Simon Peter is a key figure in the New Testament. He was present for many stages of the establishment of the canon. It seems he wrote nothing during his lifetime, but many other Christians wrote about him. How did this fisherman from Galilee come to die a martyr’s death in the capital of the Roman Empire? Let us try to retrace some key episodes of his journey.
Simon of Galilee, fisherman and entrepreneur
It is important to place Simon in his homeland of Galilee. This is where it all begins. What image do we have of Capernaum? I always had a rather romantic vision of this town, which I saw as a small village by the sea. This vision was linked to what was written about the Franciscan excavations at Capernaum. The area of dwellings near the harbor had been excavated, including what was thought to be the house of Peter, and the synagogue a short distance away. But the excavations carried out at the port of Magdala and at Sussita/Hippos, as well as the recent studies on the lake indicate that the village of Capernaum must have included, toward the east, an area that one might consider, somewhat incongruously, as industrial.
Capernaum was at the center of a fishing area, which supplied fish to an area extending for several dozen kilometers and ensured their preservation following the two main techniques of the time: salting and drying. In 1986 a perfectly preserved boat from the first century was found, made of 10 different types of wood. What is becoming increasingly clear, and is also confirmed by Vespasian’s naval victory at Magdala in 69, is that this area was one of intense commercial activity, with numerous boats and that fishermen-entrepreneurs processed and supplied fish. In short, Capernaum was not a large metropolis like Caesarea or Sefforis, but it was neither small nor poor.