One of the most interesting figures in the New Testament is a man named Peter. To many Christians today, he welcomes angels at the entrance to heaven. This comes from the idea that, in tradition, Jesus gave him the “keys to heaven,” a distinction that also makes him a popular figure in cartoons.
Peter was assigned deep religious connections. Jesus is quoted as saying, “Upon this rock (Peter), I will build my church.” (Matt: 16:18) The comment is actually a play on words: the name “Peter” is derived from the Greek word for rock (petra). As a result, the Catholic Church considers Peter the first pope.
In fact, St. Malachy, who predicted all the popes, believes the last pope – the one after the current Benedict XVI – will be named “Peter of Rome,” creating a full circle in history. Malachy, an Irish church leader in the early 1110s, supposedly wrote: "During the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, the seat will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock in many tribulations; and when these things are finished, the seven-hilled city will be destroyed, and the terrible Judge will judge his people. The End."
For such lofty status, we actually know a little about Peter’s life. The holy text reports he was born in Bethsaida, a fishing village, and was the first disciple of Jesus. He was married. However, the “rock” crumbled by denying Jesus three times; he was twice brought before the Jewish tribunal on charges of blasphemy. He also argues with Paul, who was not an original disciple, about Jesus’ teachings. Eventually, however, he disappears midway through the Book of Acts. By tradition, he died in Rome.
Supposedly, the St, Peter’s Basilica in Rome was built over his gravesite. A limited number of visitors annually are taken to the excavations below the Basilica and shown the site. Of course, no one knows if that’s really Peter’s final resting place.
That’s true of all the claims about Peter. The New Testament was written at least 40 years after the death of Jesus. Acts, which talks about Peter’s arrest and trial, is much older than that. Memories fade. Mythology has a more powerful impact than actual records, and no documents mentioning Peter existed either. In fact, when examined carefully, we really know very little about such an important leader of early Christianity.
I’ve taken care of that little problem. My new novel, The Last Testament of Simon Peter, lets the apostle tell his story. In my account, Peter is in Roman captivity waiting with Paul to be executed. Continuing the debate in the New Testament, Peter decides to counter Paul’s teachings with his own version.
Peter recounts his life in Hammas (the old name for Bethaisda), his early years fishing and the drowning of his older brother, his visit to the Temple in Jerusalem, his participation with the guerrilla fighters against the Romans, crucifixion of his father, his visit to the “saints” living in anticipation of the coming apocalypse and much more. The text is historically accurate for the time period, and Peter goes through the kind of traumatic situations all Jews did in his day.
Jesus plays little role in the book. I had no desire to offend people’s beliefs. Instead, I was looking to do a couple of things I consider vitally important.
First, I wanted to present a reality that somehow has escaped many believers today. People then did not walk around with halos over their heads. They didn’t know they were “saints” or that they would end up as characters in books read with reverence by billions of people worldwide.
They were people living their lives just as we do. They had good times and bad; they tried to survive as best they could, which wasn’t easy in an ancient Israel (then called Judea) which was under Roman rule and fractured by multiple Jewish sects. One of them, Zealots, fought the Romans until a major confrontation in 70 A.D. led to the destruction of the Temple and the rise of Paul’s view of Christianity.
Peter was dead by then. The book closes with his death and his reconciliation with Paul.
Second, something happened 2,000 years ago. There were multiple people, like Jesus, who were thought of as a messiah. There were a variety of strange events, seen as miraculous. In my book, Peter hooks up with one, a historically real person named Alexander. In that role, Peter is then able to model how stories can become exaggerated.
Third, the Roman presence in Judea helped create Christianity. That influence is largely ignored today. In my book, Peter is constantly being harassed or affected by the Romans. Their leader, Panthera, is actually thought to be the father of Jesus in anti-Christian literature of the day.
The result then gives the reader a complete view of life in that era, a reality which engendered not only a world religion but which has influenced the lives of every person who has lived since then.
Copies of the book are available through www.halifaxcounty.com and by writing me directly at www.williamplazarus.com.
I would really appreciate feedback.
The Last Testament of Simon Peter
Publisher: Halifax County