The Fisherman’s Wife: The Gospel According to St. Peter’s Wife
Fictionalized Bible stories and lives of the saints have always fascinated me. I grew up reading Gladys Malvern’s Behold Your Queen! (Esther) and The Foreigner (Ruth) as well as Louis de Wohl’s The Glorious Folly (Paul), The Restless Flame (St. Augustine), and The Joyful Beggar (St. Francis of Asissi). Little did I know that someday I would write a book about the wife of St. Peter, the apostle.
I named my heroine Miriam, disregarding the legend that calls her Perpetua, which is a Latin name, not a Jewish one. Miriam in its several forms was a common name for Jewish women. Witness the confusing number of Marys in the Gospels!
My task of writing the story of St. Peter’s wife was more challenging than I expected. My familiarity with God’s Word and the knowledge I gleaned from writing Scripture-based books for many years served me well. Still, The Fisherman’s Wife required much research on first-century Jewish women, the town of Capernaum, and the geography of Israel. What did people eat back then? How many miles was it from Capernaum to Jerusalem? What are the steps for making bread or cloth?
Also, many assumptions need to be checked. For example, would people eat a raw olive? No, it would be too bitter. Would Peter’s children play with dolls and toy animals? Probably not, because images were prohibited. Was Saul thrown from a horse when Jesus spoke to him on the way to Damascus? No, contrary to paintings like Caravaggio’s “Conversion on the Way to Damascus,” Jewish people ordinarily didn’t ride horses. Did the nails of the crucified go through their palms? No, palms could not support the weight of a human body.
Another challenge was avoiding anachronisms. Thanks to reference books and the Internet, I learned a number of things. Jesus didn’t wear a yarmulke, the Jewish skullcap, because it wasn’t the custom in the first century. Peter’s wife would not conjecture that mosquitoes infected her mother with malaria because the source for this disease had not yet been discovered. The term bombshell would not be part of Miriam’s vocabulary because bombs were invented centuries after she lived. No doubt, some inaccuracies still weaseled their way into the text. My apologies!
One challenge ironically turned out to be an advantage: a great deal about the life and times of Jesus remains a mystery. We don’t even know what Jesus looked like. Did he have a beard? It’s debatable. On what mountain did Peter witness the transfiguration of Jesus? No one knows for sure. Besides the apostles, who was present at the last supper, which may or may not have been a Passover meal? There is no record. Different theories have been proposed regarding Gospel personages and events, and conflicting traditions and legends abound. At times the Gospels themselves do not agree. This ambiguity left me free to make my own decisions in shaping Miriam’s story. For instance, one theory is that Peter’s wife died before Jesus cured his mother-in-law. Adopting that theory would result in a very short book! Instead I depended on the writings of Clement of Alexandria (150–220 A.D.) for the time of Miriam’s death.
My wish is that The Fisherman’s Wife will enlighten people about the Jewish culture that gave birth to Christianity. I also hope it will lead them to appreciate the faith and courage of those first Christians who gave up everything to follow Jesus. Most of all, after seeing Jesus through Miriam’s eyes, may readers come to view him more personally. And may this new vision awaken in them a deeper love of our Lord and a stronger commitment to him.