Morocco Tannery

Tanning pits in Morocco

Peter stays in Joppa at the home of Simon the Tanner (Acts 9:43). This simple statement is important, especially in the light of what happens in chapter 10. This is significant since the occupation of leather-worker (tanner) was considered to be unclean by the Pharisees. In the Mishnah there are several references to tanners.

They put carrion, graves, and tanneries at least fifty cubits away from a town. They make a tannery only at the east side of a town. (m. B. Batra 2:9, Neusner, 561–562).

A man should not sit down before the barber close to the afternoon [prayer], unless he has already prayed. Nor [at that time] should a man go into a bathhouse or into a tannery, nor to eat, nor to enter into judgment. (m.Sabb. 1.2, Neusner, 178–179)

A tanner is just about the lowest possible job in any ancient society! Because of the stench of the tanner’s shop, most towns required that the tanner had to live on the outskirts of town, outside the walls and as downwind as possible. Keener reports the tanner is over listed along with other undesirables, including beggars and prostitutes (2:1725).

The tanning trade seems to have been good for Simon since he is able to show hospitality to Peter in his home. The home is large enough to have a gate and courtyard far enough away from the house that Peter did not hear Cornelius’ men arrive (10:17-18).

Simon is undoubtedly Jewish since he shares the same name as Peter, the most common name among Jews in the first century. But he is certainly not representative of normative Judaism. As C. K. Barret says, Peter is staying “in a low class area and with one of very doubtful repute in Jewish eyes” (Barrett, Acts, 486). Peter is therefore continuing the ministry of Jesus, reaching out to those who are on the fringes of Jewish society, sharing meals and hospitality with them.

It is therefore curious that Peter hesitates when he is told to God to Cornelius in chapter 10. This is a testimony to how far Jews and Gentiles were separated culturally. Peter has no problem staying in the home of a tanner, yet he is hesitant to enter the home of a Gentile God-fearer who was likely more “clean” with respect to the Law than the tanner.