St. Peter was born in Bethsaida, on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, an area now in Syria. At the time, it was run by Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great. On the far side of the Jordan River was Galilee, run by Herod Antipas. South of Galilee was Samaria and south of Samaria, on the same side of the river, was Judea. In Judea, Jerusalem was the large city, 57 miles from the Dead Sea and 42 miles to Joppa, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean. Thus, Jerusalem was several days away from any large body of water, and from the source of any fish.
Bethsaida was a fishing village. However, being so far from the population centers (2 days from the coast and two days from Jerusalem) most fish were preserved before being sent out for sale. Fresh fish was very expensive, so the poor people only ate the dried or pickled kind. The closest drying factory was in Capernaum, just over the border into Galilee. But border meant taxes. There were border guards and a tax house right there. From a business point of view, it was a wise choice to move the business the five miles.
It looks like Peter and Andrew had been trained well by their father. The business appears to have been a prosperous one, belying the tradition that these were poor, illiterate men. There was a building in Capernaum known as Peter’s House as far back as the 300-400s. It was larger than many of the other homes. Eventually a church was built over the place. A poverty-stricken man would not have something like that. Peter and Andrew were known to own their own boat. They worked with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who not only had their own boat but also had employees. It does not look like Peter and Andrew were amongst the employees, but, rather, had some kind of a partnership. A business partner has some organizational and management skills. At least one of the four, and more likely all, had these skills. Jesus knew what he was getting when he called them to follow Him.
Peter was born Simon, his father was Jonah and his brother was Andrew. “Andrew” is a Greek name, with no variant in Aramaic, the everyday language of the Jewish people. There was much Hellenic culture in that area and even good, synagogue-going Jews had been acclimated to it. Greek was the common language of trade and finances at the time, much as franca lingua
was used in the Middle Ages. Thus, Peter, his brother, and Philip, who was also from Bethsaida, would have spoken both Aramaic and Greek, and probably read enough Hebrew to understand services at the synagogue. Their use of Greek appears in John xii.20-22 when they had to translate or interpret for some Gentiles. This was before the gift of tongues from the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Peter would have been ideal to send to Rome, since Greek was, at the time, the common language in Rome, too.
Peter was married, although we are not sure what happened to his wife. Matthew and Luke both discuss the fact that Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law. Some say that his wife was dead by then because she is the one who would have served the apostles after the cure if she had been around. Others say that the older woman served out of gratitude and the wife just wasn’t discussed. Clement of Alexandria claims that Peter’s wife was martyred before him as he witnessed. Eusebius, in his Church History,
supports the claim. But St Jerome says Peter had to leave his wife to follow a more worthy path. We may never know the truth in this life.
Despite his habit of putting his foot in his mouth, Peter was well prepared for his role as leader of the Church. His familiarity with Greek culture, which still influenced Rome, and Greek language, which was the common man’s language all around the Mediterranean, led him to be able to communicate with all on his travels. His previous position in business gave him understanding on how to delegate authority and make instant decisions. His quick grasp of a situation, albeit sometimes needing someone to explain things a little more clearly, helped establish footholds of the Church throughout the Mediterranean in the thirty or so years of his apostolate. And his bravery in the face of adversity showed his many converts the way through the persecutions.
Saint Peter, pray for us!