Archeological Discoveries In The Holy Land Lead Us To Jesus’ Unusual Circle Of Friends

PART 2 of ‘Archeological Discoveries In The Holy Land Lead Us To Jesus’ Unusual Circle Of Friends ‘ 

Val Wineyard, author of “ Mary, Jesus and the Charismatic Priest: Faith Legend and Logic in Languedoc.” 

Résumé of Part 1.

The archeological discoveries at Migdal and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee reinforce the Bible stories and clarify for us that Jesus, his disciples and his friends all lived together in that area for the three years of his ministry.  One of these friends was the Roman soldier, Petronius. PART 1


Jesus did much healing at Capernaum, and his reputation as a healer grew rapidly – he was often mobbed.  That’s one of the reasons he appointed the disciples there, especially John and James, the sons of Zebedee, Philip from Bethsaida, and Andrew and Peter, to help him in his mission, to spread the message he had sensed at his baptism and sensed during his 40 days in the desert, and also to act as bodyguards for him.  On one occasion the crowds were so great Jesus left them on the shore and preached from a boat out on the water.

            Capernaum was situated not far from the great Roman road between Damascus and Cesarea Maritima (the home of Pontius Pilate.)  The road was called the Via Maris and a milestone still exists.  Near the milestone was a toll gate.  Here worked, collecting tolls and other taxes for the Romans, Matthew, sometimes called Levi, yes, Matthew who became a disciple of Jesus.  They were friends.  There’s a story in the Bible that Matthew helped the disciples as regards paying their taxes.  Sometimes the hypocritcally-pious Pharisees were shocked that Jesus was drinking and merry-making with Matthew and his friends in the evenings.  “I don’t care for respectable folk!” Jesus declared when harrassed. (Note  1)

            This was one of the earliest hints that the Pharisees would one day want him dead.  The Gospel of John is full of complicated theological debates in which they tried to catch him out.  The Pharisees seemed particularly annoyed that he cured people on the Sabbath – Jesus retorted that he did God’s work any day.  He was perceived, and was, a natural rebel. 

            One day (Luke 7:1-10) Petronius the centurian approached Jesus (just after the wedding at Cana, according to St. John) and asked for help in curing a faithful servant of whom he had grown fond, that he referred to as a boy; some people think it was his son.  The disciples reminded Jesus (they were at the wedding too then) that Petronius had built, or contributed to the building of, the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus preached.  Petronius seemed fond of the Jewish people; maybe he was not strictly Roman by birth, for many soldiers, after a certain number of years of service, could get Roman citizenship and adopt a Roman name.

            Then followed a strange conversation.  Jesus offered to go to Petronius’s house, over in the Roman quarter, but Petronius said there was no need, Jesus’s word was good enough for him.  Jesus immediately turned this to good effect, pointing out the strength of Petronius’s faith to the people aroundabout. 

            The truth of it was, Jesus and Petronius repected each other, not to mention the limitations the Jews put on the Jews as regards mixing with the Romans.  Hence we can assume Jesus was as happy to mix with the Romans as with the tax-collectors, that Petronius understood him, and that the two were friends and supported each other.

Peter’s House

Jesus lived or lodged at Peter’s house.  The early Christians believed in sharing goods in common.  They had different ideas of the value of homes, property, and hospitality than we have.  “If my brother was my brother he was always welcome in my house” was the attitude.  After he left Nazareth Jesus continually stayed at other people’s houses and ate with them, for he was good company and people were happy to feed him.  But if he set off on his travels, he always refused food that was offered him for his journey (Note 2)  He accepted hospitality – but not charity.   


            Peter’s house was quite big with many rooms and outhouses and a large courtyard where the crowds gathered, waiting for Jesus to cure them.  Jesus cured, or it’s said, brought back to life, the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, the “leader” in the synagogue – another friendship that protected Jesus against the Pharisees.  On another occasion the people surrounding Jesus were so many that a desperate parent couldn’t reach him; a hole was made in the roof and the sick person lowered on a blanket – and Jesus cured him.  (You will be pleased to hear that the roof was timbers over which had been laid reeds – not too difficult to mend!) 

            Did Mary Magdalene live there with Jesus?  I’m sure she did, along with other women.  It says in St Luke that a group of women supported Jesus of their substance.  (Note 3)  I’m sure they were with Jesus and the disciples, not only preparing food for them and looking after their creature comforts, but also providing financial support.  So a lot of people lived and came and went in Peter’s house.  It is mentioned in the Bible and also in 4th and 6th century writings by pilgrims.  However. the village was damaged by an earthquake in 746 and some houses were then built in what is now the area of the Greek Orthodox Church.  After that there was little historical mention of Capernaum except for a 13th century traveller who described only the huts of seven poor fishermen.

            Archeologically, the site was discovered in 1838; the ruins of a synagogue, the 4th century one, were found, and in 1846 the site was purchased by the Franciscans.  They owned the Biblical site of Capernaum, the Greeks owned the third of the town to the East.  By 1968 the

remains of the white synagogue and also, to the south of it, an Octagonal Christian church, (as opposed to a synagogue) called the rotunda, were uncovered. 

            But they were looking for Peter’s house.  There’s no doubt Peter’s house existed – but where?  The archeologists searched diligently, uncovering pavements and streets from the first century between the synagogue and the rotunda.  Finally, on the principle that holy places were often built on top of ruined holy places the archeologists excavated UNDER the rotunda – and directly under the centre of it was a large room that had been used as a place of worship since around 80AD, for there were no traces of domestic activity in this room.  However, Herodian coins, lamps and fish hooks implied the house was occupied since the first century and by people involved in fishing.  (Note 4)

            The walls had been replastered at least three times, the first coating dated early first century, and on the walls were “scores of graffiti” in Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, as well as crosses and an image of a boat.  The house had become an early church.  A pilgrim called  Egeria of Aetheria, wrote around 382AD, “the house of the chief of the apostles has been turned into a church.” 

            It was Peter’s house – where Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciples had lived. 

            At that time, first century, large synagogues were rare – only seven in the area have been identified.  The people made their own “synagogues” using large rooms in private homes as meeting places.  Jesus and his disciples had started their own “church” in Peter’s house, that continued as a church after the crucifixion.       

So you can see how all this archeological research confirms my ideas of the everyday life of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, with their apostles and friends;  John, James, Peter, Andrew, Philip from Bethsaida, Matthew, Jairus, Herod Philip and Petronius.  They moved around, yes, but all the towns concerned, Sepphoris (where lived Jesus’s grandparents), Nazareth where he was born, Migdal where Mary Magdalene came from, Cana where the wedding was, and Capernaum, the centre of Jesus’s operations, were only a few miles from each other, a hard hour’s walking, or a ride by horseback, by donkey, by camel, or in a cart.  


The Mount of Beatitudes was, and is, visible from Capernaum.

            They were educated middle-class or business people – they did not toil like poor peasants, along the dusty roads.  If anything, they were rich.  Peter was born in Bethsaida; he and Andrew had another house there, possibly the recently-excavated “Fisherman’s House.”(Note5)  Jesus liked Bethsaida, which was out of Herod Antipas’s territory, and was friendly with Herod’s brother Phillip, who controlled the land on the other side of the Sea of Galillee.  The village of Bethsaida is now situated some two miles inland; the shore moved during an earthquake and the Sea of Galilee silted up.  It was probably marshy 2,000 years ago, which explains the story in the Bible about Jesus walking on the water.

            And for Jesus the flagstoned highway of the Roman Via Maris (“sea road”) was just yards away if he wanted rapid travel, and his friend Matthew controlled the toll-gate between the territory of Herod Antipas, Jesus’ enemy, and Herod Philip his friend . . . .

The time came when Jesus was crucified . . . .

Centurians and other Roman soldiers appear in the Gospels during the crucifixion story, but are not named.  However, Petronius is named in the Gospel of St. Peter.  (Note 6)  This gospel is known as a “passion narrative” that is, one of a crop of documents that appeared around 50AD describing the Crucifixion, still known as “the passion of Christ” in the Roman Church.  Peter wrote other things that appeared among the Gnostic Gospels of Nag Hammedi, but the only copy we have of his Gospel is a Greek one, copied by Cerinthus, found in 1886 at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, in the tomb of a monk. 

            Although Christians like to think the gospels were “the word of God” my editorial eye sees them as real pieces of emotional writing; people of the day would have read the “passion”

narratives as you or I might read a novel.  There’s no doubt intense interest in Jesus continued after his (apparent) death and disappearance, and no doubt that any writer worth his salt, writing in the last first, second and third centuries, would have consulted his available sources and put together his own idea of truth and events, just as I am doing with you today. Later gospels looked at the earlier ones and took things from them, when they composed and edited their own stories.

            Experts on early Christian documents compare them all, to see who took what from whom.  The Gospel of Peter shows no knowledge of the material distinctive to the four gospels of the New Testament.  This implies the Gospel of Peter is independent, written not long after the Crucifixion.  (Note 7)   The gospel writers would have used the Gospel of Peter as a reference.  Because they were keen to link events to the ancient prophecies and prove Jesus was the messiah, a spiritual and political leader that would save Judea from the Romans, these writers added to Peter’s story.

            The Gospel of Peter minimised Jesus’s sufferings, implying he felt no pain because he was somehow divine. It reflected the “heresy” that Christ’s body was not human but of Celestial substance, but is mainly interesting in that it absolves Pilate from responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus, putting Pilate well on the way to the canonisation which he was to attain in the Coptic church.  (Note 8)

            The Coptic church was founded by St. Mark, who died in 67AD, around 50AD, so the fact that Pontius Pilate, and his wife Claudia Procula, were canonised because they tried to help Jesus, has a ring of truth, however extraordinary, about it.  The young man Mark was around when the Crucifixion and events after it were taking place.

            Petronius is mentioned in the Gospel of St. Peter, in fact the most obvious difference between this and the other gospels is the name of Petronius. (Note 9)  The later gospels might have simply called Petronius “the centurian” to make him anomynous and protect his name, as was done with many other characters.

So – what happened at the crucifixion?  

Click here for Part 3: 


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1  Matthew, 9, 9 -12  Luke 5, 27 – 32

2  Jesus and his World

3 Luke 8, 1 – 3

4  Jesus and his World

5  Jesus and his World 

7  Ron Cameron, in his book The Other Gospels.

8  F.F.Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New testament, p 93.

9  Meanwhile, Koester in Ancient Christian Gospels p240, tell us that the story of Jesus being raised from the tomb, entire in the Gospel of Peter, was used in different ways in Mark and Matthew.  It looks therefore, that the Gospel of Peter WAS part of Q, the common source for the later Gospel writers.  

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