome...
Upon his arrival, Paul along with a guard settled in a house for which Paul paid. Then:
"Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: 'My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Judeans objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar — not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.'"
"They replied, 'We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.'" [Acts 28:17-22]
We can see from verses 21 and 22 that the leaders of the Roman Jews had received only negative reports about Paul's "sect" and expressed a wish to know more.
"They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe..." [Acts 28:23-24]
Paul witnesses to these Jewish leaders for an entire day concerning the forthcoming Israelite religious/political theocracy to be established by Israel's Messiah Jesus whom the God of Israel had raised from the dead according to the Law and the Prophets.
Thus, prior to 60 AD, the Jews of Rome knew absolutely nothing about Paul's "sect", the "sect" which had been widely spoken against, resisted and rejected, the "sect" to which Peter also belonged.
Chapter 28, the conclusion of the Book of Acts, takes us forward to circa 62 AD, at which time Paul had been kept under "house arrest" for about two years at his own expense. During that period, he proclaimed the forthcoming religious/political theocracy [the Kingdom of God] and taught about the Lord Jesus Messiah unhindered. The Book of Acts ends on a positive note, claims Paul's preaching as a fulfilment of Scripture, still makes no mention of Peter, and lacks any hint of a coming Christian persecution at the hands of Roman authorities.
Available in the Catholica Spiritual Marketplace. Click image to enlarge & for links.
Ascough and Malina have this to say on the subject of life-expectancy in the first century AD:
"Mortality rates from antiquity are not easy to determine, particularly since the records we have are rather sketchy and are localised. The attempts that have been made paint a picture of life expectancies that are rather bleak. Although much of the evidence comes from the late Roman period and/or from Egypt, it is probably safe to assume that the overall conditions across the empire in the first century were not particularly better. We find that there was a very high infant mortality rate, especially up to age one, assuming that the child even made it past the threats of miscarriage and still-birth. One third of those who survived infancy were dead by age six and half of the children died by age ten. Nearly 60% of these survivors died by age sixteen and by age twenty-six 75% were dead. By age forty-six 90% had passed away, and less than 3% if the population made it to age sixty."
Ascough and Malina go on to say that a disproportionate number of deaths fell upon the lower rank residents of the villages and cities. We can see from this data that if Peter were still alive in 62 AD, as was Paul, he would have beaten the odds against him considerably.
How old would Peter have been in 62 AD? At the time he met Jesus around 28 AD, he was already married, was in a business partnership with Andrew, James and John, and was the owner of his own fishing boat. Even by the most generous estimates, Peter would have been at least in his late fifties and possibly much older in 62 AD so, given the terrible hardships of travel through the Mediterranean for anyone, let alone a person of advanced age by 1st century standards, I don't propose to go beyond this date in our quest for a Roman Peter.
Where oh where?
We arrived at the reasonable conclusion in Part IV that prior to the Jerusalem Council of 50 AD, Peter had preached the gospel only to the Jews living in Judea, Galilee and Samaria. He had also signalled his intention to Paul to continue the way he had begun — as the Apostle to the Jews.
We have outlined above some objections to Peter's presence in Rome between 50 and 62 AD. So, if it were not westwards to Rome, where amongst the many communities of Diaspora Israelites would Peter have been most likely to go in furtherance of his personal commission by Jesus to preach the gospel to the "lost sheep of the House of Israel?"
In the next instalments we will finally attempt to provide a reasonable answer that question.
To be continued...
ARTICLE NAVIGATION: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII |
Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII
 Paul's letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary, Ben Witherington, Darlene Hyatt, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company , 2004, pp 4-5. [Although there has been some scholarly division over whether or not Chapter 16 was originally included in Paul's letter to the Romans, I find myself in agreement with Ben Witherington who argues in this first full-scale socio-rhetorical commentary on Romans that Chapter 16 is integral to the textual integrity of the letter.]
 Lydia: Paul's Cosmopolitan Hostess (Paul's Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in Faith) Richard S. Ascough, Bruce J. Malina, Liturgical Press, 2009, pp 43-44.
 Scholars are so divided on the question of whether all, some, or none of the so-called "prison epistles" — Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon — were written from Rome during Paul's period of detention, i.e. between 60 and 62 AD, that there is little to be gained by entering into the arguments either for or against. Even more controversial are the so-called "pastoral epistles" – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – which posit a second Roman detention for Paul.
Vynette Holliday, 13 Mar 2011
Vynette Holliday has been a frequent contributor to the Catholica Forum and our commentary pages in recent years. She is resident in Brisbane where she was born and educated by the Brigidine Sisters. She has a background in the Classics, Ancient and Modern History and Ancient Semitic Languages including Biblical Hebrew and the Canaanite language Ugarit. She regards herself as extremely fortunate in that she was given the opportunity of studying Biblical Hebrew under two rabbis, and under the acclaimed authority Professor Francis Anderson. Vynette worked for many years in Education Queensland and at the University of Queensland in an administrative capacity. She has also worked in a voluntary capacity for an Australian museum on projects ranging from investigations into the lives and deaths of the renowned pioneer aviators, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Bert Hinkler, through to research into the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Her contributions in this field are noted in newspapers of the day and in the publications, The Last Flight of Bert Hinkler and The Life and Times of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, both by internationally-renowned aviation historian E. P.(Ted) Wixted. Vynette is now officially retired but spends nearly all of her time writing.
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