Notes on the Twelve Apostles of Jesus

Who are the twelve apostles of Jesus as described in the Gospels of the New Testament? Much of our information about the disciples is scant and derived from various legends and traditions that have developed hundreds of years after their deaths.

Simon “who is called Peter” was born somewhere around 30 AD and died perhaps between 62 and 64 AD. Tradition holds that he was martyred under the emperor Nero of Rome by being crucified upside-down during the time of the Great Fire, which Nero blamed on Christians. However, this account may be apocryphal as Acts (written by Luke, a follower of Paul) if the origination of Peter’s death story, and Luke had no first-hand account of Peter’s death. Peter’s name was pronounced something like “see-moan” and was later called ‘cephas’ in reference to his second name given him which in Aramaic means something like “stone or rock,” and Jesus dubs him “petros” upon whom he will build his rock. Peter was a fisherman along with his brother Andrew and the sons of Zebedee (James and John). He is described by name in various ways in the Gospels, and also in Acts. He was one of the chief founders of the church in Rome, according to Christian tradition.

Andrew (Peter’s brother) – tradition holds that Andrew was the “first called” among the disciples. He was a fisherman with Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee (James and John). Andrew’s name means “brave” and “valorous” in Greek, there is no Aramaic or Hebrew name given for Andrew. He and Simon Peter are the sons of “Jonah” or “John.” Tradition holds that Andrew was crucified in Achaea, perhaps on an X-shaped crucifix (hence “St. Andrew’s Cross”). There once was a text called the Acts of Andrew that was circulated, today a badly damaged fragment survives, though it was likely scribed hundreds of years of Andrew’s death. Like Simon Peter, relics claiming links to Andrew are scattered all over Europe, and his cross is often associated with Scotland.

James (son of Zebedee) – or “Iacomus” is the patron saint of Spain (Santiago de compostela in Galicia, Spain – the great European pilgrimage through the Pyrenees). According to Acts, King Herod had James put to death by the sword, the first apostle to be martyred.

John (James’s brother) – or “Yohannon” is sometimes referenced as the mysterious “beloved disciple.” Tradition holds that he outlived the other apostles and was the only disciple to die a natural death. John is believed to have lived over 50 years after the death of his brother James.

Philip – was generally associated with the Greek and Syriac churches. He was present in the Gospels for several pivotal moments. There was a non-canonical text called the Acts of Philip that was available to early Christian writers, as well. Philip the Apostle was often confused with the Philip the Evangelist.

Bartholomew – also sometimes called Nathanael, he is introduced to the apostles by Philip. Tradition holds that he was martyred by being skinned alive and then beheaded. He is rumored to have been a missionary in the far east, in India. He is believed to have been martyred in Armenia.

Thomas – or “Doubting Thomas” in the Gospel of John. His name means something akin to “twin.” There was an apocryphal Gospel of Thomas found among the Nag Hammadi library, as well as a Syrian Acts of Thomas text. According to certain accounts of Thomas, he was sent to India and was eventually killed being thrust through with the lances at the ordering of an Indian king.

Matthew “the publican” – or “Levi,” the tax-collector. Although his Gospel was written anonymously, sometime around the 2nd century, a superscription was later added to copies attributing the gospel to Mattheus. He likely spoke both Greek and Aramaic. He was somewhat despised by the people of Judea for his work with Imperial Rome collecting taxes.

James (son of Alphaeus) – is sometimes associated with James the Just, brother of Jesus. He may also have been Matthew’s brother. Tradition holds that he was killed in Egypt while preaching the Gospel. Little is known about “James the Lesser.”

Thaddeus (sometimes called “Judas the Zealot” but who is not Judas Iscariot) – or “Jude.” Little information is available regarding Thaddeus. He is rumored to have been martyred via the axe.

Simon (the Canaanite) – very little is available regarding Simon. He has sometimes been confused with Simon Peter. He is sometimes distinguished as “Simon the Zealot.”

Judas Iscariot – the Iscariot addition to Judas’s name may refer to his coming from the village of Kerioth. He is the infamous betrayer of Jesus who was the first to die among the apostles. He died by suicide (hanging). His death is sometimes associated with the “field of blood” – in one of the Gospels he returns the silver pieces and the Pharisees purchase the field, in another Judas falls over the field that he purchased with his silver and his entrails burst forth from him in apparent accidental death.

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