Sunday, 12 June 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 19

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.

Under which King?
By G.R. Bailleine

Now comes another gap in our knowledge. Luke nowhere tells a continuous story; he only mentions events that seemed to him of outstanding interest. The baptism of Cornelius possibly took place in A.D. 34. Peter's arrest certainly happened in 42.

For the intervening eight years he records nothing, except the reappearance of Saul in Jerusalem, perhaps in 37. One day Peter heard that Saul had been seen in the city, and that he was asking about the Nazarenes. Did this mean a new persecution?

We can picture Peter consulting with friends what precautions should be taken. Then Barnabas arrived, bringing Saul with him! They would spring to their feet in horror. Had Barnabas betrayed them to the enemy? But he told them of Saul's conversion. Most of them, however, were sceptical. They `were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple'. They remembered their Lord's warning against wolves in sheep's clothing. Only Peter had courage to welcome this improbable recruit, and he invited him to stay in his house. `I went to Jerusalem,' wrote Saul, `to see Kephas, and remained with him fifteen days. Of the other Apostles I saw none, except James, the Lord's brother."

For a fortnight he questioned Peter about the life of Jesus, and Peter listened, at times with horror, to the new theology that Saul had thought out during three years in Arabia. Saul could, when he chose, be charming; but at this visit he was not. He boasted later of his aloofness-'I learnt nothing from the older Apostles.' Perhaps he resented the coolness of his welcome. Perhaps he was merely on his guard against criticisms of the creed he had just rough-drafted. But on his own showing he was an embarrassing guest. At the end of a fortnight he was persuaded to go home to Tarsus, on the ground (which was probably true) that his life was unsafe in Jerusalem. It was twelve years before he and Peter met again.

We hear nothing more of Peter till A.D. 42. Judea had then a new ruler. Pilate had been recalled in 37. Two Procurators had succeeded him. But in 41 Claudius, the new Emperor, returned to the policy of Augustus, and decided to rule this troublesome Province through a native Prince. He chose Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great. The people welcomed him with enthusiasm. They were rid of the hated Romans, and, though the Herods were Edomites, Deuteronomy said, `Children of the third generation shall enter the congregation of the Lord.' So Herod's grandson was greeted with cries, `You are our brother.' Moreover his grandmother had been a Jewess, one of the heroic Maccabees.

Agrippa realized that the strongest force in his new kingdom was religion. To succeed he must win the support of the religious leaders. So he posed, possibly not insincerely, as a model of orthodoxy.

He came to live in Jerusalem. He attended the Temple daily. He offered princely sacrifices. He carried his first-fruits to the altar on his own shoulder. No Pharisee obeyed more scrupulously every precept of the Law. The Scribes and Rabbis were enchanted.

But not the Nazarenes. This is one of the points at which Luke seems to suppress information. He has reached a dramatic moment, about which he evidently knew a great deal. Notice the minute details in the story of Peter's escape, the number of guards, the number of chains, the portress's name. Yet, though this crisis revolutionized the lives of all the Apostles, he merely writes, `Herod laid violent hands on certain of the Church, and slew James, the brother of John, with the sword.'

Acts is an Apology. It is dedicated to Theophilus, who, since he is addressed as `Most Excellent', was probably a high official of the Empire. One of its objects was to show that Christianity was not politically dangerous. So certain incidents were treated with discretion. This was one of them.

But, just as Cuvier modelled prehistoric monsters from a handful of bones, so historians can sometimes reconstruct suppressed incidents from a few hints that survive. In this case four words are suggestive: James was executed with a sword; Maranatha was a Christian watchword; `in those days there came Prophets from Jerusalem'; James's nickname was Boanerges.

If James was slain with a sword, his offence was political. The penalty for heresy or blasphemy was stoning. The sword was reserved for treason.

The Aramaic word, Maranatha, used by Paul in Corinthians and by other Christian writers,' must be a relic of these early Jerusalem days.

[e.g. The Teaching of the Apostles, 'If a man is not holy, let him repent. Maranathal' ,The Apostolic Constitutions, `Gather us into Thy Kingdom. Maranatha'' ]

It would not have been coined when the Church became Greek-speaking. Whether it means `Our Lord cometh' or `O Lord, come' (on this point scholars disagree), it reveals the ardent Adventism of the Nazarenes. At any moment Jesus might come to set up His throne in Jerusalem. The city's supreme duty was to prepare to meet its King. Then arrived Agrippa, King by the grace of Caesar, and Jerusalem went mad with joy.

To the disciples this must have seemed treason against God. In the Nazarene synagogue passionate protests would be made. Herod heard that amid all the plaudits one group refused to recognize him.

Now for the first time we hear of Christian Prophets. Nazarenes laid such stress on Old Testament prophecy, that sooner or later some were bound to feel God calling them to be Prophets. If they followed Old Testament precedents, they would not keep clear of politics, for an Old Testament Prophet's duty was to denounce unworthy Kings. As Passover drew near, and pilgrims gathered, perhaps the Prophets even raised their voices in the streets. I Thessalonians accuses Judea of having killed its Prophets. These were probably the `certain of the Church' on whom Agrippa `laid violent hands' (R.S.V.). Hence the flight of their fellow prophets to Antioch.

The next victim was James, the son of Zebedee, Peter's old fishing partner. The fact that Jesus called him Boanerges gives a clue to his character. Mark translates this `Son of Thunder'. Some suggest, `Son of Tumult'. But, whichever is right, the name implies a tempestuous person, unlikely to be over-discreet.

During Saul's persecution the Twelve had lain low, perhaps through lack of sympathy with Stephen's methods. But now they would whole-heartedly share the Prophets' indignation. In some way James attracted notice. He was arrested and beheaded.

Then the King paused. Over-rigorous action might provoke resentment. But he soon saw that popular feeling was on his side. Opponents of the new regime had few friends in Jerusalem. So he arrested Peter. This time there was no need for haste. He could risk a public trial. For this, however, he must wait till Passover was over. During those eight days no Law Court could meet. For a week Peter lay in the King's prison, the fortress of Antonia, a securer jail than the Temple lock-up, from which he had escaped before. He had no hope of release. The Baptist had been killed. Jesus had been killed, Stephen had been killed. James had been killed. Why should Peter escape?

Yet the King must have feared a rescue. Four quarternions of soldiers, four squads of four men each, sound an absurdly strong guard for a prisoner bound with two chains. Probably each squad was on duty for three hours. Day and night two men in his cell, two outside the door. So the week passed. On the morrow the Feast would be over, and he would be tried and executed, for the Sanhedrin was eager to show its loyalty to the new King.

That night Peter was sleeping, chained to a soldier on either side. What exactly happened is not clear. Our only witness is Peter, and, according to the version of the story that reached Luke, he did not know what was happening till he found himself in the street outside. `He thought he was seeing a vision. The first thing probably was a vision-the vision of an Angel’.

Among all who believe in Angels, Jews, Moslems, Protestants, Catholics, this is a not uncommon experience. An Angel appeared to Zacharias in the Temple, to Mohammed when writing the Koran, to St. Joan in prison, to Fox the Quaker in Lancaster Jail. Even that blackguard, Benvenuto Cellini, thought an Angel appeared in his dungeon. So to Peter, as he lay awaiting death, it seemed that his cell was flooded with light, and an Angel said, `Get up quickly.'

But human well-wishers may have helped. In the Life of Sadhu Sundar Singh we read:

`He was arraigned before the Head Lama, and led to the place of execution. There he was cast into a dry well, and the top fastened over his head. Many had gone down this well before, never to return. He fell on a mass of human bones and decaying flesh. On the third night he heard a sound. Someone was opening the lid. A voice bade him grasp a rope that was lowered. He was pulled up into the fresh air. When he looked round, his deliverer had disappeared.' If he had been a Jew, he would undoubtedly have said, `God sent His Angel to deliver me.'

In the Near East prison-breaking is not infrequent. Jailers can be bribed and turnkeys drugged. It has happened even in England. In 1918, when the Irish leader, de Valera, was in Lincoln jail, sympathetic warders organized his escape. When Rome handed over Judea to Herod, it is not inconceivable that Cornelius and his archers may have been transferred to Herod's army. In any case Herod's troops would consist largely of local levies, some of whom may have been Nazarenes. But Luke, like Peter, undoubtedly gave all the credit to the Angel.

Suddenly roused from sleep, dazed by his vision, Peter found his fetters unfastened, his guards asleep, the door of his cell ajar. The iron gate that led to the city seemed to open of its own accord. He stumbled out into the dark street, and passed right down it, before he realized he was free. Then he hurried to the house of Barnabas's aunt, one of the Christian meeting-places. Here he found friends who had gathered to pray for him; but he could not stay. As soon as his escape was discovered, a hue and cry would be raised. He briefly told them what had happened, and sent a message to James, the Lord's brother, commending the Church to his care. When the sun rose, he was well on his way to the coast. Herod was too strong and too popular for Peter to defy him. Jerusalem had no desire to accept Jesus as its King. Peter must find some other place in which he could serve his Master.

This happened at Passover (i.e. Easter) A.D. 42. The other Apostles had apparently fled, for Peter sent them no message. Second-century writers assert that Jesus had orderedthem to scatter after twelve years in Jerusalem. The command was no doubt invented, but the date was correct, for 42, the year of Peter's arrest, was twelve years after Pentecost.

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