I’ve never questioned the existence of an actual rooster in the Gospel story until now. But, before I can get into the who, what, where, when & how, I must first talk about the Mishnah. You may be surprised to learn that Judaism teaches there were 2 Torahs given to Moses. Yep, 2.
Traditional Judaism holds the view that when Moses was on Mt. Sinai, God gave him commandments that were written down (Written Torah) and then God expounded on what those commandments meant (Oral Torah). Moses passed down these explanations orally, which were in turn passed down for generations. This cycled continued until around 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the temple. The Temple, which housed many rabbis, represented the authority to interpret those oral traditions. As a result of its destruction, the rabbis at the time began to document those explanations and many of the ideas that came from their ongoing discussions. The end result is the Mishnah, a collection of teachings that has been combed over by hundreds of rabbis, in a similar fashion to the canonization of the Christian Bible.
I will save the debate over whether we as Christians should follow Mishnah. However, it suffices to say that the Jews at the time of Jesus would have believed in the oral tradition as well as the written tradition. And according to the Mishnah, chickens were forbidden (Bava Kama 7.7). Chickens in and of themselves were clean, but there was concern they may contaminate sacrifices with their filthy habits (like dragging unclean creatures out of dung heaps).
Furthermore, who ever heard of a rooster only crowing 3 times? Any of my farming peeps out there? Those creatures never shut up.
So then what is the “cock’s crow”?
Well, it could be a bugle call announcing the time of the day. Security guard rotations were divided into 4 watches in Jerusalem, one of which was called the Rooster’s Crow. In fact, you’ve probably read this a hundred times (like I did) and never noticed it when Christ talked about the thief coming:
“Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows,or in the morning.” – Mark 13:35
The Romans had a similar set up for their guards as well. They had multiple watches, one of which was called the gallicinium, or “when the rooster starts crowing”. My jaw dropped. Maybe it wasn’t a rooster after all.
The Take Away
I think if we are going to approach something like this, we have to do so with security of our own faith and humility. One the one hand, whether it was an actual rooster or a bugle call has no impact on the power of the Cross. Second, it helps me realize that I don’t have it all figured out. There are many things that were lost in translation and Christian history, and this cements the fact that we need each other (the way God designed the Church to function) in order to progress in our faith.