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The rooster that makes us weep

Roosters crow before dawn to mark their territory and attract hens.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz 11 DE FEBRERO DE 2024 15:00 h
Photo : [link]PhotographyCourse[/link], Unsplash CC0.

Jesus said to his impetuous disciple Peter: “Truly I tell you …, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34).

However, Mark writes: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times” (Mark 14:30). Is this a contradiction, as is claimed by some sceptics? By no means.

They are just two different ways of saying the same thing. What Jesus was saying was that before dawn, Peter would deny him three times.

The fact that each of the gospel writers expresses this in his own way actually reinforces the veracity of the texts.

The New Testament writings are astonishingly sincere. If these texts had been made up by the early Christians, they would never have included this story of Peter’s triple denial.

It might well even have been the apostle himself who made this story public in his evangelistic sermons. If so, it was because Peter told this story in order to draw attention to the extraordinary mercy that Jesus shows towards a repentant sinner.

Both the Jews and the Romans divided the night into four vigils. The first, from 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm; the second from 9.00 pm to 12.00 midnight; the third from 12.00 midnight to 03.00 am; and the fourth from 03.00 am to 06.00 am.

This final vigil was actually the darkest in the life of this impulsive apostle.

When a servant girl of the high priest said to him, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67), he denied it categorically, saying that he didn’t even know him. Immediately the rooster crowed.

When the girl insisted, Peter denied it a second time. Finally, the others assembled in the courtyard accused him again because his Galilean accent gave him away. The Hebrew intonation that characterised the way Galileans spoke was despised by Judeans, to the point where Galileans were prevented from pronouncing the traditional blessing in the synagogue.

When Peter was being accused by that group of people, he lost control and started cursing and swearing that he didn’t know Jesus. Meanwhile, in the distance a rooster was heard crowing again, which refreshed Peter’s memory and caused him to burst into bitter tears.

Why do roosters crow before dawn? Needless to say, they don’t do it to wake up human beings, but to demarcate their territory and attract hens.

Scientists have discovered that these birds have an internal biological clock, so they don’t need sunlight to wake up, but rather rely on their physiological biorhythms. [1]

With its song, the rooster lets the hen know where it is, and which direction it has to go in to get food. It also communicates that it is ready to mate, that it is the head of the roost, and can fight off any other rooster that might dare to challenge its position.

Its song is carried further in the early morning air due to the lower temperatures and higher humidity levels at that time of the day. Hence, although roosters can crow at other times, it is during these early hours of the day that it sounds more strident.

Certain Jewish scholars denied the veracity of this story arguing that at that time there were no roosters in Jerusalem. Apparently, their incessant pecking on the ground made them ceremonially unclean and, Jews were therefore forbidden to breed them.

Others maintain that it was the Roman “gallinicium”, a trumpet call that the occupying soldiers emitted a the end of the third vigil of the night. This sound emanated from the parapets of the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem.

Along these lines, the Protestant theologian William Barclay also writes: “The Latin name for the trumpet call was gallinicum, which means cock crow. It is at least plausible that at precisely the moment when Peter uttered his third denial, the gallicinium sounded over the sleeping city; and Peter remembered, went out and sobbed his heart out”. [2]

Nevertheless, other references in the Jewish Talmud indicate that roosters were indeed bred in Jerusalem during the time Jesus was there.[3] Besides, Jesus used the example in his teaching of the hen that gathers its chicks under its wings to protect them.

Jesus is known to have taught through analogies drawn from everyday life so that his hearers would understand his words. Therefore, there does not seem to be a sufficient reason to believe to reject or deny the literal meaning of this story as it is recorded in the gospels.

But we should not be too quick to condemn Peter. It is true that he repeatedly denied his Master, which he probably spent his life repenting of. However, he was more courageous and decisive than the other disciples.

We should remember that most of them were so panic-stricken that they ran away, and it was only Peter who put his head in the lion’s mouth. Instead of running away with his fellow-disciples, he entered the courtyard in the centre of the high priest’s home.

Thus the servants of the high priest had a chance to recognise him and, of course, this did require some courage.

How many of us would have been brave enough to act as Peter did? How many times do we deny Christ every day? It is true that fear drove him to a triple denial, but it is also true that his love for his Lord enabled him to stay in that place.

And that same love was what caused him to repent sincerely and weep bitterly. We also need roosters to continually wake us up, and make us weep.


[2] Barclay, W. 2008, New Testament Commentary, 

[3] See the comentaries of the Misna, Eduyot 6:1.




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