Sunday, 15 January 2017

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 33

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.

by G.R. Balleine


Peter ends his Epistle by sending a greeting from Babylon, `She that is in Babylon salutes you.'

Whether `she' was a lady or a Church, he was evidently writing from a place he calls `Babylon'. A few scholars from Schmiedel (Encyclopaedia Biblica) to Calvin think that he means the city on the Euphrates. Wild statements have been made on both sides. The Dictionnaire de l'archeologie chretienne asserts that Babylon was then nothing but ruins.

The other side point to Philo's account of his embassy to Caius in 40, which speaks of the large population of Jews in Babylon. The facts are that Babylon was still an important city, and had once contained a large Jewish quarter. But Josephus tells how in 35 anti-Semitic riots had forced the Jews to emigrate en masse, first to Seleucia, then further away to Ktesiphon. So, when Peter wrote, there probably was not a Jew in Babylon.

The statement in Philo is not made by Philo himself. He is quoting a letter from Agrippa, written in 37, giving a long rhetorical list of places inhabited by Jews. As Agrippa had been living for years in Rome, he probably had not heard of the exodus two years before from Babylon, which was in the Kingdom of Parthia. Moreover, in spite of this text, no tradition associates Peter with Babylon. Thomas was thought to have been the Apostle of that region. The Church that grew up there later formed part of the Syriac-speaking Church, which never claimed Peter as a Founder. Indeed one of its earliest books, The Doctrine of Addai, speaks of `the Epistles of Paul, which Simon Kepha sent you from Rome'.

No one takes seriously Bishop Pearson's suggestion that Peter was in a military camp near Cairo, which was called Babylon, because it had been founded by refugees from that city. For more than a century the Jewish Sibylline Oracles had been calling Rome `Babylon', because Babylon in the Old Testament typified wealth and wickedness and oppression; and a little later the Apocalypse denounces Rome as `Babylon, mother of harlots and of all that is abominable on earth'.

All early interpreters agree that by `Babylon' Peter means Rome. Clement of Alexandria said, `Peter used the cryptic word "Babylon" to indicate Rome.' And the vast majority of modern scholars say the same.



In his Epistle Peter sends a greeting from `Marcus, my son', whom both Papias and Irenaeus describe as `Peter's interpreter'.

He was undoubtedly the author of Mark's Gospel. In Acts we meet a John Mark, whose mother's house in Jerusalem was a meeting-place of the Church, who deserted Paul on his First Missionary Tour, but of whom Paul wrote in his last letter, `Bring Mark; he is useful to me.' It is generally assumed that these two Marks are the same. But this is by no means certain.

The name Marcus was exceedingly common. Many Romans well known in history had Marcus as their first name: Cicero, Cato, Brutus, Crassus. Everyone remembers Mark Antony and Marcus Aurelius. `The inscriptions,' writes Professor Swete, `offer abundant examples from every part of the Empire and every rank of society.' In 65, when Peter was in Rome, Marcus Vestinus succeeded Marcus Licinius as Consul; Marcus Arrecinus commanded the Bodyguard; three Marcuses were involved in the Senators' Plot; Marcus Otho, the future Emperor, was governing Lusitania; Seneca's father, brother and son were all named Marcus.

In the ranks of the Church there were probably at least a dozen Marcuses. So Marcus of Rome and Mark of Jerusalem may be two different people.

There are reasons for thinking they were. If Marcus was Peter's interpreter, into what language did he interpret? Peter, who had known Greek from childhood, and had been working for years in Greek-speaking lands, would need no interpreter when talking to the Greek-speaking crowd who formed half the population of Rome. But native Romans spoke Latin. Seneca and Tacitus wrote in Latin. The poorer people spoke Latin. To reach the real Romans Peter would need an interpreter. A Jerusalem Jew, like John Mark, would be unlikely to know much Latin, whereas many Roman-born Jews would be bilingual.

The author of the Gospel shows familiarity with Latin by using many Latin words, written in Greek characters, e.g. speculator, flagellare, quadrans, etc. The Gospel too contains hints that its author was not John Mark. No educated Palestinian could have been so hazy about the geography of his little land. He makes the swine `run down a steep place into the sea', according to R.V. and R.S.V. at Gerasa, according to A.V. at Gadara. Yet Gerasa is six miles from the lake, and Gadara thirty! He makes Jesus travel from Tyre `through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee through the midst of the borders of Decapolis', an impossible route, for Decapolis was on the opposite side of the lake. But a Roman Jew, who had only paid an occasional visit for a Feast, might well know little of the country outside Jerusalem.

Nor would a Jerusalem Jew be likely to call Antipas a `King', able like an Oriental Despot to give a dancing-girl half his kingdom, when he was only a Tetrarch, a Roman official, whom the Emperor could remove at any time.

Again Marcus almost certainly got the date of the crucifixion wrong (See Note F). John Mark, who was in Jerusalem at the time, could not have made that mistake. But a Roman Jew might easily confuse the Day of Preparation with the Feast.

Not till Jerome (end of fourth century) does any early Father identify the Evangelist with John Mark, and he seems a little doubtful. Speaking of Paul's helper he says, `Mark, whom I think to be the author of the Gospel'.



Marcus wrote nearly forty years after the crucifixion. Stories handed down by word of mouth for years often become embroidered, expanded, and exaggerated. This, however, may not be true of those told by Marcus. Papias, giving John the Elder as his authority, says that Marcus based his Gospel on stories which Peter told in his sermons.

Peter thought of himself as a witness. His task was to tell truthfully what had happened. Acts makes him say, `We are witnesses of these things'; `This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we are witnesses.' In his witnessing he must have found certain stories specially useful. These he would repeat again and again, till they fell into a fixed form of words. Marcus must have heard them, and translated them, so often that he almost knew them by heart.

Moreover in those days education consisted largely in learning by heart. The Latin motto Repetitio mater studiorum (Repetition the mother of studies) was firmly believed in the East. In every synagogue the Old Testament stories were learnt by heart, and so handed down unaltered from generation to generation. In the Christian synagogue the method would be the same. Peter's stories would be learnt by heart. Marcus probably had helped to teach them. So, when he wrote his Gospel, he was often able to quote Peter's actual words. `Peter,' says Papias, `framed the lessons he taught to suit the needs of his hearers,' and `Marcus wrote carefully the whole of the things, as he produced them from his memory.' If so, behind his Gospel stands Peter, an eye-witness.

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