Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:34
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.” – Luke 22:60
Read also: Matthew 26:34, 74-75; Mark 14:30, 66-68; Luke 22:34, 60-68; John13:38 and John 18:27
Here is an interesting piece of information that I learned from my rabbi recently while studying the story of the crucifixion. It doesn’t change the story in any way and is a fact that can’t be confirmed with certainty, but it is something fun to think about. However, it does point out again, as we have seen so many times, that we have a hard time understanding some of the sayings of Jesus because we didn’t live in that time period and don’t know the idioms they used or what the original wording might have meant.
All four gospels tell the story of Peter denying Jesus during His arrest and trial. Immediately after the third denial, Peter hears a rooster crow. Was there a rooster in the area where the trial took place in upper Jerusalem that crowed at that moment or was it something else? Or, did we miss something? Let’s take a look.
First of all, according to the Mishna (Baba Kamma vii7) poultry were forbidden in Jerusalem, ”on account of the holy things”, or “on account of the sanctuary”.
“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.”
The fear was because they are such a messy animal, their presence might defile some of the holy items used in the sacrifices that were to be eaten. Could this be possible that it wasn’t a rooster? We’ve all seen and heard the rooster crowing in plays and on the movie programs!
If it wasn’t a rooster, what was it? The answer lies in the division of the night watches during Jesus’ time. The Romans divided each day into three hour blocks and the night blocks were called watches (see also study Bible notes on Matthew 14:25). The first night watch began at 6:00 p.m. and lasted until 9:00 p.m. The second watch ended at midnight, the third at 3:00 a.m., and the 4th at 6:00 a.m. or sunrise. Jesus seems to confirm this when He tells the disciples in an earlier story in Mark 13:35 of these same four divisions:
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. –Mark 13:35
Notice that Jesus call the 3rd watch, “the rooster crows”, and makes a distinction between rooster crowing and dawn.
The signal the Roman divisions used to change the guard for each shift was a trumpet call. The Latin word for trumpet call (the language spoken by the soldiers) is “gullicinium”, which means, “cock-crowing”. At the end of the 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. shifts, the guard change was announced by a Roman “cock-crowing” or blowing of a trumpet. What Peter heard probably wasn’t an actual rooster crowing, but the end of the watch trumpet call! Jesus used that same phrase to describe it.
Although this knowledge doesn’t change the intent or outcome of the Peter story, it is just interesting to see that there are often things from the time period that we may not have understood clearly and therefore get missed in the translation.
About the author:
Bob is the creator of this site and a disciple of Ray Vander Laan. Along with his wife of 50 years, he teaches a Bible study at Christ’s Church in Roswell, NM. He is also an avid hunter and fisher.
most interesting observation, thanks so much for sharing!!
Although this is nearly correct. It wasn’t a Roman who anouces the dawn of a new day it was the Rooster. A priest would blow the shofar at 5am and shout to the people like the Muslims do to call to prayer. Apparently this is recorded in the Talmud. I am going to look for it. Shalom Mark Nolan
It is not really a comment but sort of thirsty for the answer to the word”rooster” because what bothers me is why the hens or cocks roaming around at time of the night.i need to know if it is recorded somewhere in hebrew or greek,
I have been studying the scriptures from a Jewish Roots perspective for almost 40 years. During that time I discovered some amazing gems that helped me “contend for the Faith once delivered to the saints.” Most of this I have done as a “uneducated” plowboy. Then I ran across this site. Wow!! What a help. Wish I had some of this 40 years ago but it is the right time now for a time such as this. My question is how can I get more material or info from you. I see no email contact though I may have missed it. Have you put these lesson in a book form? If not you should!! I know many believe it or not who study mightily but don’t have a computer or want one. They only use scripture and books. Like to have more contact and a way to learn more. I am like a hungry hound dog as my grandmother use to say. I will catch the “bread” before it hits the ground!!
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I have raised game cocks (chickens) for many years. They do a series of crows three times during the night – 12, 3, and just before sunrise. They don’t miss the time by more than 15 – 20 minutes. I always assumed the third crow referred to this schedule. The Romans raised the same game fowl.
Being in the midst of writing a short series of devotionals for Holy Week, using a lovely childrens book that discusses symbols of the Christian faith.
Meditating upon the crowing rooster, while re-reading the Gospel accounts of this story, an interesting “insight” appeared. Peter’s responses to Jesus talk of being abandoned and denied were like what we modern folk might consider “a Rooster crowing.”
I came upon this website while looking for the significance of Roosters/Cocks crowing in ancient times. It adds a different approach to the setting and I am encouraged by both of the new perspectives on this story — and trust there will be meaningful engagement for the folks who will be making use of my devotional exercises next week.
I learnt a lot but want to learn more please help me to understand the bible stories specially about the rooster.
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did you know that a rooster can crow up to 142 decibels, which can be heard up to 60-miles away!? During the time of Christ our Lord and Savior – there was a MIXED bag of people of every part of the world that had chickens – when God says it was a cock crowing i believe it was a rooster.
This only gives further evidence to a theory I have about Jesus, the Bible and the story of Jesus told within. It’s far too much to lay out here (will take a whole book or two), but one must ask why Jesus would use very distinctly Roman verbage, if he was a Jew, speaking to another Jew, in Jerusalem? Makes absolutely no sense. Unless of course the story is misunderstood/misinterpreted and/or altered, which I personally believe it is. Also, this isn’t near the only time in the Bible when phrases or words are believed to mean something else (according to modern popular consensus), when these words and phrases had very distinct and precise meanings in Roman vocabulary (specifically) at the time. And interestingly, these phrases or words change the entire narrative of the story when applied. But again, the few that I can think of off the top of my head, are not Jewish, but very distinctly ,’Roman’. Their use (along with the one in question here) is VERY significant. I sadly feel as if it will be lost on most though as they don’t dare question, or freely and openly seek, an understanding of it all. They sadly only look to reaffirm preconceived or previously learned notions taught to them. As Jesus said, you must seek with the eyes of a child, fresh and brand new, uncorrupted by teachings, by conditioning and training, to see things for what they might truly be. And that’s a VERY hard thing to do. I mean you have to forget everything you ever knew about him to do that. Everything religion ever taught you. Even the very idea that Jesus is God and Savior. Kind of ironic that the very concept of the religion of Christianity may be the biggest hurdle in keeping people from truly seeking, and therefore knowing, who Jesus is.
All 4 Gospel writers use what appears to be the same Greek phrase which translates to “Rooster Crowing”. I am not interested in how many times this happened but rather I wonder what phrase Jesus would have used if he intended to call attention to the trumpeter (a jewish guy with a shofar). regardless of the language Jesus used, the authors record it in Greek. Whatever language Jesus used, were his words to Peter understood as an actual rooster or would they have been understood as the trumpeter?