Sunday, 6 December 2015

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 1

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

What did educated Jersey clergy think in those days? This is a scholar study by a local clergyman who was also a historian, and one who had exception gifts in writing; few local historians can match his use of the English language to bring subjects alive. It shows also a scholar who was well acquainted with the best New Testament critics of his day, and who could also bring an independent turn of mind to the subject matter, sometimes surprisingly so. 

A study of his life


Lives of St. Paul have poured from the press, but the present writer knows only four modern Lives of St. Peter. The most learned is Dr. Cullmann's Peter, Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, translated from the German; but, as nearly half of it is devoted to the text, `On this Rock I will build My Church', not much room is left for other important questions. Bishop Underhill's thoughtful study, St. Peter, deals only with selected incidents. Dr. Foakes-Jackson's Peter, Prince of Apostles, covers the ground more fully, but he too skims rather lightly over more than one tricky problem. Dr. Lowe's little book, St. Peter, is a good introduction to the subject, but sixty-five pages of large print have to leave much unsaid.

The present book lists every happening recorded of the Apostle, and tries to dodge no difficulties. It fills in the background from our knowledge of contemporary Judaism, and illustrates the miracle-stories from more modern and more fully verified incidents. No complete biography is possible, for there are yawning gaps in our information. Even the Gospels have a blank six months. Acts tells nothing of the five years before and the seven years after Peter's arrest by Herod. For another fifteen years we have only a few vague hints. Not till his final visit to Rome does evidence of a sort again become available.

Nevertheless enough is known to make his life instructive. It covers the whole span of Church History from the Baptist to Nero. It enables us to watch the work of Christ through an onlooker's eyes, and to see the problems of the Early Church from the point of view of a man who had to cope with them. In Peter we meet a typical Christian of the first generation. Paul was a brilliant and erratic genius. There was only one Paul. In Peter we get to know a plain man of the people, facing the tremendous riddles raised by the coming of Christ, gradually grasping step by step what Christianity meant, guiding the work of the infant Church in its early days in Jerusalem, averting the threatened schism between Jewish and Gentile Christians, travelling as a missionary in heathen lands, and finally winning such status in Rome that the Church there regarded him later as its first Bishop.

Such a life repays attention.


In transliterating Hebrew and Aramaic names into English, those which occur in the Old Testament have been spelt as in the English Authorized Version (e.g. Isaac, not Yizhak; Solomon, not Shelomoh). For others the simplified system adopted by the Jewish Encyclopaedia has in most cases been employed.

Boyhood in Bethsaida
Of all the Caesars who ruled Rome few were more famous than Trajan. The towering column, which a grateful Senate raised to record his victories, still remains a conspicuous relic of the city's imperial days. But the Emperor no longer stands on the top. His place has been taken by a condemned criminal, holding two large keys. Who this man was, and how he got there, this book will try to show.

He came from Galilee in the north of Palestine, where his father had been a fisherman on the lake. But if we seek further details we meet, as we shall all through this story, with questions we cannot answer. His home-town was Bethsaida; but its site is uncertain. Bethsaida-Julias was a well-known city at the north of the lake; but many believe that another Bethsaida stood on the western shore.

Round this little lake, however, the boy's early life centred. It was a busy district. Though only thirteen miles long and less than seven broad, at least a dozen towns looked out across its waters. In the north Herod Philip's new city of Bethsaida-Julias affronted every Jewish prejudice with its pagan splendour. On the west were Chorazin and perhaps another Bethsaida, Capernaum and Dalmanutha, wealthy Magdala and Tiberias, which Antipas, another Herod, was building as his capital, Hamath, where gourmands boiled out their gout, Greek Philoteria with its pagan temples, and stinking Taricheae, where the fish was pickled. Only on the east were lonely strips, where pelicans brooded among the reeds. Yet even here stood Gergesa and three other walled towns. It was a restless, bustling region, where Jew, Greek, Syrian, Roman met in keen competition.

Here the boy was born. His father named him Simon. Snub-nose (for that is what the word means) does not sound a flattering name; but during the Maccabean revolt a High Priest named Simon had become a national hero. In him Religion and Revolt joined hands in the way Galileans admired. So great was his popularity that in New Testament times Palestine swarmed with Simons. We meet Simon the Zealot and Simon the Pharisee, Simon the leper and Simon of Cyrene, Simon Magus and Simon the tanner, Simon the brother of Jesus and Simon the father of Iscariot. But far the best-known is Simon, the hero of this book.

We cannot be sure that he was a pure-blooded Jew. The full name of Galilee was Galilee of the Gentiles. In the eighth century before Christ most of its Israelite inhabitants had been deported to Assyria and replaced by pagans. When the Southern Jews returned from captivity, they colonized Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, but left Galilee alone. When some Jews later tried to settle there, their position grew so precarious that Judas Maccabaeus for their own safety removed them to Judea.

Not till 104 B.C., at the height of the Maccabean power, did Aristobulus conquer Galilee and force its inhabitants to accept circumcision and the Mosaic Law. Galilee in New Testament days was a Gentile district converted to Judaism by the sword. Some Jewish families, like that of Jesus, settled there later; but most of the people were of Gentile descent. Simon's forefathers may have worshipped pagan gods.

But, though Galilee was converted by force, it became fanatically loyal to its new religion. It prided itself on being part of the commonwealth of Israel. Indeed, its nationalism was more militant than that of the South. Galilee gave Rome far more trouble than Judea. Galilean children were carefully trained in the Jewish faith. Long before Simon went to school his education began. When eight days old, circumcision marked his body as belonging to Jehovah.

The sacredness of the Law was impressed on him every time he toddled out of doors. On the door-post was a cylinder holding texts from Deuteronomy, and he was trained to touch it reverently, and kiss the hand that touched it. The feasts, those eagerly awaited holidays, taught him much of the nation's history. Passover spoke of the Flight from Egypt, and Pentecost of the Giving of the Law. The branches beneath which he slept at Tabernacles re-enacted the Wilderness wanderings.

The revels at Purim kept alive the memory of Esther, and the illuminations at Hanukkah recalled the Maccabean victories. Even more he owed to the Eastern love for story-telling. As evenings grew dark, the old tales were retold: Moses among the bulrushes, David and the Giant, Daniel in the lions' den.

When six, Simon started school. Every synagogue had a school in charge of the Haan or usher; and Simon later could quote Old Testament texts so freely that he must have been one of the synagogue scholars. A school was called `the House of the Book', and the only school-book was the Old Testament. Hour after hour Simon and his school-mates sat cross-legged on the floor, swinging to and fro, and chanting together in rhythmic drone long passages from the Scriptures in their ancient Hebrew. `From the dawn of understanding,' wrote Josephus, `a Jewish child learns the Law by heart and has it engraved on his soul.' Simon also learnt to read and write, tracing the awkward Hebrew letters with a stick in sand.

But outside the synagogue no one spoke Hebrew. In every land between the Euphrates and the sea Aramaic, the Damascus dialect, had ousted the local language. Fragments of it survive in the New Testament, Akeldama, Maranatha, Talitha cumi, Ephphatha. This was Simon's native speech. But he also spoke Greek.

Before Rome came, Palestine had been part of the Greek Empire. Greek colonists had poured into Galilee. Some towns round the lake were almost wholly Greek. Galilee was no agricultural backwater inhabited by slow-witted peasants talking an incomprehensible dialect. It was a busy, commercial centre, teeming with foreigners, where the lingua franca was Greek. Rome had adopted Greek as its official language in the East. In the ruined cities of Galilee most of the inscriptions are in Greek, and there are Greek memorial tablets even in the synagogues. So little Simon would chatter Greek as freely as Aramaic, not the literary Greek of the great Attic writers, but the colloquial Greek of the shops and fish-market.

How much Hebrew he remembered from his school-days is more doubtful. Perhaps not much; for, since in every synagogue the Scripture portions were read first in Hebrew, and then translated into Aramaic, it looks as though many soon forgot their Hebrew lessons. But to those Bible lessons Simon owed much.

He had grown familiar with a great literature. He knew the history of his nation. He had gained a knowledge of its laws. And, above all, he had learnt to think deep thoughts about religion. God had grown very real to him, Jehovah (or more accurately Yahweh), from Whom every good gift came, Whose laws must be strictly obeyed. Every morning the boys chanted, `Lord, how I love Thy Law!' and, as a man, Simon did not outgrow his respect for it. Years later he was able to say, `I have never eaten anything unclean.'

Yet he was no model scholar. His headstrong spirit can never have been easy to control. No doubt he often felt the sting of the Hazzan's strap; for it was written, `Withold not correction from a child; if thou beat him, thou shalt save him from death.' Yet Simon left school with his spirit neither soured nor broken. `When you were young,' said Jesus, `you fastened your belt, and went wherever you wished.'

But a lad learns more from his environment than from his school; and Simon's home-town was no bad place for a boy's education. Whether his Bethsaida was north or west of the lake, close to it ran one of the world's great highways, the Via Maris, the main road from Babylon to Egypt. Every day there passed along it strangers from far countries, Roman legionaries hurrying north to quell some frontier rising, Arabs leading strings of camels laden with silks and spices, tattooed wizards with rings through their noses, Indian snake-charmers, copper-coloured Ethiopians, coal-black Soudanese, Jewish pilgrims going to the Temple, pagan pilgrims carrying offerings to the Grotto of Pan under Hermon, men of all races and religions, a never-ending pageant; and perched in one of the wayside walnut-trees the small

Simon could sit for hours with his brother Andrew, and never tire of watching. He, who would be told one day, `Go into all the world,' was familiar from his early years with the thought of travel.

On one side of Bethsaida ran the road; on the other lay the lake; and no fisherman's son could ever be kept off the water. Simon learnt to swim, and to set a sail, and to handle the clumsy oars. Often he went to sea with the men, and lay curled up in a coil of rope while his father held the tiller. He learnt to think of Jehovah not only as the God of the Book, but as the God of Nature, Who sent His thunder crashing in the hills and lashed the waves to fury. He learnt too that all the world was not like Bethsaida. In the lakeside towns, while his father was selling fish, he would wander off sightseeing. He saw the temples of pagan gods and priests of many religions. And political problems confronted him. He heard the bugles of Herod Antipas sounding from the towers of Tiberias. In every fish-market the hated publican was there to take his toll. And, when fishing at night, he saw the watch-fires of Zealot rebels twinkling on the heights of Hattie. From boyhood he had to face the problem, Could Jew and Gentile learn to live together?

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