Sunday, 10 July 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 20

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.

A Fugitive among the Gentiles
By G.R. Balleine

PETER had now to show a clean pair of heels. `There was no small stir what had become of Peter.' `Herod sought him and found him not.' Two escape-routes were possible, by land or by sea.

The first would be desperately dangerous. Even if he got across Herod's frontier, any neighbouring province would hand him back. But he had friends in both ports, Joppa and Caesarea. And at Passover the shipping season opened. In each port a fleet of vessels, that had been beached since Tabernacles, was about to sail. On one of these it would be possible to hide.

Some sailed for Egypt, some for Ephesus, Carthage, or Spain. But we may rule out these possibilities. Peter's name became later the greatest in Christendom. If any Church in those regions had been founded by him, it would never have allowed the fact to be forgotten. Tradition links his name with Syrian Antioch; but this refers to a later period. He certainly was not in Antioch in 46, when Paul and Barnabas started on their missionary journey.

But the Roman Church in the next century claimed Peter as its founder, and no other Church ever put forward a rival claim. Dionysius of Corinth, writing to the Romans about 170, calls their Church `a tree planted by Peter and Paul'. Irenaeus about 18o speaks of it as `that very ancient Church founded and organized by Peter and Paul'.

Peter fled from Jerusalem in 42, and reappeared there again in 49. For seven years he must have been somewhere. Only one place claims him, and that the most likely place in the world to harbour an escaped prisoner; for Roman moralists were complaining that half the criminals of Asia found refuge in the slums of Rome. If he did visit Rome, the evidence points to 42 as the date.

In the third century it was believed that Peter was Bishop of Rome for twenty-five years. Julius Africanus apparently stated this in his Chronography, and later writers including Eusebius accepted this as a fact'

Peter cannot have lived in Rome continuously as long as that, for in Acts and Galatians he reappears in Jerusalem and Antioch; but the Greek word episcopos (in English `Bishop') merely meant `overseer'.

Apostles considered themselves `responsible for the oversight' of the Churches they founded, though they moved on elsewhere. Paul kept an eye on Corinth and Colossae and Philippi; and Peter may have kept in touch for twenty-five years with the friends he had made in Rome. But, if so, he must have gone there straight from Herod's prison. He probably died in 66. Deduct 25, allowing for the ancient method of reckoning a fraction as a whole, and you arrive at 42, the year he escaped from Herod.

Two fourth-century writers definitely state that he reached Rome in the second year of Claudius, which was 42. This evidence is late; but it comes from exceptional men, who had before them early authorities that have long been lost: Eusebius, the learned `Father of Church History', and Jerome, who as Secretary to Pope Damasus had had access to the Papal archives.

To sum up-after Passover ships would be leaving Joppa and Caesarea for Italy. Rome was the favourite spot for men on the run to make for. The Church in Rome claimed Peter as its founder. No rival Church ever disputed this claim. Several lines of tradition converge on 42 as the year when he reached the city.

And this was the year when he escaped from prison. The voyage from Joppa to Italy could be done in a fortnight, and as a fisherman Peter would be at home on shipboard. He landed at Puteoli in the Bay of Naples, where he found a colony of Jews, who would give him directions for his journey. A week's walk lay ahead. To avoid travelling on the Sabbath he probably stayed there till Sunday morning.

Then he left the crowded port, and the vast amphitheatre, in which later scores of Christians would be thrown to the lions. He trudged along the Via Campana, across the Burning Fields, that must have suggested Hell, a waste of green volcanic rocks, where pools boiled and sulphurous steam poured through every crack, till he reached the vineyards of Campania.

Here the road was lined with wayside shrines. He had seen paganism in Galilee, but never before had he been in a land that was wholly pagan. `In Campania,' said Petronius, `it is easier to find a god than a man.'

Towards evening he saw Capua, `the second Rome'; but he would not stop. In May in that southern land it was pleasanter to sleep in the open than in dirty, disreputable inns. Here he struck the Appian Way, the busiest road in Italy, and turned north towards Rome, till he found a nook among the vines, where he could lie down and sleep.

Next day this road introduced him to the people among whom he had come, rich patricians thundering by in gold-plated chariots, Roman matrons in their litters borne by negro slaves, pilgrim women with flowers in their hair visiting a shrine of Diana, priests of Cybele, slashing themselves with knives, showing that Christianity was not the only Eastern religion seeking to win Rome, peasants carrying cabbages to market, legionaries marching south to sail to some distant frontier. All day new types appeared, till the road struck the sea at Sinuessa, and again it was time to find a corner in which to sleep.

A third day's plodding brought him to the seaside resort of Formiae; then over the mountains to Terracina, `towering in splendour,' Martial says, `above the bright, blue sea.' From here the road ran mathematically straight to Rome. On the fifth day came a nasty nineteen miles through the Pontine Marshes, till at Appii Forum firm land was reached once more. A sixth day brought him to the Alban Hills, and at Aricia he again found a Jewish colony with whom he could spend the Sabbath.

On Sunday he resumed his journey, and from the hilltop got his first view of Rome. No one who noticed that travel-stained foreigner gazing at the distant city could have guessed that within those walls his name would become more powerful than that of any Caesar.

The Appian Way ended at the golden mile-stone in the Forum. Peter then passed down the Tuscan Street, lined with luxury shops, till he reached the Tiber. Across the bridge was Transtiberim, the lowest part of the city in every sense of the word, a rookery, flooded whenever the river over-flowed, into which respectable Romans never ventured, a `liberty' given over to despised classes and disgusting occupations.

Even the police seldom entered it, unless its riots disturbed the peace of the city.

This was the main Jewish quarter, and in this revolting slum Peter found about thirty thousand fellow-countrymen. Every city round the Mediterranean had a Jewish colony; but the Roman Ghetto was one of the oldest and largest. A hundred years before, it had been increased by thousands of prisoners brought to Rome to swell Pompey's triumph. They were sold as slaves. But Jewish slaves proved such a nuisance through their refusal to eat ordinary food or to work on Saturday, that their masters were glad to let them buy their freedom. Large sums were raised in Palestine, and most of them were redeemed.

Many remained in Rome, and became a familiar feature of the city. Roman writers picture them as largely of a low type. Their women pestered ladies for per-mission to tell their fortunes. The men were rag-sorters or pedlars. Some were criminals. To Roman Jews Paul wrote: `You who shrink from touching an idol, do you rob Temples? Because of you the Name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.'

Yet in Transtiberim they maintained their religious customs. The Mosaic Law was kept. The Sabbath was observed. The names of nine synagogues are known. They did not all remain slum-dwellers. Just as in London a Jew may settle in Poplar, while his son may live in Stoke Newington, and his grandson in Hampstead; so Roman Jews who prospered moved across the river to Suburra, the heart of the commercial district; a little more prosperity, and they withdrew to a suburb near the Temple of Mars; still more prosperity, and they went out further to Aricia.

But Peter probably found lodgings in the main Jewry beyond the Tiber, perhaps with one of the `strangers from Rome', who had heard his Pentecost sermon. Events that stirred the city, the chariot races or Claudius's Triumph after his return from Britain, meant no more to him than the Test Match does to a Jew just arrived in Whitechapel.

But that Jew may be an eager apostle of Communism among his Yiddish-speaking neighbours; and Peter preached Jesus as the Messiah in the hovels of Transtiberim. It is doubtful whether he tried to convert the heathen. Paul called Peter a few years later `the Apostle of the Circumcised'. When that was written, Peter had evidently gained no fame as a missionary to the Gentiles; but he had worked with success among his fellow-countrymen.

There was no need yet for secrecy. Judaism was a religio licita, a religion allowed by Roman Law; and Nazarenes were still considered a group inside the Jewish Church, as free to air their views as Pharisees or Sadducees.

Like Stephen before him and Paul later, Peter would begin with the synagogues. He would join in discussions at the end of the service, and sometimes be invited to preach. When he won some converts, they probably started a synagogue of their own; but he tried to avoid any rupture with the other Jews. He and his disciples obeyed the Law, and at first they were left in peace. Then some spark, we know not what, kindled the fires of fanaticism.

We can picture what happened. `God worked effectually in Peter.' The number of his converts increased; till some Jewish enthusiast, like Saul in Jerusalem, felt roused to suppress these heretics.

The Nazarene meetings were broken up, the disciples' homes wrecked. They themselves were stoned in the streets. The riots became such a nuisance that the police intervened; and eventually, says Suetonius, the Roman historian, `Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, because they were continually rioting at the instigation of Chrestus.' Acts confirms this, when it says that Aquila and Prisca were in Corinth, `having lately come from Italy, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome'. This probably happened in 49.

Who was Chrestus? This was a slave name; so he may have been some obscure local agitator. More probably this was a misspelling of Christos, the Christ, the word which Peter and his opponents would use for the Messiah.' No Roman writer would know much about synagogue quarrels, and Suetonius might well believe that the Christ, who was causing riots in the Ghetto, was a mob-leader.

Among those expelled from Rome were Aquila and his wife, with whom Paul lodged at Corinth, and, as Acts says nothing of their conversion by Paul, they were probably two of Peter's Roman converts.

Peter himself must have had a rough time during the riots; Tertullian shows that Rome later called Christians Cbrestiani, and this is the right reading in Tacitus' account of Nero's massacre, quos vulgus Chrestianot appellabant. This spelling survives in the French Chretien.

So he would have had to leave the city with the other Jews. But news from Palestine made it possible for him to return to Jerusalem. Agrippa was dead, and a new Government was in power, a Roman Procurator, who, if he ever heard of an escape from prison of an untried heretic under Herod, would take no interest in what would seem a Jewish theological squabble. So Peter took ship for Joppa.

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