Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Did the Cock Crow Twice?

On the night of His betrayal, the Lord Jesus Christ warned Peter that he would deny Him thrice; and this before the cock crew. Mathew, Luke and John are unanimous in stating that Peter’s three denials would be before the cock crew. However, Mark alone mentions the fact that Peter would deny the Lord thrice before the cock crew twice.

This apparent discrepancy has caused much discussion and, in some sense I should say, rightly so. For it is in searching out such matters of the text of the scriptures with a view to understanding them better that the veracity and truthfulness of the scriptures are brought out.

Firstly, let us state what each of the Gospel writers have to tell us:

Matthew 26:34 – “Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.”

Mark 14:30 – “And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, [even] in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.”

Luke 22:34 – “And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”

John 13:38 – “Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.”

When in Mark’s Gospel we read of “this day, in this night” we must bear in mind that for the Jews, their day began at sunset. Thus for them the day had began and yes, it was also night as it was after sunset. And the Lord therefore tells Peter that, that day – that very night he would deny Him thrice.

Alfred Edersheim in his book ‘The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah’ tells us in a footnote,
“This crowing of the cock has given rise to a curious controversy, since, according to Rabbinic law, it was forbidden to keep fowls in Jerusalem, on account of possible Levitical defilements through them (Baba K. Vii.7). ..Reland argues that, even if that ordinance was really in force at the time of Christ (of which there is grave doubt), Peter might have heard the cock crow from Fort Antonia, occupied by the Romans, or else that it might have reached thus far in the still night air from outside the walls of Jerusalem. But there is more than doubt as to the existence of this ordinance at the time. There is repeated mention of the ‘cock-crow’ in connection with the Temple-watches, and if the expression be regarded as not literal, but simply a designation of time, we have ...a story in which a cock caused the death of a child at Jerusalem, proving that fowls must have been kept there.” [Edersheim, A. (1959). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol 2 pg 537) Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]

Although Edersheim expresses doubt that such a Rabbinical law as he mentions was really in force, it seems rather that such a law as interpreted by the Rabbis themselves would not have precluded the idea of fowls being present in Jerusalem.

For instance consider the following prohibitions:

In Tractate Baba Kamma (The First Gate - chapter 7) it says
“Ten special regulations were applied to Jerusalem: That a house sold there should not be liable to become irredeemable;  that it should never bring a heifer whose neck is broken;  that it could never be made a condemned city;  that its houses would not become defiled through leprosy;  that neither beams nor balconies should be allowed to project there; that no dunghills should be made there; that no kilns should be kept there; that neither gardens nor orchards should be cultivated there, with the exception, however, of the garden of roses  which existed from the days of the former prophets;  that no fowls should be reared there, and that no dead person should be kept there over night.” And the reason given for such a prohibition is stated in the following words “‘That no fowls be bred there' on account of the sacrifices.”

Mishna 7 is more explicit when it states
No cocks or hens must be raised in Jerusalem (even by laymen), because of the voluntary offerings (the meat of which may be eaten in any part of the city, and as the habit of the named fowls is to peck with their beaks in the rubbish, they may peck into a dead reptile and then peck in the meat of the offerings). In all other parts of Palestine priests only must not raise them, as they use leave-offerings for their meals, and they must be very careful about cleanliness.”

From the above quotations it is clear that there only was a prohibition to ‘rear’ or ‘raise’ fowls, including hens and/or cocks in Jerusalem. In all other parts of Palestine only the priests were forbidden from ‘raising’ or ‘rearing’ such fowls.

However, the Gemara on the above mentioned (Mishna 7) clarifies and expounds on this ‘raising’ and/or ‘rearing’ stating – 
The rabbis taught: "No tender cattle must be raised in Palestine but in its forests; in Syria, however, even in the inhabited places, and, of course, in all other places." Another Boraitha states: No tender cattle must be raised in Palestine but in the deserts of Judea, and in those of the village of Achu; and although no tender cattle must be raised, still large cattle may, for no restrictions are made for the community unless most of the people can observe them. Tender cattle may, but large cattle may not be imported from other countries. And although they must not be raised, still they may be kept during the thirty days immediately preceding a feast day, or the celebration of the wedding of one's children. But this shall not be construed to mean that they may be kept for thirty days, and that if some cattle were bought less than thirty days before the feast day that one may continue keeping them after the feast day until the expiration of the thirty days, but that as soon as the feast day is over he must not keep them any longer. The butcher, however, may buy and slaughter them at once, or keep them (until the market day), provided that the cattle he bought last shall not be kept after the market-day to complete the thirty days.”

From the above it is not altogether improbable that fowls, along with ‘cattle’ may be kept during the thirty days immediately preceding a feast day. And according to the Gospel accounts, the night of the Lord’s betrayal and denial was the feast of the Passover and (the days) of unleavened bread (MK 14:1).

As further proof that such an allowance was indeed made, consider the following from the Gemara on the above mentioned Mishna.
“The disciples once questioned R. Gamaliel, whether it was permitted to raise tender cattle, and he answered: "Yea." But have we not learned in our Mishna that it is not? It must be said, therefore, that they questioned him whether it was permitted to keep them, and he answered them: "Yea, provided they are kept locked in the house, so that they shall not go out and pasture with the flock."

This Gamaliel is probably the same Gamaliel mentioned in the NT, at whose ‘feet’ Saul of Tarsus was trained. According to Rabbi Gamaliel it was allowable for them to ‘keep’, if not ‘raise’ tender cattle (by which of course is meant sheep and goats used for sacrifices), provided they were kept locked in the house and not allowed outside. It therefore seems hardly unlikely that fowls too (including doves and pigeons), such as hens and cocks were allowed to be ‘kept’ indoors.

As for Edersheim’s comment about temple watchings being regulated by the cock crowing, consider the following –
[Yoma 1:8] “Every day they take up the ashes from the altar at the cock’s crow or near it, whether before or after it. At the Day of Atonement from midnight, and on festivals at the end of the first watch [they do so].  And never did the cock crow before the courtyard was filled with masses of Israelites. [Neusner, J. (1988). The Mishnah : A new translation (266). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.]

[Sukkah 5:4h] “[When] the cock crowed, they sounded a sustained, a quavering, and a sustained note on the shofar” (shofar A ram’s horn, blown on set occasions in Temple and synagogue worship)  [Neusner, J. (1988). The Mishnah : A new translation (289). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.]

“At cockcrow, trumpet signals ended the nightly feast of lights in the court of women.” [Theological dictionary of the New Testament Vol 7 pg 83]

Obviously, the crowing of the cock was a familiar sound heard from within the temple precincts in Jerusalem! Besides, for the Romans and the Greeks the crowing of the cock was a not only most familiar but for the most part regulated their daily life activities. Consider the following –
“Both the Greeks and Romans were early risers. They went to sleep at sundown, but woke up with the first crow of the cock. In late autumn and winter this gave some hours to sunrise, 3 to 4 in Rome. These so-called lucubrations (from the lamp, lucubrum, which has died out) are the main period of intellectual activity.  In order to avoid pettiness, Plato in his Laws is not prepared to limit the hours of sleep, but he regards it as scandalous if the master or mistress of the house sleeps the whole night (ὅλην διατελεῖν νύκτα εὕδοντα) and has to be wakened by slaves. καθεύδων γὰρ οὐδεὶς οὐδενὸς ἄξιος, οὐδὲν μᾶλλον τοῦ μὴ ζῶντος. Those who really wish to live and to do intellectual work must be awake as long as possible (Lege. [Plato, of Athens] VII, 807e ff.). Among his possessions Plato had an alarm-clock which he had had made. [Theological dictionary of the New Testament Vol 3 pgs 431-432]

In Rome, the cock crowing marked the beginning of the day. At least this was so according to Libanius, of Antioch (AD 314–393), teacher of Julian, one of the 4th century Sophists  – “On the New Year Feast in Rome at cock-crow houses were adorned.” [Theological dictionary of the New Testament Vol 7 pg19] Even if it be argued that such a custom did not obtain during the time of Christ, the quotation at least attests to the fact that the crowing of the cock was a familiar sound among Romans.

The Greek word in the NT that has been translated cockcrowing (Mk.13:35) is alektorophonia  (ἀλεκτοροφωνία,) from alektor which means a ‘cock’ and phone which means a ‘sound’.

W.E.Vine notes
“There were two “cockcrowings,” one after midnight, the other before dawn. In these watches the Jews followed the Roman method of dividing the night. The first “cock-crowing” was at the third watch of the night. That is the one mentioned in Mark 13:35. Mark mentions both; see 14:30. The latter, the second, is that referred to in the other Gospels and is mentioned especially as “the cock-crowing.” [Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:107-108). Nashville: T. Nelson.]

Although some seem to doubt the reference to any such ‘time divisions’, it is evident that the Romans divided their night watches into 4 sections. Mk. 13:35 seems to indicate just such a division – “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:”

The cockcrowing was evidently anywhere between midnight to 3.00 am, which was the 3rd watch of the night according to Roman timing.

Betz says that
“in Palestine the cock usually crows just before dawn, i.e., from soon after midnight to about 2.30 a.m., the third watch from midnight to 3 a.m. is called, ἀλεκτοροφωνία “the time of the crowing of the cock” (קְרִיאַת הַגֶּבֶר) [Theological dictionary of the New Testament Vol 9 pg 303]

We know that Mark was much influenced by the apostle Peter, who obviously would have passed on these delicate and accurate details of his denials of the Lord. And we have them preserved for us just as Mark wrote them. Matthew, Luke and John only give us the fact that Peter denied the Lord 3 times before the breaking of day, ie. Before the ‘cock crew’. Mark alone, through Peter, records for us the details of the second crowing of the cock. 

In conclusion, we may say that there were indeed two crowing of the cock when Peter denied the Lord. The first one probably around midnight or a little before and the second immediately after Peter denied the Lord the 3rd time, anytime between 2.00 and 3.00 am. Once again the scriptures prove to be accurate and without errors.