Peter (WAS: Italian as a "Pure" Language)

Douglas G Kilday acnasvers at
Sun Apr 15 21:40:29 UTC 2001

Steve Long (2 Apr 2001) wrote:

>Just a note.  James Joyce called "thou art Peter and upon this rock..." "a
>pun in the original Aramaic."

Getting linguistic information from novelists is like depending on Indiana
Jones for archaeological data.

>Whatever Joyce meant, there is a question among Biblical scholars which word
>Jesus used.  I see here "Along with petra, petros entered the Hebrew language:
>Petros was the father of a sage of the land of Israel, Rabbi Yose ben
>Petros..."  For a news story discussion, see

This "news story discussion" is about as objective as Rush Limbaugh. The
essay, by one David Bivin, consists primarily of the ham-handed
rationalization of pre-formed religious viewpoints. I'll try to stick to the
linguistic issues. I have no particular religious axe to grind.

Evidently Jesus gave Simon the nickname <Ke:pha:> which is masculine and
presents no problem in Aramaic. In rabbinical Aramaic writings this lexeme,
written <kyp>, has a rather generic sense 'stone, rock' (count-noun) which
may be used for building, cooking, or throwing. This sense might well be
rendered in Greek by <petros> 'piece of rock; stone', which is found in
Maccabees. John is satisfied with this rendering (1:42): <su kle:the:se:i
Ke:pha:s ho herme:neuetai Petros> 'thou shalt be called Cephas, which is
interpreted Stone'. Matthew, however, has the peculiar statement (16:18) <su
ei Petros, kai epi taute:i te:i petra:i oikodome:so: mou te:n ekkle:sia:n>
'thou art Peter, and upon this crag I will construct my assembly'. The
discrepancy between <Petros> and <petra:> results from Greek grammar:
<petra:> is feminine and cannot serve as a man's name. The original Aramaic,
as reconstructed by Fitzmyer, had no discrepancy. Matthew was forced to use
<petra:> because <petros> did not reproduce the sense intended by Jesus. The
result looks like a pun in Greek, but in fact there was no pun intended, in
Aramaic or in Greek.

The reason <ke:pha:> must be rendered by <petra:>, pace John, is that Jesus
based the nickname not on current Aramaic usage, but on Hebrew. The lexeme
<ke:ph> occurs in the OT only in Jeremiah 4:29 <ba:?u: bhe!a:bhiym
w`bhakke:phiym !a:lu:> 'they will enter into the hidden places, and onto the
crags they will climb' and Job 30:6 <ba!`aru:c, n`cha:liym lis^ko:n cho:re:y
!a:pha:r w`khe:phiym> 'in the horror of clefts to dwell, (and in) holes of
the ground and crags'. By using this peculiar word found only in two dismal
contexts, Jesus likens Simon to a place of refuge to which Judaeans can flee
when their autonomous state collapses and things get really rotten. In both
instances the LXX uses <petra:> to translate <ke:ph>. There is no basis for
Bivin's contention that Simon is being compared to Abraham, or that any
connection with <c,u:r> 'stone, rock; divine epithet' is meant. Had this
been intended, Simon's nickname would be something other than <Ke:pha:>, and
there would be no reason for Matthew to employ <petra:>.

>Peter might possibly just been called Peter, as Petra may have already become
>part of the Aramaic language, and this would appear consistent with the naming
>practices in the NT, even nicknames, not being translated.

The appellative <petra:> might well have been borrowed into Aramaic as a
toponym or formant. But the only attestation I can find of this lexeme in
the on-line Jewish Palestinian Aramaic dictionary is <pyt'rws'ylynwn>
'rock-parsley' which is clearly from Late Greek <petroseli:non>. And if
"Peter" had actually been called <Pet'ros'> or whatever in Aramaic, why
would Paul refer to him as <Ke:pha:s> in two of his letters, and why would
John feel that any etymological note was necessary?

As for "Petros" being attested as a Jewish name at Qumran, or a rabbi's
father's name, this is not necessarily from Greek. It could represent the
Latin gentilicium Pe:trus; two of Bivin's citations from Qumran are the
Latin cognomina Magnus and Aquila. Pe:trus has nothing to do with Greek,
being a Latinization of the Etruscan gentilicium Pe:tru (from archaic
Penetru, as the praenomen Ve:l from archaic Venel). The Hispanic form of
Christian Latin seems to have confused Pe:trus with Petrus, as the name has
become Pedro, not *Piedro.


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