St. Peter in Jerusalem


#1

The History International channel airs a series called ‘‘The Naked Archaeologist.’’ It features an archaeologist - I forget his name - who specializes in biblical archaeology. Last night the show dealt with the remains of St. Peter. He discussed at length the tradition that he was buried in Rome. He brought up some facts that raise problems:

  1. The skeleton in Rome which is said to be Peter has a head. However, the Church of St. John Lateran claims to have St. Peter’s head.

  2. There is a Franciscan chuch in Jerusalem which has an empty ossuary with the name Simon bar Jonah on it. There is no evidence that it is a fraud. The archaeologist tried to get someone from the Franciscans to talk with him but they first cancelled an appointment he had made and later ducked out the back door to avoid him. It made everything look very suspicious.

The archaeologist is an orthodox Jew who has not shown any animosity toward the Church in any of the shows I’ve seen.

Does anyone know anything about this ossuary?

Gary


#2
  1. The skeleton in Rome which is said to be Peter has a head. However, the Church of St. John Lateran claims to have St. Peter’s head.

I would like to know the answer to this also. I also saw the program and I did not think the archaeologist was all that fair to Catholicism. Also, I believe he forgot to mention that the bones of St. Peter found underneath the Vatican (if they are the bones of St Peter) were wrapped in purple cloth with threads of gold.

Does anyone know the story of the heads at St John Lateran?

God bless, Annem


#3

Actually, now you’ve got me interested. I’ve seen both the tomb in St Peter’s AND San Giovanni when i visited rome. I wasn’t aware that the bones in the tomb contained a skull… did they show it?

The well believed story in Rome by all the locals is that the gold busts of Peter and Paul both contain the skulls of their respective personages inside their casting.


#4

Diagram of St. Peter’s skeleton (or what’s left of it):No head, or rather just fragments. saintpetersbasilica.org/Necropolis/JW/TheBonesofStPeter-10.htm#fig13


#5

I resurrected an older thread when I saw the commercials. The whole thing centers on assuming that the Simon bar Jonah was in fact Simon Peter. I find it strange that he is referred to as either Peter or Cephas in scripture, but this ossuary has no mention of the name Peter at all.

To me, finding a 1st century ossuary with Simon bar Jonah on it is about as exciting as finding an 17th century tombstone on it with the name John Smith. It could be THE John Smith, or it could be any dozens of the John Smith’s who lived at the time of THE John Smith.

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=3499279#post3499279


#6

Even more troubling, I’ve read that the bones claimed to be St. Peter’s in Rome are actually a mix of male, female, and animal bones. Which is not to say that some of them might not have been the saint’s, but obviously it makes many folks suspect a fraud, either in the early centuries of the Church or more recently when the bones were allegedly found.

I will try to dig up the link and add it to this post.

EDIT: This isn’t the original article I read, but it mentions the controversy. This guy goes further, and while he acknowledges the mix of bones in the usual spot, and does not believe that the purple-and-gold-wrapped bones in a different spot are Peter’s either, he does believe that at least some relics of the saint remain at the site.

hissheep.org/catholic/the_bones_of_peter.html

Usagi


#7

I wasn’t aware of the skeleton being wrapped in purple and gold but that raises another question: In 60-65 AD, where did the Church get the cloth? At the time it was poor and suffering great persecution. If I remember right, there were laws which prohibited just anyone from buying purple cloth. Might that have been added at a later date?

I don’t think that the ossuary is a major problem. It may have been moved to Jerusalem after Peter’s bones were removed and placed in the current tomb, which may be when the purple cloth was put on him.

I wish that the priests at the church in Jerusalem had handled the situation better. It really made them look like they were trying to duck the issue. It didn’t help to have that guy on the show saying that faith was more important than facts as if true faith can be based on a lie.

Gary


#8

I suppose you’ve read John E. Walsh’s The Bones of St. Peter?

Those bones were found in the Tomb of St. Peter, yes. Though what is odd, is that what is believed to be the bones of St. Peter (the ones wrapped in purple and gold cloth) rests not in the Tomb underground, but in a (marble slab-lined) cavity in a wall of his shrine that is covered with graffiti left by the Early Christians.

Some eventually believed it to be a precautionary measure by the Christians of Rome should anyone come and defile St. Peter’s grave. When there is a major danger, St. Peter’s bones were dug up and placed in the cavity, and when the danger passed they were replaced back in the tomb; though ever since Constantine, the bones remained in the cavity since for it might have been thought prudent to leave them there (after all, Constantine was not the first emperor to grant peace to Christians; some tried to do so yet after their deaths, their descendants usually restate the persecution).


#9

Yes, that cloth might have been of a later date.

Peter might have been interred on his Tomb (which actually is a simple hole beneath the ground lined with slabs taken from the graves of others), then after his body had decomposed, his bones were then collected and wrapped in that cloth. During times of great danger, just as I mentioned, Peter’s bones might have been dug up (perhaps recognizable from the rest of the bones due to the purple cloth) and put in the cavity in the wall should anyone come and defile or destroy the grave. At least the bones would be safe and hidden somewhere.


#10

It’s been a while since I did any reading on this topic. Was an ossuary found at the Rome site? What I’m thinking is that the ossuary in Jerusalem could have housed his bones originally and then taken to Jerusalem when his bones were taken out. Even that seems odd since the inscription on the Jerusalem ossuary was in Aramaic, not Latin or Greek like you might expect in Rome.

One point of confusion on the show was whether or not the skeleton had a head. If the skeleton is genuine and the claims of St. John Lateran Church are true, the skeleton should be headless.

Unless the skull at SJLC was from when he was younger :smiley:

Gary


#11

Erm, no.

The first set of bones (the one that is actually a mix of animal and human; that is, two middle-aged males and an elderly female) was found inside the earthen tomb placed within an inverted v-shaped cavity on the foundation of the wall of the Shrine.

The grave of St. Peter:

http://www.saintpetersbasilica.org/Necropolis/JW/pics/Walsh-p15.jpg

These bones lacked a skull, so the excavators immediately jumped at this (and the bone’s presence in the Tomb) as evidence that it was Peter’s bones. Though obviously they were mistaken.

The second set were found lying inside the cavity, again without an ossuary. Those bones were found here:

http://www.saintpetersbasilica.org/Necropolis/JW/pics/Walsh-p23.jpg

http://www.saintpetersbasilica.org/Necropolis/JW/pics/Walsh-p27A.jpg

Trivia:

The bones in the Graffiti wall were identified as that of Peter’s due to a graffiti scratched by someone on the brick wall inside the Cavity (perhaps sometime before it was plastered over).


#12

**An even closer analogy might be, if the mortal remains of Pocahontas (which AFAIK are buried in England) were claimed to be buried in the USA. Or if there were two heads of Pocahontas, there would be an analogy with the multiple heads of the Baptist. :slight_smile: **


#13

Somebody, at some point, thought that the ossuary once held the bones of Peter because it was placed in a church. If the answer is as obvious as that, why would the priests at the church who have it be so reluctant to talk about it? The problem is that there are a lot of possible explanations but nothing provable.

As far as why Simon rather than Cephas (they wouldn’t have used Petros since the inscription was in Aramaic), maybe the inscription was done by his family who might very well have still called him Simon. Again, a lot of speculation, few facts.

Gary


#14

Another possibility is that the inscription, “Simon bar Jonah”, on the headstone or tomb could have easily been done with Peter’s consent or knowledge, while he was still alive, in Jerusalem. Many people do have their gravestones made before their death. I do not know if this was done during the 1st century, however. I would imagine that it was. Maybe someone else could answer this for us.

This whole controversy can not be used to prove that Peter was never in Rome, thus he could not be the first Pope. — The letters and writings of the Early Church Fathers and other writers are far too numerous and consistent in claiming that Peter was & is who the Church says he was & is, and that he was indeed martyred in Rome.


#15

The inscription was on an ossuary which is like a coffin made out of stone. They were placed in niches in a burial cave during the period of the second temple.

I don’t know about buying an ossuary in advance but we know that Nicodemus had a tomb which he had purchased in advance and which Jesus was buried in. However, Nicodemus was a rich man and Peter was a relatively poor fisherman.

This whole controversy can not be used to prove that Peter was never in Rome, thus he could not be the first Pope. — The letters and writings of the Early Church Fathers and other writers are far too numerous and consistent in claiming that Peter was & is who the Church says he was & is, and that he was indeed martyred in Rome.

I believe that the evidence for St. Peter being in Rome at the time of his death and for his having been the first pope is overwhealming and definitely not affected by the Jerusalem ossuary. It is, however, a matter that must be dealt with since someone looking to knock down the Church is going to try to claim that it is proof that Peter was never in Rome.

Gary


#16

Before we jump to the conclusion that the ossuary is indeed Peter’s, we’ll have to answer the following:

-Why would Peter’s ossuary be located in Jerusalem? Wasn’t his home somewhere in Galilee (like Capernaum, for example) and wouldn’t you expect that his family tomb is there?

-How many 'Shimon bar-Yonah’s are there at that time anyway? Is the evidence that this IS Simon Cephas sufficient 'they supposedly found Christian symbols on his ossuary)?

-In Jewish burial customs, once a dead person’s body had decomposed, the remaining bones are usually collected and put in the ossuary. Were there any bones found in the ossuary?

-We have a lot of testimony among Church fathers that Peter went to Rome. Plus we have a lot of reference that Christians believed the place in Rome to be that of Peter (take for example the aforementioned Graffiti Wall).

Julian the Apostate, in his Against the Galileans implies that the graves of Peter and Paul (in Rome) were already being venerated by Christians when John wrote his Gospel (A.D. 90-100):

At any rate, neither Paul nor Matthew nor Luke nor Mark ventured to call Jesus God. But the worthy John, since he perceived that a great number of the people in many of the towns of Greece and Italy had already been infected by this disease, and because he heard, I suppose, that even the tombs of Peter and Paul were being worshipped-secretly, it is true, but still he did hear this-he, I say, was the first to venture to call Jesus God…

Eusebius says in his Ecclesiastical History, chapter 25:

…Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.

It is confirmed likewise by Gaius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid:

“But I can show the ‘trophies’ (tropaion) of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the ‘trophies’ of those who laid the foundations of this church.”

And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (active 170-?), in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time.” I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed…


#17

The problem with this discussion is that we are short on evidence but long on speculation. For one thing, I’m assuming the ossuary is genuine. It might not be. One of the reasons I started this thread is to take a better look at it. It seems to me that, once it becomes more widely known that this thing exists, we’re going to get challenges to our beliefs and we need to be prepared (any “Torchwood” fans out there?).

-Why would Peter’s ossuary be located in Jerusalem? Wasn’t his home somewhere in Galilee (like Capernaum, for example) and wouldn’t you expect that his family tomb is there?

It is possible that the ossuary was used in Rome and then brought to Jerusalem after his bones were removed and buried at the Vatican. Then the empty ossuary was brought to Jerusalem where it eventually came to be housed at the church.

-How many 'Shimon bar-Yonah’s are there at that time anyway? Is the evidence that this IS Simon Cephas sufficient 'they supposedly found Christian symbols on his ossuary)?

It’s possible that this is a different Simon bar Jonah but, unless there was good reason to believe that the ossuary was genuine, why would it be housed in a church. By the time that church was built, they knew that Peter’s bones were in Rome. There must have been some reason they gave it special honor.

-In Jewish burial customs, once a dead person’s body had decomposed, the remaining bones are usually collected and put in the ossuary. Were there any bones found in the ossuary?

No, it was empty. I’m not arguing that Peter’s bones are not in Rome. I believe they are. Therefore they couldn’t be in the ossuary as well.

-We have a lot of testimony among Church fathers that Peter went to Rome. Plus we have a lot of reference that Christians believed the place in Rome to be that of Peter (take for example the aforementioned Graffiti Wall).

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that, if he was really placed in this ossuary at some point, that it couldn’t have been taken to Jerusalem after Peter was removed.

Gary


#18

It’s been approximately two years! Still, I hope I’m not late.
Gary, if you’re still around, this discussion really is something.

As far as I know, the ossuary was found at the Church of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives, which commemorates the event where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), or in earlier times, where Jesus agonized. There was a chapel dating from the Byzantine period, built around the 7th century, but we have no record of the dedication or the function of the monastery (built probably around the 4th century) to which the chapel probably belonged. After its destruction around the 8th century, the site was abandoned and forgotten. Around the Crusader era a small chapel was built on the site, but after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, this church also fell into ruin and in the early 16th century a mosque was built from the remains of the earlier church, although the exact use is disputed.

The Franciscans were unable to obtain the ruins, so, in 1891 they purchased a small plot of land nearby and built a small chapel there. In 1913 a private home was built in front of the Franciscan chapel. This home eventually passed to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who eventually sold it to a Portuguese woman. In 1953 during construction of a boundary wall for this home, workers unearthed ancient tombs. The site was thoroughly excavated and the current church built between 1953-1955 over the ruins of the Byzantine chapel.

http://img144.imageshack.us/img144/4645/simonbarzilla1.jpg
The ossuary in question, found in a chamber (loc. 79) in the Monogram Tomb (named after another ossuary with the Chi-Rho inscribed on it in charcoal) which was created to be a repository for ossuaries.

What it was around the time of Jesus is a graveyard, first used around the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-1200 BC) that later became the largest necropolis of the Roman period found thus far in Jerusalem.

The earlier Second Temple era tombs (c. 100 BC-135 AD) were of the kokhim style, while the Byzantine era section was composed of tombs with arcosolia (shelves cut back into the wall, often with arches, on which the body of the deceased was placed) from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. So, it’s not really unusual that you would find an ossuary there - in fact, loads of ossuaries were discovered! Here are views of some of the graves located on the site:

http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/sbf/escurs/Ger/13tomba3DF.jpg

http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/sbf/escurs/Ger/13tomba2DF.jpg

The ossuary we are talking about was not housed in the church itself, but is just found in a repository dating from the early centuries AD which only happened to have another ossuary with the Chi-rho written over it. For me, that, and the presence of names such as ‘Miriam’ or ‘Martha’, isn’t really enough to prove that that area was a Christian site; it could be that the owner of that particular Chi-Rho ossuary was a Christian (there are even doubts that the chi-rho is used in the Christian sense here; the XP monogram is also attested as a mere abbreviation for ‘sealed’), but it’s hard to say whether the other ‘residents’ were also believers.

If it is really St. Peter’s ossuary, the question then becomes: why would the Christians have forgotten about it, given their fondness to venerate the burial sites and relics of their martyrs. Sure, a church was constructed in the area, but it does not have anything to do with Peter - in fact, the ossuary only came to light in the excavations that were carried out in the area around the 1950’s!

Interestingly enough, there is a theory that the name recorded on the ossuary might not be Shimon bar-Yonah, but rather Shimon bar-Zilai.

(PS: I just found another thread which talked about this very same thing :))


#19

I posted this link once before. It is not St. Peter in the Jerusalem ossuary. This is just more bad scholarship on the part of the naked archeologist, like the so called Jesus ossuary. His credibility is zero, and I doubt the franciscans would want to be on camera with him.


#20

This actually existed long before Simcha Jacobovici used it on his show - perhaps even dating to around the time Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti published his finds in the 1950’s, but we do have him (and some anti-Catholics who are eager to take this as proof that Peter was never in Rome, thus disproving in their minds the Papacy) to thank for bringing this up to light. Let’s just hope that more competent and more wise people will thus tackle the Dominus Flevit ossuaries and necropolis. :slight_smile:


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