Everybody “knows” that there were twelve Apostles. In fact there were thirteen as Judas was replaced by Matthias.
James, the son of Zebedee
James, son of Alphaeus
Simon the Canaanite
2.3.1 Simon Peter
Simon Peter is one of the best known Apostles (after Paul who was not one of the inner circle). His personality was changed by Jesus from something as unstable as water to something more like a rock. The first time they met Jesus said: “You are Simon, the son of Jona: from now on you will be called Cephas (which is interpreted being a stone)” (John 1:42) or, as it is translated in French, “Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je batirai mon Eglise”. This does not mean that Jesus wanted to build his Church on Peter but upon Himself, as Peter (I Peter 2:4-9) and Paul (I Cor. 3:11) tell us.
Simon Peter was born in a house in Kfar-Nachum, at present known as Capernaum. From the first day Jesus visited Capernaum, this house has been known as “the home of Simon Peter and Andrew” (Mark 1:29). Here, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many other sick people (Mark 1:33). Here, too, the miracle of the healing of the paralytic occurred (Mark 2:1-12). He also spent some nights there (Mark 1:35). He returned to this house many times, including after his journeys around the Lake and after the election of the twelve Apostles (Mark 3:19).
Peter’s brother, Andrew, introduced him to Christ when he was a young man. They were both fishermen of the sea of Galilee. When Andrew told Peter that he had found the Messiah he left his work and went to see for himself, but he came back. Later on Jesus came back to the shores of Galilee and he invited Peter to follow him: “Follow me and I will make you to become a fisher of men” (Matt.4:19). Peter and Andrew left their work and family and followed him. It is known that Peter was married and that his mother-in-law was living with him and his wife. Peter was not a modest man, on the contrary. He was the apostles’ spokesman until Paul outshined him. With John and Paul he was among the Apostle best liked by the early Christians. In the list of the Apostles his name always comes first. He was very impulsive, very often acting before thinking; however his character was not as firm as it seemed. After shouting his loyalty to Jesus, he denied knowing him the night Jesus was put to death, only to change his mind again soon after. He was a combination of courage and cowardice, of great strength and instability. Christ spoke more often to Peter that to any other Apostles, both to blame him and to praise him. He was also the only one who dared to reprove Jesus. His character was brought under control later on and, after Pentecost, he was the image of faithfulness to Christ. Peter was a great sinner. Peter cursed Him but he repented, Judas sold Jesus but he did not repent. (31)
From the start Peter took a prominent position in the church, as told in the Book of the “Acts”. The first part of this book is in fact the “Acts” of Peter” and the second part, the “Acts” of Paul”. It shows the transition of Christianity from a Jewish sect to an universal church, with Peter as the main actor at first until Paul took over. Paul is known as the Apostle of the Gentiles. It was Peter who proposed to replace Judas by Matthias, it was him who spoke to the people on the day of Pentecost, and it was again him who performed a miracle healing the lame man. In Galatians 2:9 Paul describes Peter, James and John as the pillars of the church. Peter also took the public defence of the Gospel when the Jewish authorities attacked the Apostles. In addition, he maintained church discipline in the congregation when required. The common people had great faith in the miraculous healing power of Peter or even of his shadow. He was delegated by the Apostles to go to Samaria to control the local spiritual renewal introduced there by Philip. He also went on missionary duties in Lydda, Joppa and Caesarea before defending the inclusion of the Gentiles before the Apostolic Council.
From that point the Book of the “Acts” switches to Paul who even criticises Peter in his Epistles for his behaviour in Antioch; there, Peter was afraid of the Jews who wanted to separate the Jewish from the Gentile Christians. Peter changed his mind when faced by Paul. Peter went also to Corinth after Paul had founded a church in this town. There are strong historical proofs that Peter founded the See of Antioch, the capital of the East at that time, before he went to Rome. St. Gregory the Great even goes to say that Peter was the Bishop of that city for seven years from 33 to 40 AD. As the Apostles preferred to preach to the Jews, their countrymen, they started their missionary work in Mesopotamia where many rich Jews from the lost tribes were living and St. Peter went to Babylon around 44 AD. However there are some doubts about this as Rome was also called “Babylon” by the early Christians. However there is little doubt that St. Peter spent some time in Babylon as the Eastern Churches proclaim and where he wrote his first Epistle. Some references to Peter going to Britain and Gaul exist. In Gaul he became the Patron Saint of Chartres where he liked to preach in the “Grottes des Druides”, the oldest known Druid site in Gaul, on which the oldest cathedral of France is built. His presence in Trier (Trèves), Germany, is also well documented. (31)
However St. Peter is best known for his stay in Rome. It is, nevertheless, not proved that he founded the church at Rome. In the Book of the “Acts”, St. Paul tells us that Peter left Jerusalem in 43 AD, but he does not say where he went, and he is mentioned again in 49 at the Council of Jerusalem. Where did he go in between? No canonical book offers any answer. Eusebius, however, says that he came to Rome in 44 AD during Claudius’ reign (HE II,14,61). It is also believed that Rome was evangelised between 43 to 49. In 50 AD Claudius expelled all the Jews who were becoming nervous by the growing influence of Christianism. Paul met some converted Jews expelled from Rome to Corinth in 51. In 57 and 60 Paul addressed some important gathering of Christians in Rome. It is probable that Peter was in Babylon from 44 to 49 AD and not in Rome since the “Acts” do not mention his name. It now looks more or less certain that Peter was not in Rome before Paul wrote the Book of Romans for the Christian community there. But the early tradition that Peter died as a martyr, and was buried in Rome, although not proved, is very probable. The Gospel of St. John tells us that Peter was crucified, head down, in Rome by Nero on the Vatican Hill in 64 AD (John 21:18) after being tortured for about nine months in the dreadful Mamertine prison. His body was them embalmed in the Jewish manner and buried in the Vatican. A small church was erected above his tomb. Peter did not write much personally and he relied on St. Mark who is considered as his ghost writer after being his translator, when he preached in Rome. From this experience Mark collected a lot of information on Jesus. Although they were not first hand information, his source was very reliable and well informed. For this reason Mark was able to write a credible Gospel after Peter’s death, even if he never met Jesus. Later on Matthew and Luke relied on Mark’s Gospel to speak about Jesus’ life and, if only for this, we can say that the source of our Gospels is Peter.
Excavations made recently under the church of St. Peter in Rome has led to the discovery of his grave. It was in fact empty but some bones found nearby have been identified as those of St. Peter and the Catholic Church, through the Pope Paul VI, agreed. It is now thought that when Constantine had the first St. Peter church built, he had the precious bones moved to a safer place a few feet away.
Capernaum the home town of Peter, remained completely Jewish until the middle of the fourth century. Count Joseph, a Christian Governor of Tiberias, was authorised by the Emperor Constantine The Great, just a few years before his death (337 AD), to build a church on the traditional site of Peter’s house. The actual construction work of a modest church started in 352. It was replaced later on (middle of the fifth century) by a beautiful octagonal Byzantine basilica that was not only a place of worship, but also a memorial. Excavations have shown that under the basilica there were the well-kept remains of many small very old buildings (they are thought to be from the first century AD). Peter’s house was venerated by the first generations of Jewish Christians. (31)
Andrew was born in Bethsaida, Galilee, but later on he moved to Capernaum by the sea. Bethsaida was twenty-five miles East of Nazareth and on the Northern shore of the sea. He was the son of Joanna and of John, or better Jonah, a fisherman. He had a brother called Simon known later on as Peter. Jonah was the name given to many fishermen at that time. Jonah’s native village was Gath-Hepher near Nazareth where a prophet also called Jonah had also lived nearby. Andrew was more interested in religion that in fishing and he readily followed John the Baptist to Bethany across the Jordan river from Jericho. In John the Baptist he found the spiritual authority he had been looking for as he was not happy with the wickedness, compromise, and graft that he had found in the cities of Galilee and Judea. John the Baptist, on the opposite, was his type of man in every respect. From him Andrew learned that one day soon the promised King, or Messiah to the Jews or Christ to the Gentiles, would arrive. After hearing John preach to and baptise many city people looking for spiritual aid and the way for a new life, Andrew was ready to meet the Messiah. Herod did not appreciate what John was doing and this led to his imprisonment and execution. One day Jesus of Nazareth came to John, his cousin, and asked to be baptised. John stopped preaching and greeted Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:29,30). Andrew accepted that Jesus was Christ and, leaving John the Baptist, he then followed Jesus. John, the future Apostle, was also a follower of John the Baptist and he probably followed Jesus at that time too. Later on Andrew introduced his brothers Simon, Peter, and Philip to Jesus. Jesus took Peter, Andrew, Philip and John back to Nazareth with him after spending forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. They went with him to a wedding ceremony in Cana of Galilee, six miles from Nazareth, and saw him perform his first miracle. They then went on a preaching tour in Galilee and from there to Jerusalem, where they saw Him Cleanse the Temple. Finally they went back to Galilee, fishing for an unknown period of time. One day Jesus came back to the coasts of Galilee and saw Peter and Andrew and told both of them: “Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men”.
Andrew was the first Apostle chosen by Jesus, he was a kind of successor to John the Baptist. In the same way that John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the nation, Andrew introduced Jesus to individuals. Andrew had about two and one half years of instruction while following Jesus. He was present at the feeding of the five thousand by the sea of Galilee, and it was him who introduced to Jesus the boy who had the five loaves and the two fishes. He was also present at the feast of the Passover where he also introduced many people to Jesus. He was present with Peter on the Mount of Olives. His name is in the Book of the “Acts” and this is the last reference to his name in the New Testament. However he was present in Jerusalem for a long time. We do not know when he left, and if he did it on his own decision to preach elsewhere or driven out by the repression.
According to Eusebius Andrew went to Scythia in Southern Russia, near the Black Sea. He became the patron Saint of Russia. Another tradition has Andrew preaching in Greece, or in Macedonia, where he was imprisoned and crucified in Patras around 69 AD on an “X-shaped” cross now known as “St. Andrew’s Cross”. He was buried near by. Still another tradition has him preaching in Ephesus in Asia Minor, where St. John is also assumed to have written his Gospel as consequence of a revelation given to Andrew. These three traditions seem at first contradictory but all three could have happened too. At the time of the Emperor Justinian some relics of Andrew have been located in Constantinople where Constancius, the son of the Emperor Constantine, had removed St. Andrew’s body from Greece. These relics were stolen from Constantinople in 1210 and taken to Amalfi, Italy. In 1462 the Pope Pius II had the head transferred to St. Peter church in Rome. In 1964 the Pope gave it back to the Greek Orthodox church in Patras, Greece, where St. Andrew was martyred. A fool destroyed the gold reliquary to steal the skull. After recovery it is now kept in a silver reliquary. Some of his bones have been taken to Scotland by a Christian called St. Regulus in the fourth or fifth century. They were buried in the place called now St. Andrews. St. Andrew is the Saint patron of Scotland and the “St. Andrew’s Cross” is its symbol. He is also the patron saint of the Russian and Greek Christians. (31)
2.3.3 James, the son of Zebedee
Of the three men who formed the inner-ring of the disciples, Peter, James and John, we know the least about James. Very little is written about him in the Scriptures. His death is recorded, however, as he was the first Apostle to die as a martyr.
James was the oldest brother of John, the beloved disciple. He was a partner with John, Andrew and Peter in the fishing trade along with his father Zebedee. He was also known as “James the Elder or “James the Great”. Together they owned several boats and employed hired fishermen so they must have been affluent. There are also some indications that James was Jesus’s first cousin and that they had known each other from childhood. James was asked to follow Jesus at the same time as his brother John and the two other brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew. At that time the Christ was walking along the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18,21,22). It is known that John had been a disciple of John the Baptist whom he left to follow Jesus. No such evidence is to be found for James. James was present at the healing of Peter’s mother at Capernaum. After that he became one of the Apostles and a prominent one too. With Peter and John he also witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the miraculous draught of fishes at the Sea of Tiberias and the transfiguration and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane. As we know it was Peter who was the main responsible Apostle for the dissemination of the word of God as recorded in the Gospel. John outlived all the apostles up to around the year 100 AD. He died of natural death after writing five books and preaching successfully in Asia Minor. On the other hand James was executed when the Church was still very young. Once, when Jesus’ preaching was heavily contested, James and John asked him to destroy these people with the fire from Heaven. Jesus rebuked them, and from then on they were known as “Boanerges” or “sons of Thunder”. Their mother asked Jesus to let them sit on both his sides when He came into His glory but here again Jesus rebuked this ambition as ungodly (Mark 10:42-45). James was one of the four disciples who questioned Jesus when he delivered His address on the Mount of Olives. He was present when the risen Christ appeared for the third time to the disciples.
James was murdered with a sword by King Herod Agrippa I about the year 44 AD (“Acts” 12:1,2). (31)
Like for all the other Apostles, many legends deal with James. According to the “Acts of St. James in India” and the “Martyrdom of St. James” he preached in India with St. Peter as well as to the twelve Jewish tribes scattered all other the world. According to Eusebius James was led to the final judgement seat in Jerusalem and, when the judge requested Peter’s testimony, he admitted that James was a Christian. He begged James to forgive him and both were beheaded together. The artists of the 14th and 15th century used James as the theme of many paintings making him very popular. In Spain the legend goes says that James’s father, Zebedee, was a noble. No Spanish was ready to accept a simple fisherman as a patron Saint. It is also thought that James came to Spain to try to convert the population but he was not very successful. He was told by the Virgin Mary to build a chapel and that all the region of Saragosa would become Christian. He did as required by Mary and the church he built is known as “Our Lady of the Pillar”. James went back to Judea to preach and perform miracles but he was soon arrested and beheaded. His disciples took his body and, being afraid to bury it on the spot, took it to Joppa, put it on a ship that sailed to Iria Flavia (now Padron), Galicia, Spain. His body caused many people, including the local Queen, to become Christians. She also built a beautiful church to receive the sacred remains. After the invasion of Spain by the Moslems, the body of the Apostle was lost until the year 800 when its location was revealed to a holy friar. The remains were then taken to Compostela that became a well-known pilgrimage place due to the many miracles performed by the relic. James became the patron saint of Spain and Compostela.
It is very unlikely that James visited Spain during his lifetime due, in part, to the fact that he died young. A very old tradition has it that he preached there; however, it is more probable that his body relics or bones have been carried in Spain in the 7th century. They were the reason for the creation of the town of Santiago de Compostela where many pilgrims, even now, are going every year. Some more proofs of the authenticity of his relics were found in 1879 in the Cathedral of Santiago (St. James) de Compostela, first built in 899 AD, destroyed by the Moors in 997, and rebuilt in 1078 on the same site. Tests were made on the old bones with the agreement of the Catholic Church and they were finally identified as those of St. James. He was executed by Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD and his original grave was in or near Jerusalem. In 614 the Persians occupied Palestine and it is probable that it was then that the remains of St. James were taken to Galicia, Spain. Other less credible legends say that the relics were removed earlier from Jerusalem. The discovery of the relics of St. James in Santiago de Compostela happened in the first quarter of the ninth century during the reign of Alphonso II (791-842). The relics could have arrived in Spain at the beginning of the ninth century or before the Arab invasion of 711 as it is difficult to believe that they arrived during the Arab occupation. The first story seems more likely and, in this case, the relics must have transited through Sinai and the town of Menas. Still another legend has it that he is buried in St. James cathedral in Jerusalem although it seems more probable that it is Jesus’ brother, James, who is buried there.
What seems certain is that James lived fourteen more years after the resurrection of Jesus. Considering that it was easy to travel in these days, nothing prevented James to have been to Spain to preach to the Jews living there. It is more unlikely that he preached to the Gentiles as Paul had not yet opened that way. As the Book of “Acts” does not mention James in relation to Spain it is difficult to believe that he ever went there, but it is not impossible. (31)
John was one of the sons of Zebedee, a fisherman of Galilee, and of Salome, who was probably a sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. He grew up in Galilee and was in a fishing partnership with his brother James, and with Andrew and Peter. With Andrew he was a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:34-40). He went with Jesus on his first tour of Galilee and, later on, left the fishing business to become a disciple of Christ. He was with Jesus at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) and also in Jerusalem in His early ministry. He owned a house in Jerusalem. With Peter and James he was a witness to the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37) and at the transfiguration (Matt.17). He was near to Jesus too at the agony of Gethsemane as he was one of his closest disciple. With his brother James they were called “Sons of Thunder” after they asked Jesus to destroy a Samaritan village that refused to give hospitality them (Mark 3:17). At the Last Supper he sat next to Jesus (John 13:23). He was present at Jesus’ trial, being known to the high priests as he had been his father fishing business’ representative in Jerusalem. He was present at the crucifixion where Jesus asked him to take care of Mary (John 19:26). He was also present with Peter when Jesus was buried, and he was there too when they saw that the tomb was empty, three days later (John 20:8), He was with Peter at the gate of the Temple when a lame man was healed (“Acts” 3:10). He went to Samaria to impart the Holy Spirit to the new converts (“Acts” 8:12). With Peter and James, the lord’s brother, they were called “pillars” of the Church. He is also known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 12:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). From his Gospel we know that he lived a long time after Jesus’ death, he was in fact the last Apostle to die peacefully around 100 AD whereas his brother James was the first to die. He reached a prominent position in the world-wide Christianity. Before the destruction of Jerusalem he moved to Ephesus in Asia Minor and became the pastor of the local church. He died in this town.
Mary stayed with John in Jerusalem and later on moved with him to Ephesus where she died. While living in Ephesus John was exiled to Patmos, a penal colony off the coast of Turkey. Some historians say that he wrote his Gospel there while a prisoner; although this seems to be a legend, Patmos has been an important pilgrimage until the seventh century when Islam took over. After being released, John went back to Ephesus and resumed his responsibilities as head of the churches that had been founded by Paul in Asia. The Scriptures record of John ends with the seven letters to the Seven Churches (See Revelations) and St. Augustine’s mention that John preached to the Parthians (Eastern Turkey near the borders of Russia and Iran). Another legend has it that John was in Rome with Peter, and that he was tortured, but there is no historical corroboration. It is also said that there was an attempt to poison him there but when he took the cup the poison disappeared in the form of a serpent. This explains the Roman Catholic symbol for John, a cup with a serpent coming out of it. John died on 26 September around 100 AD.
The disciples of St. John built a chapel above his tomb. Pilgrims visited it in such a large number that a bigger church had to be build by Emperor Justinian and his wife in the sixth century. It was built in the shape of a cross, was 130 meters long and had three naves. The tomb of the Apostle was under the big dome and the dust from this room was supposed to have healing powers. A Temple in memory of Mary was built on a hill near-by. The bones of the Apostle have disappeared as well as all his relics and nobody know where they are. (31)
Philip despite his Greek name was a Jew whose name means “Lover of Horses”. After Alexander the Great conquered Palestine he left behind a lasting Greek influence especially in Northern Galilee. Philip, the Apostle, was probably named this way in honour of the Tetrarch of the province of Ituraea, Philip, who made Bethsaida the capital of the province ten years before the Apostle’s birth in that city. Philip was from the tribe of Zebulon.
When Jesus met Philip he said to him “follow me” (John 1:43) and he did after telling his friend Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah (John 1:45). He later on introduced some Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20-33). He was present at the feeding of the five thousand and at the Last Supper (John 6:5-7). It is strange that Philip is only mentioned in John’s Gospel but they were both from Galilee and friends. After the Ascension, it is believed that he preached the Gospel in Scythia for twenty years, and then at Hierapolis in Phrygia, where he saw that the people were worshipping the God Mars under the shape of a serpent or dragon. He succeeded to expel these false gods but the local priests had him crucified and stoned when he was 87 years old. His four daughters went on preaching in the same town. A Gnostic Gospel of Philip, written after John’s Gospel, has been found in Nag Hammadi. There are also some Apocryphal “Acts” of Philip that praise virginity. The tomb of Philip has never been found.
A legend has it that St. Philip visited France but there are no real historical baking to this story. Some scholars believe that it is possible that the Gauls of France emigrated from Galatia in Turkey from which Hierapolis was a city. This does not mean that St. Philip went to France following the Gauls from Galatia. It is more possible that some traditions confused Gaul and Galatia since the two names are related and similar. But of course it is also possible that St. Philip followed the immigrants from Galatia to France even if there is no proof that this happened. St. Philip is the only Apostle who is supposed, in one way or the other, to have been to France. According to some legends Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus went to Marseilles, France where their tombs are still shown to-day. There is no doubt that many ancient religious writers mentioned the presence of St. Philip in France. But this is not really proven.
On the other hand it is most probable that St. Philip died at Hierapolis, a town that is close to the two biblical cities of Laodicea and Colossae. The church history of the Byzantine era mentions a large Christian activity in these three towns when the new religion spread in Asia Minor. It must be remembered that Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians from the church of that town. Moreover in Laodicea there was an important church founded by St. Paul. In addition Hierapolis is close to Ephesus where St. John, Philip’s friend, lived. That Philip went to live near his old friend in his later days is quite understandable.
Pope John the Third (560-572) had the body of St. Philip taken from Hierapolis and put into the church of the Holy Apostles Philip and James (as it was called then) in Rome. The bones of these two Apostles, as well as those from some others, are still on display today in this church, called at present “Church of the Holy Apostles”. (31)
Bartholomew -whose name means “son of Tolmai or Talmai” according to some scholars- is mentioned as one of the twelve Apostles (Matt.10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; “Acts” 1:13). He could have been the only Apostle of noble birth (in II Sam.3:3) as it is mentioned that a Talmai was King of Geshur. Others said that his name meant that he was the son of Ptolemy whose families were kings of Egypt). However there is no more mention of him in the New Testament. According to some sources he was from the house of Naphtali. He has also been identified with Nathanael, whom Philip presented to Jesus (John 1:45). In the other Gospels he is always mentioned with Philip. In some apocryphal books, such as the Gospel of St. Bartholomew, he is said to have been preaching in India. Other sources have him preach in the oasis of Al Bahnasa, among the Parthians, in Phrygia in Asia Minor, in Persia and in Egypt. The “Acts of Philip” tells us that both Philip and Bartholomew preached in Hierapolis. Philip was martyred by being pierced through the thighs and hung upside down. Bartholomew escaped martyrdom in that place and went eastward to Armenia with a copy in Hebrew of Matthew’s Gospel. That Gospel was found later on by the converted Stoic philosopher, Pantaenus, who brought it back to Alexandria. He preached sixteen years in Armenia (or six only from another source) with St. Thaddaeus who was there from 43 to 66 AD and the local church claims him as his founder. Another tradition has him martyred in 68 AD in Albania known now as Derbend in the Dagestan, Azerbaijan. This place is very near Armenia so that the two stories are not incompatible between them. According to a legend he died after being put in a sack and thrown into the sea. Another story sees him curing the king’s daughter and converting the Court. The local priests, and the king’s brother, did not appreciate it and had him arrested, beaten, flayed alive and crucified, probably upside down. Still another tradition has him beheaded. His remains are said to have been taken to Daras in Mesopotamia in 508 AD and, later on, in the island of Lipari in Sicily where a church was built over his tomb. From Sicily they were transferred in 809 AD to Benevento in Italy and, finally, to the Isle of Tiber at Rome in 983 where another church “St. Bartholomew-on-Tiber” was built in his honour. The remains of the saint are still there except one arm that was given to the Canterbury Cathedral in England. (31)
St. Thomas was also known as Didymas, which means “twin”, even if there is no trace that he had a twin brother or sister. He was a fisherman from Galilee. The few direct references in the Bible to his person make him a questioner, or a doubter, and even now he is known this way. His character contained some conflicting elements; he possessed little natural buoyancy of spirit and was inclined to look at life with coolness or despondency. However he was a man of courage and unselfish. The Gospel of John alone describes him in detail, although the others mention his election as an Apostle (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; “Acts” 1:13). The Gospel of John tells us that Thomas was the only disciple to agree, when Jesus decided to go to Bethany to help Lazarus, despite the hostile Jews. He even went so far as suggesting that all of them should go (John 11:16). On the eve of the Passion he put in doubt the future death of Jesus (John 14:5). Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the Apostles for the first time after the crucifixion. Later on, hearing of the resurrection he refused to believe it before seeing Jesus with his own eyes (John 20:25). He remained eight days with the other Apostles until Jesus appeared again and showed him his wounds. Thomas believed Jesus’ resurrection although he was reproved for his previous doubts (John 20:24-29). John mentions that Thomas was present when Jesus manifested himself again while the disciples were fishing on the sea of Tiberias. Thomas was a person intend to gloom and doubt, but one who would believe without restriction once convinced.
Many legends are linked to Thomas. He has been identified with Jude, James’ son; as a twin brother of the Messiah, and as having a twin sister called Lysia. But there are no proof of these stories. On the other hand we know quite a lot about his missionary activities. It is known that he visited Babylon with Judas Thaddaeus and that his main zone of influence was with the little known Eastern church movement. “The Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East”, as it was called, was founded by the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Thaddeus and Mari of the Seventy. In the beginning of Christianity there was only one Church and the Bishops managed their areas of responsibility. There were also Chief Bishops called Patriarchs. The main Christian towns of the time were Babylon, Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Constantinople. Only Babylon was outside the Roman Empire of the West. For this reason the Patriarch of Babylon, the first one being St. Thomas, was known as the Patriarch of the East. Some claim that Babylon is the oldest Patriarchate. The church of the East is known under different names: Assyrian Church, Nestorian Church, Chaldean Syrian Church, etc. and traces its origin to the Apostles. One chapel built in Resaieh by the Three wise Men on their return from Bethlehem is still in use today.
After founding churches and ordaining priests in the Middle East, St. Thomas, the Patriarch of the East, visited Parthia and India to preach, baptise and convert people. He founded many churches and ordained local clergymen. He arrived in India, probably in Malabar in the South, around 49 or 52 AD. The Apocryphal “Acts” of Judas-Thomas written by Bardesanes (154-222) tells us of all the miracles accomplished by the saint. He endured various persecutions and was martyred on the Eastern coast of India. While preaching to the people, the Brahmins instigated some men to stone him and he fell. As he was lying down a Brahmin struck him with a lance. Another legend says that he was killed at the request of the local king by a Brahmin’s lance while he was praying in a cave on a mountain. After his death he was buried in Mylapore, India (now a suburb of Madras), but a disciple transported his body in great secrecy to Edessa, Mesopotamia, before 200 AD. Later on the relics have been moved by the crusaders, first to the island of Chios, and then to Ortona, Italy, where they rest in a big cathedral. The Turks sacked Ortona but it seems that the relics were saved. Of course not all the bones of the saint are in Ortona and many churches claim to have some, but the truth is difficult to establish. There is no doubt that he was an important evangelist and a great builder of churches.
The Christian tradition in South India more or less disappeared about one hundred years after the death of St. Thomas by lack of religious leadership. However some communities survived and are still alive today. (31)
Matthew, also known as Levi, was the brother of James the Less whose father was Alphaeus (Mark 2:14). He was a custom officer (Matt.10:3), or “portitores”, working for the “publicani” who had the concession for the tax collection in Capernaum in the territory ruled by Antipas. He had a reasonable education and must have spoken Aramaic, Greek and Latin. The tax collectors were not, of course, well liked by the Jews but, as a group, they were receptive to Jesus’ message (Matt.11:19; Luke 17:34; 15:1). They were seen by the people as collaborators of Rome acting against the Jews. Matthew became an Apostle after Peter, James and John who were also from Capernaum (Matt.9:11; 14:18; Mark 5:37).He was not a follower of John the Baptist as most of the other Apostles. In his Gospel he recalls that the first thing he did after becoming a disciple was to invite Jesus to his home for a feast. Most of his guests were tax collectors and sinners, the only ones who would accept his invitation. Jesus was criticised for accepting this invitation but answered that only sick people needed a doctor (Matthew 9:11-12).
As most Apostles Matthew seems to have evangelised in many countries; Irenaeus said that he preached the Gospel among the Jews without clarifying if it was in Palestine, abroad, or both. Clement of Alexandria wrote that he spent fifteen years of his life this way and that he also went to Ethiopia, Masedonia, Syria, Persia and also probably to Parthia. It is not clear if he suffered martyrdom or if he died naturally. Clement of Alexandria said that he died of a natural death in 90 AD after living as a vegetarian. The Talmud, on the other hand, says that Matthew was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. In this case he would have died from the sword or the spear. The Apocryphal “Acts of Andrew and Matthew” claims that he was prepared to be eaten by cannibals but that he was saved at the last moment by Andrew. He then set himself to convert the cannibals and, although their king tried to burn him to death, he escaped a second time. The best guess is that he died in Egypt of martyrdom after his return from Ethiopia, Africa.
The remains of St. Matthew are in the cathedral of San Matteo in Salerno, Italy.
According to Jerome, Matthew published his Gospel in Judea; it was first written in Hebrew, or in Aramaic according to other sources, whereas the other Gospels were written in Greek. It was translated later in Greek. On the other hand Eusebius, quoting Papias who lived in 100 AD, said that Matthew composed the Oracles of the Lord in Aramaic. They were then also translated into Greek. Matthew explains clearly the way in which Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Testament. This is probably due to the fact that Matthew’s Gospel and preaching were directed mainly to the Jews converted to Christianity rather that to the Gentiles. He became interested in them when the Orthodox Jews attacked him. What is certain is that Matthew was a gifted writer and probably the best educated among the Apostles. (31)
2.3.9 James, son of Alphaeus
James, the son of Alphaeus, is also called the “Less” or the “Younger”. He was Matthew Levi’s brother and the son of a Mary who could have been the wife of one Clopas, or Cleophas who may have been another or a second name for Alphaeus. He was a native of Capernaum on the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus preached very often and in many places. We do not know how Jesus met these two brothers but, probably, they heard him preaching and approached him. They could also have been Jesus’ cousins. Matthew, as a tax collector of Herod Antipas, must have been hated by the Jews. After Jesus called James Matthew threw a big feast for his friends, most of them not very friendly with the Jews. Jesus was the guest of honour and afterwards he was heavily criticised by the local Pharisees for eating with the “tax collectors and sinners”, some words synonymous for corrupted people. We do not know if James was present. James and Matthew are thought to have been from the Gad Tribe, one of the ten Northern tribes taken captive in the eighth century BC by the Assyrians. Due to the second name of Matthew, Levi, it is more probable that they were from this tribe, the priestly tribe Levi. As Matthew had betrayed his priestly origin by becoming a tax collector for the Romans, it must be possible that James disagrees with his choice of a job. A story says that James was himself a Zealot (a revolutionary group that fought the Romans) but he left them because he disagreed on their violent methods. If he was an ascetic is still to be shown.
Many early Christians were called James. We have already met James the Elder, or the Great, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John. He was the first Apostle to be killed, or better beheaded, by Herod Antipas. James the Less or the Younger was the brother of Matthew Levi and the son of Alphaeus and Mary but we do not know which Mary it was. We also have James the father of the Apostle named Judas or St.Thaddeaus, and known these days as St. Jude. He must not be mixed with Judas Iscariot. This James could be the brother of John. Jesus had also a brother called James who was one of his disciple but not one of the twelve Apostles. This large number of James confuses our story and it is difficult to say with certainty what each one did. Very often the Roman Catholics and the Armenian Orthodox assimilate James the Less with Jesus’ brother, James, but this is not confirmed by the Scriptures. It is only an attempt to prove that Mary remained a virgin for ever and that Jesus’ brother, James, was in fact his cousin. Another legend says that James was only Jesus’ half brother by Joseph’s previous marriage. All this aims only to make Mary a demigod who, of course, could not have had sexual relations and even less, children. As we know James the Less’ mother was called Mary and it is difficult to believe that she could have been the Virgin Mary’s sister since two sisters are never called by the same name. In conclusion the four James mentioned before are four different persons. Jesus’ brother, James, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah until the resurrection, and the special appearance made to him later on. Afterwards he believed and became a leader of the church, in fact the head of the Church of Jerusalem according to the “Acts”. This put him at a higher rank that even Peter and John. James the Less, the Apostle, and James, Jesus’ brother are then different people. Jesus’ brother was not an Apostle but their spokesman.
James the Less’ mother was a faithful Christian. She went to the cross with Jesus’ mother. It is not known if it is his mother who brought James the Less to Jesus or James who led his mother to the new religion. If it is true that James the Less was a Zealot in his youth he changed his mind soon to follow Christ. Eusebius says that James the Less led the life of a Nazarene both before and after he became an Apostle. This means that he led a very frugal life, never eating meat, never shaved and rarely washed, but prayed most of his time. For these reasons he is also known as James the Just. However this description does not seem correct and fit better James, Jesus’ brother. On the other hand James the Less looked very much like Jesus and this explains why it had been necessary for Judas to point Jesus out to the Romans looking for him. If his mother Mary was a cousin of the virgin Mary, then the resemblance could be explained.
It is probable that James the Less has been the first bishop of the Syrian church. A legend says on that James the Less was stoned to death by the Jews in Jerusalem for preaching the Christian doctrine and, later on, buried near the sanctuary. His remains were then taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian. They were then transferred to Rome on Justinian’s order around 572 AD. The remains were buried there in the Church of the Apostles Philip and James the Less, known from the 10th century as the Church of the Holy Apostles. (31)
2.3.10 Jude Thaddaeus
There are many people called Judas in the New Testament. “Judas” is a most common name among the Jews since it is the Greek form of Judah and Jude is its Latin translation. This apostle was called “Trionus” by St. Jerome, the man with three names. In Matthew he is known as “Lebbaeus Thaddaeus” (Matthew 10:3), in Mark “Thaddaeus” (Mark 3:18) and “Judas the son of James” in Luke (Luke 6:16; “Acts” 1:13). As a result his identification in the Scriptures is difficult. The James recorded as his father is not identified. Moreover there were two other prominent Judas in the New Testament: Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus and Judas, Jesus’ younger brother by Mary and Joseph. But the Judas we are talking about here is most probably the son of James the Great or the Elder, the son of Zebedee. He would then have been the nephew of John the Apostle. He is listed in the official list of the Apostles (“Acts” 1:10). He was present on the day of the Pentecost. He is thought to be one of the first Apostles to leave Jerusalem for a foreign country, more probably Armenia.
The Gospel of the Ebionites mentioned by Origen says that St. Jude was called by Jesus at the sea of Tiberias, near Capernaum, where he was fishing with his father. He was probably of the house of Joseph and of the tribe of Judah.
The tradition says that he went to Syria, Dacia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and to Edessa in Armenia. The Eastern Church confirms that St. Jude moved Eastward from Jerusalem. One legend tells us that St. Jude suffered martyrdom in Syria and another, the most probable, that he was killed in Persia with a javelin or with arrows, after being tied to a cross.
The association of St. Jude with the Armenian church is one of the more certain aspect of his life. The tradition reminds us that five Apostles, including St. Jude and St. Bartholomew, visited and evangelised Armenia. As a result, this country became the first Christian nation in the world; Christianity was proclaimed AD the national religion of Armenia in 301. St. Thaddaeus is recorded as having been in Armenia from 35 to 43 AD (or from 43 to 66 AD) and St. Bartholomew from 44 to 60 AD (or from the year 60). Both suffered martyrdom in Armenia: Thaddaeus at Ardaze in 50 AD and Bartholomew at Derbend in 68 AD. They are supposed to have been the first Patriarchs of the Armenian Catholic Church.
St Jude is thought to have first been buried in Kara Kelisa near the Caspian Sea, in Iran but near the Russian border. The remains of St. Jude were later on moved partly to St. Peter Church in Rome and partly in Tolosa, Spain, before the invasion of Genghis Khan.
2.3.11 Simon the Canaanite
Simon was also called The Canaanite, Cananean, or Zealot in the New Testament. He was born in Cana of Galilee. According to Origen and to the “Gospel of the Ebionite” of the second century, Simon became a disciple with Andrew and Peter, the sons of Zebedee, Thaddaeus and Judas Iscariot, at the Sea of Tiberias. Simon, according to the Armenian tradition, went to Armenia and preached there as well as Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, Andrew and Matthias. He is thought to have preached in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Cyrene, Africa, Carthage, Mauritania and Lybia. Some even say that he went to Britain from Spain, first in 44 AD, to preach and perform miracles. One can also assume that he visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea. This was the consequence of the Claudian edict of 44 AD that expelled the Christian leaders from Rome. During his second and last visit to Britain around 60 AD he suffered martyrdom by crucifixion in the Eastern part of the country, probably near Caistor, Lincolnshire. According to that source he was buried there on 10 May, 61 AD. Still others said that he went to Persia with St. Jude and that both of them were assassinated there in an unknown town called Suanir.
St. Simon was a Zealot, that is a member of the extreme and violent Jewish nationalist party that tried to throw the hated Romans out of Palestine by revolution and guerrilla warfare. This party was responsible for the revolt of 68-70 AD that brought down the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Their last stand was in 71 AD that led to the suicide of hundred of Jews after a long siege in Masada, a fortress overlooking the Dead Sea built by Herod the Great. Simon left the Zealots because he thought that the super idealism of Jesus was better that the nationalist fanatism of the Zealots. Simon, however, always thought that Jesus, the Messiah, would restore the Kingdom of Israel and triumph over the Romans. This notion could have been implanted in him when he saw Jesus changing water into wine at Cana of Galilee. He could have thought then, that the spiritual power, able to perform these divine miracles, would win over the sword, and then resolve the future of Israel in the way he wanted. Simon gave up this concept when Jesus, after the Resurrection, announced that the Apostles were not to know the time of the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. Simon participated in the Pentecostal day of evangelism in which the task of international evangelisation began.
The bodies of St. Simon and St. Jude were first buried together in Persia. Most of their bones are now in St. Peter church in Rome as well as in the church of St. Saturninus in Tolosa, Spain, and St. Sernin, Toulouse, France. According to one source one arm of Simon was given by a Persian Bishop to the head of a convent in Trier who gave it to the St. Norbet Monastery Church in Cologne, Germany. This church was completely destroyed during the second world war. (31)
2.3.12 Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot is known only as the Apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ. Even now he is the symbol of treason. Any attempt to find him some excuse for his betrayal is impossible. The only weak point in this behaviour is due to the fact that Jesus chose all the Apostles, that means Judas too, and also that he knew that one of them, whom he probably knew, would betray him (John 6:70; Matt. 26:24). At the present time no parent would call their child Judas, although at the time of Jesus it was a well respected and popular name. One of the greatest Jewish patriot was Judas Maccabeus and even Jesus had a brother called Judas, although he is now known as Jude.
The name Judas Iscariot is a misinterpretation of Judas from Kerioth, a small town a few miles south of Hebron. Judas was the only non-Galilean Apostle. He was Judean and his father was called Simon (John 13:2).
Judas was probably chosen to become a disciple during one of Jesus preaching tour in Judea. At least he must have met Jesus there, even if he only became formally a disciple at the Sea of Tiberius (Matthew 4:18-24). The Scriptures do not recall any specific activity made by Judas until the Passion Week. Only John records at posteriori in his Gospel some actions to make him appear black in retrospect. Until he betrayed Jesus, Judas was well respected by the other Apostles who even elected him their treasurer and, as such, entrusted with the management of their money. Some time before the Passion Week, when Mary anointed Jesus, Judas complained about the cost of the ointment that should have been sold, in his opinion, and the money given to the poor (John 12:5,6). Jesus talked more or less openly of Judas’ coming defection (John 13:18). This is sometimes seen as a call to Judas to repent before it is to late.
The question of why Judas became a disciple has never been satisfactorily answered. Some people said that he always intended to betray Jesus whom he saw as a thread to the Jewish nation. Others think that he was sincere at first, but he saw that Jesus was not going to fulfill his destiny as a political deliverer of the Jewish nation and decided to get out, while regaining the favour of the Jewish priests and making some money -30 pieces of silver- at the same time. Some even say that Judas was told by God to be a traitor to make true the prophecies of the Old Testament, but this seems difficult to believe. What is certain is that, if he felt sorry for his crime, he did not repent to God. On the opposite, he went to the Jewish priests to obtain as much reward money as he could from them. As they did not give him the amount of money he wanted and the recognition he thought he deserved, he first threw back the money to the priests’ feet, but they refused to take it back because it was “blood money”, then he went out and hanged himself. The money was used to buy a field whose name “potter field” was changed in “Haceldama” (Field of Blood). This field was then used as a burial ground for strangers (Matt.27:3-10). Later the Greek Convent of St. Onipruis was built on this piece of land but the old potter’s field is still full of the skulls and bones of the pilgrims who were buried there. (31)
This disciple remains a mystery. He was not one of the original twelve but he was chosen later to replace Judas Iscariot. His election is not documented and the absence of comment in the Scriptures on his eventual Ministry does not help to clear the matter. Many scholars think that Paul should have been chosen. However Paul’s conversion took place a long time after Matthias’ election and his Ministry started even later. Moreover Paul could not have been chosen as an apostle as he did not meet Jesus. The rule was stated clearly by Peter when Matthias was elected (“Acts” 1:26). Later the Apostle John said that the New Jerusalem had “twelve foundations and in them the names of the Apostles” (Rev.21:14). This tends to confirm the importance of Matthias. It has been said that the twelfth Apostle was James, Jesus’ brother, but this is not believable as James was converted only after the Resurrection and he could not have been a witness of Jesus’ teaching.
Clement of Alexandria identified Matthias with Zaccheus but this too is difficult to believe as Zaccheus did not meet the conditions required to be an Apostles. Eusebius, on the other hand, said that Matthias was one of the Seventy early followers sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1) and this is possible. He also accompanied the Apostles on many occasions. He probably was a disciple of John the Baptist. In these roles Matthias could have shown his qualities and come to the attention of the remaining eleven Apostles who elected him after Judas’ betrayal and the ascension of Jesus. He was present in Jerusalem on the day of the Pentecost. As a Jew he started his Ministry preaching to the Jews living in foreign lands. Matthias is one of the five Apostles -Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, Simon the Cananaean, Andrew and Matthias- credited by the Armenian to have evangelised Armenia. A source says that Matthias was imprisoned, and blinded, by the Ethiopian cannibals and rescued by Andrew. At that time there must have been two Ethiopia, the nation we know to-day in Africa, and another where Matthias was blinded that was a province of Mesopotamia or Armenia. According to the “Martyrdom of St. Matthias” he was sent to Damascus and died at Phaleaon, a city of Judea. Another source still says that he preached in Jerusalem and was buried there after being stoned to death by the Jews. But there are other legends about his death:
– Matthias suffered martyrdom by the Jews either by lance or by the axe.
– Roman catholic tradition indicates that he preached and suffered martyrdom in Judea.
– He was martyred in Colchis.
– He was martyred in Sebastopol in 64 (or in 51) AD and buried there.
His body is said to have been buried in Jerusalem and, later on, taken to Rome by Queen Helena, except for some bones that went to Trier in Germany. (31)