This was the name given to the third watch period of the night, according to the Greek and Roman division. (Mr 13:35) It corresponded to the time from about midnight to about three o’clock in the morning.
There has been some discussion of the subject of cockcrowing (Gr., a·le·kto·ro·pho·niʹa) owing to Jesus’ reference to it in connection with his prediction of Peter’s denying him on three occasions. (Mt 26:34, 74, 75; Mr 14:30, 72; Lu 22:34; Joh 13:38) On the basis of statements made in the Jewish Mishnah (Bava Kamma 7:7), some argue that cocks were not bred in Jerusalem, since they caused ceremonial uncleanness by their scratching up the ground. They say that the cockcrowing mentioned by Jesus actually refers to the Roman gallicinium, a time signal said to be made with bugles by the Roman guard stationed on the ramparts of the Tower of Antonia in Jerusalem that sounded out at the close of the third night watch.
However, Jewish Talmudic references indicate that cocks were bred in Jerusalem in those times. (For example, see The Mishnah, Eduyyot 6:1.) Further indication is that Jesus, when mourning over the city of Jerusalem, chose the simile of a ‘mother hen’s gathering her chicks under her wings’ to express the desire he had held toward it. (Mt 23:37) His choice of illustrations was always such as would readily be appreciated by his listeners. So, in his statement to Peter, there seems to be no good reason for assuming that Jesus meant anything other than a literal cockcrowing.
Others point out an apparent contradiction in the four accounts, since Matthew, Luke, and John mention only one cockcrowing, while Mark quotes Jesus as saying: “Truly I say to you, You today, yes, this night, before a cock crows twice, even you will disown me three times.” He repeats this statement in relating what happened later.
This is evidently a matter of one writer giving a more detailed account than the others rather than being a contradiction. The incident involves Peter, and since Mark was his close companion over a period of time and doubtless wrote his Gospel account with Peter’s aid or on the basis of his testimony, it is reasonable that Mark’s account would be the more detailed one. (At other times Matthew gave the more detailed description of certain events, as seen by a comparison of Mt 8:28 with Mr 5:2 and Lu 8:27, and of Mt 20:30 with Mr 10:46 and Lu 18:35.) So, while Mark quoted Jesus’ statement concerning the two cockcrowings, the other three writers mentioned only the second and last one, which provoked Peter’s giving way to tears; but by this they did not deny that there was an earlier cockcrowing.
It is generally agreed that cockcrowing has long been and still is a time indicator in the lands to the E of the Mediterranean, and that there is an early cockcrowing around midnight and a later one toward the dawning; while some indicate an additional one between these two. Concerning John 13:38, Clarke’s Commentary says: “The Jews, and some other nations, divided the cock-crowing into the first, the second, and the third times.” While it may not be possible now to assign specific times to these periodic cockcrowings, it is sufficient to know that they existed and that before two such cockcrowings Peter’s three denials took place.