The Twelve (Thirteen) Disciples [Part 2]

The following was originally written for Gants Hill United Reformed Church in June 2020. For part one, click here.

7. Thomas

Thomas, most commonly known as “Doubting Thomas”, is one of the disciples with a speaking part in the Bible, and yet, he is barely mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15 list him as one of the Twelve Disciples, but nothing is said about how he became an apostle and what came after. For that, we have to turn to the Gospel of John.

Thomas is believed to have come from Galilee and is listed as having two names. Thomas was his Aramaic name, and Didymus was his Greek name, both of which mean “twin”. Although there is no explanation for the choice of names, it is most likely Thomas was born a twin. In the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, the author gives his name as Judas Thomas. 

The first time Thomas’ name appears in John’s Gospel is John 11:16: “Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Jesus had learnt that his friend Lazarus was sick and had decided to visit him. The disciples were shocked by this decision. Lazarus lived in Judea, where the Jewish population had tried to stone Jesus. Yet, Jesus was adamant, and Thomas encouraged the disciples to go with him.  

Thomas next speaks in John 14:5: Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” Jesus had explained that he was going to prepare a place for them in heaven and that one day they would join him there. Thomas spoke on behalf of the disciples, explaining that they did not know where that place was or how to get there. Jesus responded to this with one of the most famous sayings in the Bible: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

Of course, the most famous exchange between Thomas and Jesus took place after the resurrection. This scene forever branded him as “Doubting Thomas.” “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” (John 20:24) To prove he had risen from the dead, Jesus visited the disciples in a locked room where they were hiding from the Jewish leaders, but Thomas was not there. Unable to imagine someone coming back to life, Thomas doubted the disciples’ claim that they had seen the Lord. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (20:25)

The following week, Jesus visited the disciples again. This time, Thomas was with them, and Jesus showed Thomas the nail marks and wound in his side. At once, Thomas believed, declaring, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Unfortunately, it was too late for Thomas to redeem himself. Thomas is still referred to as the doubter, giving his name to sceptics who refuse to believe without direct personal experience. “Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (20:29) 

Apart from these brief episodes in the Gospel of John, the Bible reveals nothing else about Thomas’ life. Scholars have turned to other literature to ascertain what happened to Thomas after Jesus was taken up into heaven. One belief is Thomas travelled to India in AD 52 to spread the Christian faith to the Jewish community that lived there at the time. Tradition claims he established seven churches while he was there and baptised many families. 

The theologian, Origen of Alexandria (184-253), stated Thomas was the apostle of the Parthians, a historical region located in north-eastern Iran. Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340) recorded that Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia and India. The Christian treatise Didascalia Apostolorum corroborates Thomas’ presence: “India and all countries considering it, even to the farthest seas… received the apostolic ordinances from Judas Thomas, who was a guide and ruler in the church which he built.”

Traditions of the Saint Thomas Church in India claim Thomas briefly visited China. The Office of St. Thomas for the Second Nocturn written by Gaza of the Church of St. Thomas of Malabar claims the following: 

1. Through St. Thomas the error of idolatry vanished from India.
2. Through St. Thomas the Chinese and Ethiopians were converted to the truth.
3. Through St. Thomas they accepted the sacrament of baptism and the adoption of sons.
4. Through St. Thomas they believed in and confessed to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
5. Through St. Thomas they preserved the accepted faith of the one God.
6. Through St. Thomas the life-giving splendours rose in all of India.
7. Through St. Thomas the Kingdom of Heaven took wing and ascended to China.

Regardless of whether Thomas visited China or not, it was in India where he was allegedly martyred. It is recorded that Thomas died in Chennai on a small hillock now known as St. Thomas Mount. Syrian Christian tradition believes his body was buried in Mylapore, and Ephram the Syrian (306-373) adds that Thomas’ relics were then taken to Edessa. The Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521), who served as an officer in India, recorded that Thomas’ tomb was maintained by a Muslim, and a lamp was always burning. Today, the San Thome Basilica sits on the site of Thomas’ tomb.

Saint Thomas has been made patron of a handful of things, including India and Sri Lanka. Other claims about Thomas include:

  • He was martyred by a spear
  • He was a builder by trade
  • Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary
  • Thomas met the biblical Magi on his way to India
  • Finger bones of Saint Thomas were discovered during restoration work at the Church of Saint Thomas in Modul, Iraq in 1964
  • He worked as a builder and architect for King Gondophares, the ruler of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom

8. Matthew

Matthew, later Saint Matthew, is another of the Galilean disciples. Traditionally, he is also the author of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four evangelists. Of all the disciples, he is one of the least likely candidates chosen by Jesus since he was Matthew the tax collector” (Matthew 10:30) and not liked by the public. 

Tax collectors or publicans, as they were also called, collected unpaid taxes for the Roman occupiers. It was not their job that caused people to dislike them but rather their fraudulent behaviour. Rather than collecting the amount owed, the tax collectors demanded more money, keeping the excess for themselves. Tax collectors were seen as both greedy and collaborators with the Romans.

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9) Jesus came across Matthew after healing a paralysed man in Capernaum. Matthew invited Jesus to his house for a meal, an invitation that did not go unnoticed by the Pharisees. Always trying to find fault with Jesus, the Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (9:11) Before they could respond, Jesus answered them, explaining, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (9:12-13) 

Not much is recorded about Matthew’s early life other than his career, although one Bible verse mentions the name of his father. “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14) Matthew was also known by the name Levi. The Bible also records the father of the Apostle James the Less as Alphaeus, but there is no evidence they are the same person. A man of the same name is also said to be the father of Joseph/Joses, a potential brother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, Saints Abercius and Helena also have a father called Alphaeus. 

Matthew’s call to discipleship is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but he is never mentioned in John. The final reference to the disciple is in Acts 1:10–14, where the apostles had withdrawn to a room after the Ascension of Jesus. To begin with, the disciples remained in the Jewish communities in Judea, preaching the Gospel before moving to other countries. Unfortunately, scholars have not been able to determine which countries Matthew visited. It is traditionally believed he died a martyr, but there is no evidence of this. Writers have suggested Hierapolis in Greece or Ethiopia as Matthew’s place of death.

The early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60–163) was the first person to propose Matthew the Apostle and Matthew the Evangelist were the same. The Gospel was written in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians before being translated into Greek. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been literate in Aramaic, Greek and his native tongue. To begin with, Matthew’s Gospel was known as Gospel according to the Hebrews and Gospel of the Apostles. An argument against Matthew’s authorship points out the text was written anonymously, and at no point does the author imply he was an eyewitness to the events. 

Matthew is supposedly buried in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral in southern Italy. He is recognised as a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches, and his feast day is celebrated on 21st September. In art, Matthew is usually shown with a book, implying he wrote the Gospel, and an angel. Matthew is listed as the patron saint of accountants, bankers, tax collectors, perfumers, civil servants and Salerno, Italy.

9. James, son of Alpheus

James, son of Alpheus, not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee, is a disciple mentioned in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. He is also identified as James the Less, the Minor, or the Younger, depending on the translation. “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40 NIV)

The word “less” does not imply James was less worthy than James the Greater. Instead, it may refer to his age or his height. Although there are very few mentions of James the Less in the Bible, his importance is equal to that of the other disciples. “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Like most of the other disciples, James came from Galilee, which at the time was part of the Roman Empire. How he came to be Jesus’ disciple is missing from the Bible. There is also confusion about who James was since some scholars debate he may also have been Jesus’ brother, James the Just. The consensus is they were two separate people.

Very little is known about James. After King Herod killed James the Greater, Peter, who had been arrested, escaped and said to Mary, the mother of John, “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this.” (Acts 12:17) Since James the Greater was dead, this James could either be James the Less or James the Just. Unfortunately, there is no clarification in the Bible.

James the Less’s death was recorded by the 2nd-century theologian Hippolytus. “And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.” James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is also believed to have died the same way, thus adding confusion about their identity. On the other hand, James the Less is traditionally thought to have preached at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt. Many people claim he was crucified there.

In Art, James is usually depicted with a fuller’s club, implying he may have worked in woollen clothmaking before becoming an apostle. Occasionally, he is portrayed with a carpenter’s saw, suggesting an alternative trade.

Saint James the Less is recorded as the patron saint of apothecaries, druggists, dying people and pharmacists, suggesting another potential career. He is also the patron saint of fullers, milliners, Frascati and Monterotondo in Italy, and Uruguay.

10. Jude

Jude, Judas Thaddaeus, Thaddeus, Jude of James, Lebbaeus, or whatever you wish to call him, was an apostle and martyr from 1st century Galilee. The use of multiple names in the Bible makes it difficult to determine whether they are one person or several. Cross-referencing the four Gospels, most scholars have agreed that the Thaddaeus in Matthew and Mark is the same person as Judas in Luke and John. Matthew also refers to the apostle as Lebbaeus and Judas the Zealot, whereas Luke and the Acts of the Apostles record him as Judas, son of James. One thing for sure is this disciple should not be confused with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.

Not including Judas Iscariot, the name Judas or Jude is mentioned six times in the Bible. In Luke, both Judas, son of James, and Judas Iscariot are recorded in a list of the twelve disciples. The same is recorded in Acts, minus the latter, of course. Similar lists in Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, state his name as Thaddeus. It has been suggested this may have been a nickname. Thaddeus means “courageous of heart”.

John makes an effort to differentiate between the similarly named disciples. “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’” (John 14:22) In response to this, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (14:23-24, 27)

There is debate as to whether Judas was the brother of Jesus because Matthew 13:55 says, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” The same is said in the Gospel of Mark, but there is no clarification as to whether this Judas was also the disciple. Protestant churches tend to believe they were different people, whereas Catholics usually argue the opposite. 

The author of the Book of Jude is also widely debated. The book begins with the author’s introduction: Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.” (Jude 1:1) We know from Matthew that both Judas and James were brothers of Jesus, but is Jude the same person? Also, we know Judas was the name of a disciple of Jesus, therefore, he may identify himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ.” From this, it could be inferred that Judas/Thaddaeus, Judas the brother of Jesus and Jude the author are all one person, but no one has been able to find solid proof.

A collection of biographies compiled by Jacobus de Varagine in the 13th-century attempts to clarify the mixture of names used in the Gospels:

“This Judas was called by many names. He was said Judas James, for he was brother to James the Less, and he was called Thaddeus, which is as much to say as taking a prince; or Thadee is said of Thadea, that is a vesture, and of Deus, that is God, for he was vesture royal of God by ornament of virtues, by which he took Christ the prince. He is said also in the History Ecclesiastic, Lebbæus, which is as much to say as heart, or worshipper of heart. Or he is said Lebbæus of lebes, that is a vessel of heart by great hardiness, or a worshipper of heart by purity, a vessel by plenitude of grace, for he deserved to be a vessel of virtues and a caldron of grace.” 

Putting aside the confusion of names and identity, tradition tells us Jude the Disciple continued to spread the word of Christ after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jude preached the gospel firstly in Judea before travelling through Samaria, Edom, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. Jude, along with Bartholomew, is also credited as the first people to bring Christianity to Armenia.

Jude’s life before becoming a disciple is unknown. Over time, theories and ideas suggest he may have been a farmer by trade. Growing up in Galilee, Jude would probably have spoken both Greek and Aramaic, which would have been beneficial when preaching to people of other areas. The 14th-century historian Nicephorus Callistus believed Jude was the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana recorded in the Gospel of John. This was the event that saw Jesus perform his first miracle.

Tradition states Jude was martyred around 65 AD in Beirut. Although Beirut is now the capital of Lebanon, it was then part of the Roman Province of Syria. Abdias, the first bishop of Babylon, recorded Jude’s death in the Acts of Simon and Jude, along with the death of a fellow disciple, Simon the Zealot. It is thought the pair were killed with an axe, possibly beheaded.  

Many years after his death, Jude’s bones were brought to Rome and buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica. His resting place became a popular destination for pilgrims, giving him the title, “The Saint for the Hopeless and the Despaired”. He is also known as “The Patron Saint of the Impossible.” Shrines and churches have been erected all over the world in Jude’s honour, such as in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Cuba, India, Iran, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Lebanon. The most recent shrine is the National Shrine of Saint Jude in Faversham, Kent, built in 1955.

The Feast of St Jude is traditionally celebrated on 28th October. He is the patron saint of several places and people, including Armenia; St Petersburg in Florida, Lucena, Quezon, Sibalom, Antique, Trece Mártires, and Cavite in the Philippines; Sinajana in Guam; Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, a sports club in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Chicago Police Department; lost causes; desperate situations; and hospitals.

11. Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite/Cananaean is possibly the most obscure disciple. Although his name appears on a list of the disciples mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and the Book of Acts, he does not play a named role elsewhere.

To distinguish Simon from Simon Peter, Matthew and Mark use the term “Simon the Canaanite” (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 KJV). Luke and Acts, on the other hand, call him “Simon Zelotes” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 KJV) or “Simon the Zealot” (NIV), depending on the translation. The term “Canaanite” has led people to assume Simon was from Canaan or Cana, but the Hebrew text proves this to be a mistranslation. In Hebrew, Simon was referred to as “qanai”, which means “zealous”. The reason for the Canaanite confusion is easy to forgive since the term stems from the same Hebrew word. Unfortunately, no one knows why Simon was singled out as being zealous. Although, in contemporary English zealous means enthusiastic or to have a strong passion, in Greek, it was also a synonym for “jealous”. 

Catholic scholars have attempted to identify Simon the Zealot with both Simon the brother of Jesus and Simeon of Jerusalem, despite no evidence in the Bible for either claim. The names of Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Simeon of Jerusalem or Saint Simeon does not appear in the Bible.  

According to tradition, Saint Simeon was the second Bishop of Jerusalem, appointed by the Apostles Peter, James and John. He is also said to be the son of Clopas and, therefore, potentially a cousin of Jesus. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) 

As mentioned above, the “Judas” mentioned in Mark 6:3 may have been the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus, and the “James” was potentially James the Less. So, it is possible, as it says in the Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), “Simon the Cananaean and Judas Thaddeus were brethren of James the Less and sons of Mary Cleophas, which was married to Alpheus.” The names Clopas and Cleophas refer to the same person depending on the Bible translation.

The Bible does not record how Simon was called to be a disciple, but a book of the Apocrypha, if it is to be believed, may shed some light on this. The Syriac Infancy Gospel, which supposedly records the childhood of Jesus, contains a story about a boy named Simon who was bitten by a snake. Jesus, who was only a child himself, healed the boy and said, “you shall be my disciple.” The story is concluded with “this is Simon the Cananite, of whom mention is made in the Gospel.”

There are various speculations about Simon’s actions after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some say he visited the Middle East and Africa. Another tradition claims he visited Roman Britain during the Boadicea rebellion in 60 AD. Likewise, there is more than one version of his death. Stories tell of Simon being crucified in Samaria, sawn in half in Persia, martyred in Iberia, crucified in Lincolnshire and dying peacefully in Edessa. In art, Simon is portrayed with a saw, suggesting he was sawn in half.

Simon the Zealot, like all the apostles, is regarded as a saint. He shares a feast day with Saint Jude on 28th October. He is the patron saint of curriers, sawyers and tanners, perhaps alluding to his profession.

12. Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot, the most infamous of the Twelve Disciples, betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane, which led to Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Due to this notorious role, Judas is a controversial figure in the Bible. On the one hand, he betrayed Jesus, and on the other, he set in motion the events that led to the resurrection, which was necessary to bring salvation to humanity.

The name Judas was a Greek version of the Hebrew name Judah and, therefore, was popular in Biblical times. We have already looked at the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus. To distinguish between the two disciples, the Gospel writers used epithets, such as “Judas, son of James” for Jude, and “Iscariot” for Judas. It is not certain what ‘Iscariot’ meant, but some scholars have linked it to a Hebrew phrase meaning “the man from Kerioth.” Other suggestions are “liar”, “red colour”, and “to deliver”. There is also the theory Judas was connected with the Sicarii group, who carried daggers under their cloaks, but there is no evidence they were around during Judas’ lifetime.

“Kerioth Hezron (that is, Hazor)” (Joshua 15:25) was a town in the south of Judea. Judas may have been born there, but there is no direct reference to this in the Bible. All we know about Judas’ life before he met Jesus is his father’s name. Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.” (John 6:71) 

Judas Iscariot features in all four Gospels, although not always named. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach and gave them authority over impure spirits. Other than the twelve, most of Jesus’ disciples had been unable to accept his teachings, which is why they are not named in the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasised that he had chosen the Twelve deliberately because Jesus knew he could rely on them. Yet, he also shocked them by saying, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70) The “devil” refers to Judas Iscariot. 

Despite Jesus knowing Judas would eventually betray him, he promised all the disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) This suggests Judas was chosen specifically for the role he would play in the crucifixion and resurrection, and God would not punish him.

Judas’ act of betrayal is portrayed from different angles in each Gospel. In Matthew, we are told that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15) The priests gave Judas thirty pieces of silver. The Gospel of Mark also says the chief priests promised to give Judas money for handing over Jesus, but Mark does not indicate how much. After the Last Supper, Judas found the opportunity to hand Jesus to the chief priests. Whilst Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas arrived with a large, armed crowd and said, “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” (Matthew 26:48) 

The Gospel of Luke provides a similar account to Matthew and Mark but includes further detail. Luke suggests Judas did not go to see the chief priests of his own free will but says, “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3)

The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not state Judas betrayed Jesus in return for money. Nonetheless, it is implied Judas was greedy and a thief, so it is likely Judas would have asked the priests for something in return for delivering Jesus to them. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6) 

John also directly indicates that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. In the Gospel of John, it is more obvious who this disciple is: “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:26-27)

Jesus then told Judas to go and do what he had to do quickly, but the other disciples were unaware of what this meant. “Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.” (John 13:29) 

Judas’ betrayal is mentioned in all four Gospels. The other eleven disciples are either involved with events recorded in a couple of the Gospels, or they are barely mentioned at all. The New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman (b.1955) states this is evidence that Judas’ actions truly happened. Whilst Christians believe everything in the Gospels is fact, it is strange not every Gospel writer thought certain events were worth recording.

It is generally believed Judas was overcome by remorse after the arrest of Jesus and committed suicide. The Gospel of Matthew records Judas tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests, saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:3) The chief priests would not accept the coins, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5)

The chief priests could not accept the money because it was “blood money.” Therefore, they used the money to buy a plot of land where foreigners (non-Jews) could be buried. “That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (Matthew 27:8) This supposedly fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” (Matthew 27:9-10) Yet, there is no such prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah, although there is in Zechariah. 

The Book of Acts, on the other hand, claims Judas bought the field with the money. “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19) In this verse, there is no suggestion that Judas was remorseful, and his death could have been an accident rather than suicide.  

The two differing accounts of Judas’ death have caused consternation amongst scholars. St. Augustine of Hippo suggested the account in Acts was a continuation of Matthew. The field bought by the chief priests with Judas’ money may have been the same field in which Judas hanged himself. The rope may have eventually broken, causing his body to burst open on impact with the ground. Other writers have suggested the version in Acts was metaphorical rather than factual. “Falling prostrate” represented Judas in anguish, and the “bursting out of the bowels” is pouring out emotion.

A couple of Apocryphal books add more to the account of Judas’ death. The Gospel of Nicodemus, written in the 4th century AD, relates that Judas went home to his wife and told her he was going to kill himself because he knew Jesus would punish him after the resurrection. His wife laughed and said Jesus is as unlikely to rise from the dead as the chicken carcass she was preparing for dinner. At that very moment, the chicken was restored to life. The Gospel of Judas reveals Judas’ worries that the other disciples would persecute him, so he preferred to commit suicide than face that fate.

Just as the term “Doubting Thomas” has entered the common language, the name “Judas” has come to mean “betrayer” or “traitor”. In Spain, Judas is usually depicted with red hair, which during the renaissance era was regarded as a negative trait. As a result, red hair, alongside greed, became a way of portraying Jewish people in literature. In traditional art, Judas is often portrayed with a dark-coloured halo, which contrasts with the lighter colour of the other disciples.

Unlike the other disciples, Judas was not made a saint. Saint Matthias quickly filled his place among the twelve disciples. Nevertheless, Judas will not be forgotten. His betrayal is remembered annually in churches across the world.

13. Matthias

According to the Acts of the Apostle, written between 80 and 90 AD, the Apostles chose someone to replace Judas Iscariot. Matthias is different from the other disciples in that Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, did not choose him.

In Acts 1, Peter announced to the other disciples, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” (1:21-22) Two men were nominated: Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. Lots were drawn, and Matthias was added to the eleven apostles.

Nothing else about Matthias features in the canonical New Testament, but it can be inferred that Matthias had been a follower of Jesus for the past few years. Nonetheless, non-canonical documents report that Matthias, like the other disciples, travelled from place to place, preaching the Gospel. Traditionally, Matthias is associated with the arrival of Christianity in Cappadocia and the countries bordering the Caspian Sea.

According to the 14th-century Greek ecclesiastical historian, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus, Matthias began preaching in his home region of Judea before travelling to modern-day Georgia, where he was stoned to death. A marker within the ruins of a Roman fortress claims Matthias was buried there.

Other sources record Matthias preaching in Ethiopia. The Coptic book Acts of Andrew and Matthias claims the disciples were “in the city of the cannibals in Aethiopia.” The Synopsis of Dorotheus corroborates this, saying, “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbour of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Sebastopolis is in modern-day Turkey, which means this statement goes against the theory that Matthias died in Georgia. 

A third theory suggests Matthias was stoned in Jerusalem, perhaps taking on Judas’ punishment, and then beheaded. On the other hand, Hippolytus of Rome believed Matthias died of old age.

Fragments of the apocryphal Gospel of Matthias survive, which suggests Matthias believed in a life of abstinence. “We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede to it nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.” 

Similar to the other disciples, minus Judas, Matthias was venerated by the Roman Church in the 11th Century. He was given the 24th February as his feast day (25th in Leap Years), but this was later changed to 14th May, so that it would not coincide with Lent. Legend claims Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, brought Matthias’ remains to Italy, where they were interred in the Abbey of Santa Giustina, Padua, with some sent to the Abbey of Matthias in Germany. Again, this goes against the claim that Matthias is buried in Georgia.

Following his death, Saint Matthias became the patron saint of alcoholics, carpenters, tailors, smallpox, hope and perseverance. He is also listed as the patron saint of the United States town Gary in Indiana and Great Falls-Billings in Montana.


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Jews, Money, Myth

In 1933, the Oxford English Dictionary listed the definition of “Jew” as “to cheat or overreach”. For centuries, myths and harmful stereotypes have formed that link Jews and money, the majority of which are untrue. In an attempt to disperse these tropes, the Jewish Museum London has staged an exhibition that explores the role of money in Jewish life, which over 2000 years has led to gross misconception. Jews, Money, Myth combines art, literature, culture and politics in a bid to challenge these false impressions and explore how they took shape in the first place.

Godines, Benjamin Senior; Triptych

Scenes from the life of Isaac – Benjamin Senior Godines, late 17th century.

Today, the OED’s definition of the word “Jew” is “a member of the people and cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism and who trace their origins through the ancient Hebrew people of Israel to Abraham.” Ultimately, being Jewish is about religious faith and this is where the exhibition starts.

“Charity is equivalent to all the other commandments combined.”
– Talmud Bava Batra 9a

For Jews, charity or Tzedakah is a vital part of their faith. Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that literally translates into English as “justice” or “righteousness” but is more commonly associated with charity. This form of charity, however, is a different concept to the general Western perception of charity, which is typically seen as a spontaneous act of goodwill. In Judaism, Tzedakah is an ethical obligation and can be achieved by giving money to the poor, to health-care institutions, to synagogues and so forth.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'”
– Deuteronomy 15:11

Many of the Jewish commandments involve Tzedakah in some shape or form and, although they are not obliged to give Tzedakah on a daily basis, there are two festivals where giving is customary: Yom Kippur and Purim. The exhibition includes a couple of examples of Purim plates on which Jews can place their donations.

The Jewish celebrate Purim in the early spring, in memory of the survival of the Jews in Persia during the 5th-century BCE. As told in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish queen of the same name saved her people from the king’s advisor, Haman, who intended to kill all the Jews. During the celebration, the Book of Esther is read aloud after which everyone places three coins on the Purim plates for charity. Tradition states that each coin should be the denomination of half the standard currency in that country (e.g. half a shekel, half a dollar, half a pound).

“Every firstborn of man among your sons, you shall redeem.”
– Exodus 13:13

Another Jewish custom involving money is Pidyon haben or redemption of the first-born son. According to the Code of Jewish Law, the firstborn son is destined to become a priest, however, this fate can be “redeemed” for five silver coins.

Ironically, the exhibition moves on to scenes recorded in the New Testament, which is not part of the Jewish Bible. Nonetheless, certain events in the Gospels have played a major role in establishing the negative connection between Jews and money.

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
– Matthew 26:14-16 (NIV)

Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, has become the archetypal traitor and personification of the Jews. The Passion of Christ or the Easter story is well-known by the majority of the Western world regardless of religion. Judas’ involvement in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion is perhaps not as recognised, however, his actions have permanently associated him with treachery and greed – something that managed to cast a shadow over the way Jews are perceived.

In exchange for thirty silver coins, Judas Iscariot agreed to hand Jesus over to the Romans, thus allowing God’s plan to come to fruition. Despite being a small part in a much bigger story, Judas is often the man blamed for Jesus’ death. Depicted in artworks with red hair and wearing yellow, these colours have become icons of evil and deceit.

The fact that the other Disciples were Jewish but had not betrayed Jesus is overshadowed by Judas’ treachery. A snap conclusion has been drawn that because Judas took the money and he was a Jew, then all Jews must be greedy. Whilst that statement can be seen as ridiculous, it managed to create an almost permanent judgment about Jews.

In many artworks, Judas is portrayed with a money bag tied to his belt, suggesting his love of money, however, Rembrandt (1606-69) avoided this stereotypical imagery in his painting Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver (1629).

“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders”
– Matthew 27:3

Rembrandt’s painting shows the moment Judas attempts to return the money after he realises the extent of his actions. Judas kneels pleadingly on the floor, the thirty coins scattered at the feet of the priests and elders, who refuse to take the money back. Whilst his remorse is stronger than his desire to keep the money, some people point out that Rembrandt has painted Judas with his head turned towards the coins on the ground as though he still craves the money. Nevertheless, Judas, full of guilt and shame, hanged himself.

“For I did dream of money bags tonight.”
– Shylock, The Merchant of Venice

The Jewish stereotype that stemmed from Judas was enhanced by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in his play The Merchant of Venice. The play’s antagonist Shylock, is a Venetian Jewish moneylender who lends money to his Christian rival Antonio, setting the security at a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When Antonio cannot pay back the loan, Shylock demands his flesh.

Throughout the play, Shylock’s appearance is stereotypical of the perception of Jews during the Elizabethan era. Jews had been expelled from England in 1290 and were not allowed to resettle in the country until Oliver Cromwell’s (1599-1658) rule, however, there were plenty of Jews in other countries, for instance, Venice, where the play is set.

During the 16th and 17th century, Jews were often presented as a hideous caricature, usually with a hooked nose and bright red wig. Completing their costume, of course, was their ever-present money bag. Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity at the end of the play is supposedly a happy ending, “saving” him from his unbelief and desire to kill Antonio. Overall, the play is typical of the antisemitic trends in Elizabethan England.

To counteract the antisemitic views expressed in The Merchant of Venice, Roee Rosen (b1963), an Israeli multidisciplinary artist, writer and filmmaker, produced a retelling of the story told from Shylock’s point of view. As the title The Blind Merchant suggests, Shylock is blind in this version. The “parasitical” text written by Rosen is interspersed between the original text of Shakespeare’s play, offering alternative ways of interpreting the action. Alongside the text are black and white illustrations, many of which the author/artist produced while blindfolded. Through this book, Rosen proves there is more than one way of viewing a situation, thus emphasising the prejudices in Shakespeare’s version.

The exhibition moves on from the middle ages, introducing visitors to names of notable Jewish businessmen who, due to their wealthy lifestyle, unintentionally created the tropes that “all Jews are rich” and “Jews get rich at the expense of others.” During the Commonwealth, Jews sought permission from Cromwell to return to England. Although nothing official was signed, Cromwell conceded and the Jewish population began to grow once again. Sephardi merchants from Spain presented annual gifts to the Lord Mayor to ensure their protection. Many of these Jews were involved with international trade, for instance, the East India Company, whereas others were seen as pedlars or beggars.

As is the norm, it is the rich Jews whose names are recorded and a handful of these people are responsible for the development of banks and trade during the 18th and 19th century. One famous name is Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, 1st Baronet (1784-1885), a British financier, banker and later Sheriff of London. Coming from an Italian-Jewish background, Montefiore distributed generous amounts of money to help establish industries, businesses, economies, schools and health resources among the Jewish community in the Levant. He also served as President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which had been established in 1760 to safeguard the interests of British Jews as a religious community, both in the British Isles and the colonies.

Montefiore’s brother-in-law, however, was just as, if not more, famous, becoming the richest man in the world during his lifetime. Nathan Mayer, Freiherr von Rothschild (1777-1836) was born in Germany to the Jewish banker who founded the Rothschild banking dynasty. The Rothschild brothers, of which there were five, moved to different cities where they established a new branch of the Rothschild bank. Nathan moved to England in 1798 as a textile merchant, however, he eventually set up his banking business in 1811. N. M. Rothschild and Sons was founded at New Court in St Swithin’s Lane in the City of London, where it still operates today.

Rothschild was also involved with supplying funds for the British army during the Peninsular War (1807-14), and founding the Alliance Assurance Company (now Royal & SunAlliance) with his brother-in-law. Furthermore, Nathan Mayer Rothschild played a key role in the abolition of the slave trade, helping to finance the British government’s buyout of the plantation industry’s slaves.

The Rothschild family, in general, was renowned throughout a large part of the world. Lionel Nathan Freiherr de Rothschild (1808-79), Nathan’s son, became the first practising Jew to sit as a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. As well as being a politician, he was responsible for raising large sums for the government, which aided the Crimean War (1853-6) in particular. His most famous contribution, however, was financing the government’s purchase of the Suez Canal shares from Egypt for £4 million.

Not all the rich Jews stemmed from the Rothschild family; Sir Albert Abdullah David Sassoon, 1st Baronet (1818 – 96) was a British Indian businessman who was a major benefactor to the city of Bombay. He made many philanthropic donations throughout his life, including 60,000 rupees towards the construction of the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room and made a significant contribution towards the erection of a large equestrian statue of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (1841-1910), commemorating his visit to India in 1875.

Unfortunately, the wealthy Jews were not received favourably by everyone and many satirical illustrations began cropping up in publications. The biggest target was Nathan Mayer Rothschild who was accused of numerous allegations. Some saw the Rothschild’s as people obsessed with material possessions, only parting with money if it would benefit themselves. Despite Nathan’s involvement with the abolishment of slavery, the Rothschilds are accused of colonialism and globalisation as a result of their trade with less wealthy countries.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild became the personification of greed. Many caricatures portrayed him as a rotund man sitting on piles of money. Rather than working for that money himself, it was claimed others were doing the hard work for him. One illustration from Die Karikatur der europaischen Volker vom Altertum bis zur Neuzeit by Eduard Fuchs titled Die Generalpumpe (The General Pump) suggests Rothschild was controlling everyone around him. He was also portrayed as a demonic, evil creature, for example, Jean-Pierre Dantan’s (1800-69) grotesque sculpture.

Not all Jews were “filthy rich”, however, with that stereotype firmly in place, the less affluent Jews were not looked upon favourably. When Jews first returned to England, many earned a living by peddling their goods on the streets. An illustration titled “Rhubarb!” shows a turbaned Jew selling the plant from a box around his neck. In one hand is a scale to weigh his money – an icon that became synonymous with Jews.

The Charles Dickens’ character Fagin from his acclaimed novel Oliver Twist, gradually became a visual representation of the less wealthy Jew. Yet, Jews were never considered to be poor; their second-hand clothing businesses and the like were considered to be ways of making money rather than a living. Whilst they may not have appeared wealthy in their pre-owned clothing, the prejudiced believed they had lots of money stashed away, just like Fagin and his ill-gotten gains. In 1830, an illustration of a Fagin-esque character was published in a periodical, alluding to a supposed 11th Commandment that the Jews closely followed: “Get all you can, keep what you get, give nothing away.”

nazi-propaganda-jevrejin

Antisemitic propaganda

Whilst the Rothschild’s helped to found things, such as the London Underground, their personal lives were under scrutiny. They supposedly married their cousins in order to retain control over their assets, which led people to believe they aimed to control the world. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was particularly concerned that the Jews aimed to destroy Germany. He also associated the Jews with communism – another thing he wished to eradicate. We all know the result of Hitler’s incorrect thinking and prejudice, and while thousands of Jews were able to escape his clutches by migrating to England, many more died as a result of the Holocaust.

Throughout the Second World War, antisemitic propaganda was spread throughout Europe claiming that not only were Jews aiming to destroy Germany, but they also sought world domination. One poster from Serbia in 1941 shows a man in traditional Jewish clothing holding a scale. On one side sits a pile of money and on the other, a rather irate Adolf Hitler. The text reads: “Who will be heaviest? [Who will overcome?] No one because the Jew is holding the scale.”

Fortunately, some Jews were able to find safety in England where Poor Jews Temporary Shelters were set up to help them get back on their feet. Gradually the strong prejudices established by the Nazi Party began to disperse and Jews became accepted in society.

4zydki

Żydki, “Little Jews”

Unfortunately, antisemitism has not been completely eradicated from the world and the age-old stereotypes still exist. In Poland, Żydki or “Little Jews” are figurines that are sold in marketplaces as good luck charms. The superstitious believe that having one in the house brings wealth to the family. The figurines come in all sorts of styles, however, they all have the stereotypical features that have existed for centuries. Whilst the Żydki are not deliberately making a mockery of the Jews, some find them derogative and a source of controversy.

A 17-minute film at the end of the exhibition reveals the prejudices that are still in the world today. These clips feature Donald Trump addressing a Jewish society, carnivals where people are dressed similarly to the Żydki sold in Poland, and protests against Jewish billionaires who are supposedly controlling the media. One hand-made banner encouraged people to “Google Jewish Billionaires” – I did, approximately only 8% of the world’s billionaires are Jewish.

Jews, Money, Myth is an educational and eye-opening exhibition. Most people are aware of Jewish stereotypes and nearly everyone has learnt about the Holocaust, however, it is interesting to discover where and how these myths came about. Ultimately, the exhibition is challenging two particular tropes: “All Jews are rich,” and they “get rich at the expense of others.” Both statements are proved wrong and are only based upon a handful of Jews, for instance, the Rothschilds.

Some aspects of the exhibition are shocking and uncomfortable as they drag up old propaganda and illustrations that would never be allowed in print today. Yet, we cannot ignore that these things happened, that people had these opinions and that certain events followed. In order to educate the current generation, the past must not be forgotten but learned from. The Jewish Museum London has done an excellent, if not brave, job putting the exhibition together.

The exhibition Jews, Money, Myth is open until 7th July 2019 and is included in the entry ticket to the museum. Tickets are £8.50 for adults, £6.50 concessions and £4.50 for children under 16. These prices include a £1 voluntary donation. The ticket grants visitors entry to the temporary exhibitions and permanent displays.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!