Bible Review 20:1, February 2004

Peter in Rome

Every year millions of Christian pilgrims converge on the Vatican, the heart of Catholic Christendom, and its vast basilica bearing the apostle Peter’s name. The church, visitors are told, marks the site of Peter’s tomb. According to long-standing tradition, Peter was martyred in Rome during Emperor Nero’s persecutions of the Christians in the mid-60s C.E. But while Peter, the “rock” on which Jesus founded his church, will forever be linked with Rome, and Rome with Peter, we have no clues as to how or when he came there, and the evidence, both archaeological and textual, of his time in Rome is thin—dating back to the second century C.E. but no earlier.

The Book of Acts tells us Peter left Jerusalem in about 43 C.E., after Herod Agrippa I put him in jail and an angel helped him escape (Acts 12:3–19). Our first clue as to where Peter went comes from Paul, who mentions in his Letter to the Galatians (2:11–21) that Peter traveled to Antioch. Paul does not describe Peter’s going to Rome, however, and when Paul writes to the church in Rome in about 57/58 C.E. and greets a long list of members, Peter’s name is not among them.

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