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Historical Precedents: Saint Peter

Who was Saint Peter?

In addition to Simon of Cyrene, another Simon – known as Simon Bar Jonah or Saint Peter – is mentioned in the Bible. According to the New Testament, this Simon was amongst the twelve discpiles of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, he is depicted as a fisherman who decides to follow Jesus after his brother Andrew comes to him saying, “We have found the Messiah.”

When Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, he is renamed and Jesus says unto him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter [which in Greek means “rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16: 17-18). The fact that Jesus renamed him the “rock” suggests he had special intentions for Peter as one of his disciples.

Indeed, Jesus calls upon Peter in several important instances throughout the New Testament. He is one of three to accompany Jesus when he raises the daughter or Jairus from the dead (Mark 5: 37; Luke 8:51). He is also the one whose boat Christ enters to preach to the people on the shore of Lake Genesareth (Luke 5:3) and the one to whom Jesus calls upon to cross the lake when he walks on water (Matthew 14: 28).

However, during the last supper, Peter is singled out by Jesus as being amongst those who will deny him during his trial. Although Peter rejects this at first, he does fulfill the prophecy. In spite of this Jesus also tells him, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 32), implying that Jesus held a special place for Peter, believing he would be able to support the others after his death.

Peter did in fact carry on Jesus’ teachings. According to the Gospel of Luke, Peter was even able to perform miracles and healings. However, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was later arrested by King Herod and eventually persecuted by the Romans.

Saint Peter’s Tomb

A decade or so after Professor Sukenink found a tomb containing ossuaries with inscriptions linked to Simon of Cyrene, two Italian priests, P.B. Bagatti and J.T. Milik, came across another important archeological discovery. Their findings were published in 1958, in a book called Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevit (in English, The Excavations of Dominus Flevit).

The site of the discovery, Dominus Flevit on Mount Olives, is also the supposed place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. What they found there was a tomb containing an ossuary engraved in Aramaic with the name, “Shimon Bar Yonah,” which translates to “Simon, son of Jonah”.

Scientists and archeologists later confirmed that this bone box did indeed belong to the same Simon, son of Jonah, whom Christ had renamed Peter. The find was important not only because it proved the existence of someone mentioned in the New Testament, but perhaps even more importantly because it located Peter’s death in Jerusalem, and not in Rome, as many Roman Catholics – including the Pope – had come to accept.

The lack of attention to this amazing find is an example of what happens when discoveries, despite the physical evidence, do not align with common beliefs.

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