People often assume that John and Peter were a couple of uneducated rednecks. Part of the reason is that they were fisherman. Today, rednecks like to fish, therefore Peter was a redneck… We should be careful in projecting modern American culture onto Peter, though. The skills that it would take to navigate the water with ancient technology may have taken more skill than we give him credit for. But, then again, the Bible does say Peter cursed and cursing is a skill that modern seafarers master without peer, sooo…
But, I digress. We do have one passage that many understand to mean that Peter and John were uneducated. In Acts 4, the priests, captain of the temple guard, and Sadducees arrested Peter and John and we read:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 KJV)
The examiners perceived (καταλαβόμενοι) that Peter and John were unlearned and ignorant men (ἄνθρωποι ἀγράμματοί εἰσι καὶ ἰδιῶται). This does not mean that they were indeed unlearned and ignorant, but rather that the investigators perceived that they were uneducated. Part of the reason for this assumption might have been that Peter and John spoke with thick Galilean Aramaic dialects. This fits well with some details from Peter’s denial of Christ:
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. (Luke 22:54-60 ESV)
The first two accusers recognized Peter because they saw him with Jesus earlier, but the third recognized him as Galilean. Matthew tells us plainly that it was indeed the accent that gave him away:
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” (Matt 26:73 ESV)
Assuming that Peter and John did indeed speak with this dialect, it would reason that people recognized them as Galilean. If we take a look at the prejudices against this particular dialect, we also see why people jumped to the conclusion that they were uneducated.
Discerning the details of the Galilean Aramaic dialect is troublesome. G. Dalman’s Grammatik des jüdisch-palästinischen Aramäisch, which was the leading Galilean Aramaic grammar of the 20th century was based on manuscripts which were copied in Europe and “as a result intentionally and unintentionally the copyists tend to overlay both the Babylonian and [Targum Onkelos]dialects on the Galilean dialect.”1 However, “evidence from foreigners, i.e. from statements in the Babylonian Talmud, may be employed. This is even more to the point when the witnesses are prejudiced in their judgment.”2 For example, the Babylonian Talmud claims that, “bny yhwdh dyyqy lyŝn’ ‘The Judeans are careful in speaking,’ […] bny glyl (d)l’ dyyqy lyŝn’ ‘The Galileans are not careful in speaking.’”3 Kutcher illustrates:
Then, as proof, there follows the famous story about the Galilean [Erub. 53b]: dhhw’ br glyl’ dhwh q’zyl w’mr lhw ’mr lm’n ’mr lm’n? ’mr lyn: glyl’h šwṭh ḥmr lmyrkb’w ḥmr lmyšty? ’mr lmylbš ’w ’ymr l’ytks’h “A certain Galilean once went about inquiring ‘Who has amar? Who has amar?’ ‘Foolish Galilean,’ they said to him, ‘do you mean an ‘ass’ for riding, ‘wine’ to drink, “wool’ [sic] for clothing, or a ‘lamb’ for slaughtering?’ ” According to this story the Galileans did not distinguish between ’ (’immar “sheep”), ḥ (which is etymologically ḥ [ḥămårå = Arabic ḥimār = Hebrew ḥămōr “ass”]), and ḥ which is etymologically ḫ (ḥamrå = Arabic ḫamr = Hebrew ḥεmεr “wine”) and ‘ (‘ămar “wool”).4
That Palestinian Jews treated Galilean Jews as second-class citizens because of their accents is apparent in the 2nd century A.D.:
A Baraitha (Y. Ber. 4d, according to YFG 7) states: tny ’yn m‘byrym lpny htybh l’ ḥypyn (ed. pr.: ḥypnyn) wl’ bšnyn wl’ ṭb‘wnyn mpny šhn ‘wśyn ḥytyn hwtyn(!) w‘ynyn (ed. pr.: hyhyn ḥytyn w‘yynyn ’’yn) “It is learned: It is forbidden to send before the ark (to lead in the prayers) inhabitants of Haifa, Beisan, and Tibon, since the pronounce ḥet’s like he’s and ‘ayin’s like alef’s (ed. pr.: he’s like ḥet’s, and ‘ayin’s like alef’s).”5
Of course, all of this information is for naught without an immediate application, so here it is: just because someone sounds like a redneck doesn’t mean he’s stupid.
That is all.