Jesus and the Band of Brothers

In my last article I wrote about Jesus' parents, and if he was from a wealthy familiy, and in that article I quoted Mark and Matthew, for a passage on Jesus' brothers and sisters. The quote from Mark was this: "Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6.3) and the quote from Matthew was the similar in Matt. 13.55-56. The only difference between the two quotations is that in Mark, Jesus himself is referred to as a carpenter,  while in Matthew it is his father who is called a carpenter. I will not go into that diskussion here, as what I'm aiming at the part of the quotation in which they actually agree, namely that he had brothers and sisters. The evangelists even agree on the names of the brothers, and none of them mention names of the sisters. It has been discussed by scholars if these brothers and sisters were actually children of both Mary and Joseph, or if they - as some, mostly orthodox Christians believe - were only Joseph's children. The reason for this belief is that Mary is supposed to have stayed a virgin for all her life - even if no such thing is stated anywhere in The New Testament - and it would have been against all the traditions of first century jews, if a woman had only one child. But for the sake of this article, it doesnt matter who was the mother of these children - or does it?

Jesus' brothers and sisters

This article is not about Jesus' parents, so why would it matter if Mary or someone else was the mother of Jesus' brothers? Well at least at the time, when the gospel was written (I get back to that in a future article) the Jews of Palestine were matrilineal. This means that they trace their lineage through the mother, not through the father. This tradition stems from at least between 10 and 50 AD, and is most likely much older. According to later oral Jewish tradition this derives from The Book of Ezra, even if I find it difficult to see how the passages referred to can be interpreted like that: "Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons" (Ezra 9.12) and "Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt." (Ezra 10.10) as these two quotations only state that in a specific situation, the Jews not should marry their daughters to foreign men, or marry foreign women. It takes place after the Jews had returned from the Babylonic Exile, during which they had married Babylonians. The Book of Ezra was written around 450 BC, so if the oral tradition is correct, the matrilineal tradition was also practised at the time of Jesus. Also King David's daughter Tamar is mentioned in connection with the discussion on when matrilineality began in the Jewish culture, The statemens of Ezra can be traced back to Deuteronomy, which states: "Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons," (Deuto. 7.3). Deuteronomy most likely originates from the 7th century BC.

So why should the tradition of matrilineality matter in this respect. Easy! If it was actually practised at the time of Jesus, it didn't matter if Joseph was the father of his siblings; what mattered was if Mary was their mother. Unfortunately the word used for 'brother' might just as well be translated into other male relatives like "cousin" or "uncle". Personally I believe that Mary and Joseph was a normal and traditional Jewish family and that they had several children, and all that is said in for instance Luke, is that Jesus was Mary's firstborn, not that he was her only child. Jesus brother's are also mentioned elsewhere in the gospels in connections that indicate, that they were actually his brothers. I will only quote a few though: "Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3.31-32); "After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples" (John 2.12); "Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do" (John 7.3); "They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." (Acts 1.-14) and finally "Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? (1st Corinthians 9.5). But as mentioned, for the purpose of this article, it actually doesn't matter, if they were Jesus' biological siblings or not. There is one sentence though, that is interesting: "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." (John 7.59. If it is true, that even his own brothers didn't believe in him, why then did they follow him around and lived with the disciples after the execution? And why did the Jerusalem Church choose Jesus's brother James as their leader after the cruxifiction, and James was even followed by another brother, Simon? I will get back to this question below, but in my opinion, it's the statement in John, that is incorrect, and the brothers (and maybe even some of the sisters) stayed with him all the time. I also believe that the author of John knew this, but tried to hide the fact.

Disciples and apostles

"The Vocation of the Apostles" by Domenico Ghirlandaio, fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, 1481-1482

You may think that this is a bit off, in an article concerning Jesus's brothers, but I will (hopefully) show you that it's not. From we were children we have been taught that Jesus had 12 disciples, so that should be clear to all. Only he had not; actually he had many more disciples. The word "disciple", is derived from Latin, "discipulus", which can be translated into "student" or "pupil". Latin had it from Greek, mathētḗs, "one who engages in learning through instruction from another". In the days of Jesus therefore, a "disciple" was an adherent of a teacher, who not only listened and learned from the teacher, but typically also took an active interest in the teachers life, and followed his teachings. So anyone who did that, and that was definitely more than twelve, was a disciple. Many places in the gospels mention other disciples besides from the traditionel twelve. These twelve also became known as "apostles". This word derives from Greek and means "messenger" or "envoy" - often the messenger of a higher power. In The New Testament, the term alludes to the fact that Jesus sent out "the twelve" to preach his teachings. But unfortunately the gospels also mention  more than twelve apostles. Paul call himself an apostle even if Jesus didn't appoint him until after the cruxifiction and resurrection, and is considered as one by several scholars, and Acts mentions many other "envoys" or apostles than the original twelve. And so does actually Luke: "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go" (Luke 10.1); so including the twelve and Paul, it adds up to at least 85. So we can conclude that there are many more apostles as well as disciples than we normally believe. But let me concentrate on the twelve who started out as disciples and later became apostles according to Mark: "Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits." (Mark 6.7). So we all know about the twelve or do we? Actually the gospel don't even agree on their names - or by the way on their number, so let me take a closer look at how they were appointed,and who they were. I will also look into how Jesus recruited them in the first place.

The Twelve

Let me take a closer look on how the twelve went from being disciples to becoming apostles. According to Matthew "Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness" (Matt. 10.1). Mark has "Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mark 3.13-15) and Luke has "When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles" (Luke 6.13). John never tells anything about how Jesus picked the ones that he appointed as apostles. So even though the descriptions are rather similar, there are some significant differences. According to Matthew, there are already 12, and Jesus give them a new authority before sending them out to preach. According to Mark, Jesus called on those "he appointed them to be apostles". So according to Mark and Luke, this was the first time that Jesus chose the twelve, while Mattew claims, that there were already twelve chosen disciples and Matthew even indicates, that Jesus had no more than twelve disciples in all.

The three evangelists also gives the names of the twelve.

Matthew Mark Luke
Simon Simon Simon
Andrew Andrew Andrew
James, son of Zebedee James, son of Zebedee James
John, son of Zebedee John, son of Zebedee John
Philip Philip Philip
Bartholomew Bartholomew Bartholomew
Matthew, the tax collector Matthew Matthew
Thomas Thomas Thomas
James, son of Alphaeus James, son of Alphaeus James, son of Alphaeus
Simon the Zealot Simon the Zealot Simon, who was called the Zealot
Thaddaeus/Lebbaus Thaddaeus Judas, son of James
Judas Iscariot Judas Iscariot Judas Iscariot

"Saint John the Evangelist" by Piero de Cosimo, 1504-1506, Honolulu Museum of Art.

These names are from the the online bible I normally use, from Bibilia - The International Bible Society. But if you look at the online version of King James' Bible, one name is different in Matthew and Mark, namely Simon the Zealot, who in these two gospels are called Simon the Canaanite; not that it makes much difference. Luke has the Zealot and zealot is a greek word meaning that he was eager or zealous, while my Danish/English dictionary translate it to "fanatic". The Zealots was a religious and political group that fought against the Roman occupation, often with violent means. They were known as "Those, who are zealous on behalf of God" or "Those, who are zealous on behalf of The Law", in this case The Law of Moses. I will get back to this group in future article, so right now I will just mention, that it was founded in 6 AD in connection with the census taken by Quirinius. At the time the gospels were written, to be called a "The Zealot" was definitely not an honory term, as the Romans considered the Zealots as rebels (which they were) and pursued them eagerly. This is probably the reason that Mark, who wrote mostly for a Roman audicence may have downplayed the fact, that one of Jesus' close associates was a rebel. Luke, who mostly wrote for a Greek audience may not have had to protect the fact as much, as the word "zealot" did not offer the same, negative meaning to his audience, and should anybody ask, he could always claim, that Simon was just an eager follower of Jesus. The word "canaanite" derives from a Hebrew word, "qana", that also means "zealous", thus it actually means the same as zealot, but this word did not have the same negative ring to it for a Roman audience as did zealot. Thus one difference is explained.

Some versions of Matthew have Lebbaus instead of Thaddaeus, and some translations has both names and add that Lebbaus is the first name while Thaddaeus is the last name. This sound a bit strange to me though, as all the other apostles are mentioned by their first name only. Luke differs here though by omitting Thaddaus and instead introducing Judas, son of James. This has led some scholars to believe that Thaddaeus and this Judas is the same person, and that may very well be the case, see below, even if other scholars doubt it. So this is the "synoptic gospels, so-called because they can be arranged next to each other and often tells the same stories in the same order. "Syn" means together and "optic" to see. Interestingly enough both Mark and Luke mention the calling of a disciple named Levi, who was a tax collector (Mark 2.13 and Luke 5.27). Mark even adds that Levi was the son of Alphaeus. Matthew does know about the incident, but he calls the tax collector Matthew. So is Levi the same person as Matthew? The meaning of the name Matthew is "Gift of Yahweh" while Levi may (or may not, the sources disgree here) mean "someone, who joins", and thus just indicate that he joined Jesus. If that is the case, it might be the reason why Mark and Luke don't mention any Levi among the twelve.

But what about John? What does he tell about the apostles?

As I have already stated, John doesn't tell anything about how Jesus chose some of his disciples, and made them apostles, but what about their names? John agrees on Simon, Andrew and while he only names James and John as "Son of Zebedee" and doesn't mention them by name, we must believe that they are actually John and James. John also have a Philip and a Thomas, and he expand the name of the latter to Thomas Didymos. Like Luke he omits Thaddaeus and instead have a Judas, that he calls "Judas, not Iscariot", to distinguish him from the discple of that name. The disciple called Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite is in The Gospel of John called Simon Iscariot like Judas and the gospel claims that Judas Iscariot is the son of Simon (John 6.71). We are still a few names short, though. John never mentions any Matthew (or Levi for that matter) and neither does he mention James, son of Alphaeus. Also this gospel doesn't have any Bartholomew, but instead a Nathanael, who is not mentioned in any of the synoptic gospels. This Nathanael is often identifed as the same as Bartholemew, and that might very well be the case. In the synoptic gospels, Bartholomew is often mentioned alongside Philip, while in John, Nathanael is normally mentioned with Philip, and it is mentioned, that Philip and Nathanael is both from the same town, Bethsaida, in the Golan Heights. It is Nathanael, when told about Jesus by Philip, who at first rejects Jesus with the remark: "“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1.46). Also Simon and Andrew are originally from Bethsaida according to John. Another reason to equate Bartholomew with Nathanel, is that the name "Bartholomew" may be patronymic and mean "son of Ptolemy" or "son of Talmai", in which case Nathanael simply was his first name. Quite a few modern scholars reject this theory though an believe, that they were two different people. Another difference between John and the synoptics is that John focus a lot on Philip and Andrew, two disciples that play alosot no part in the synoptic gospels.

So while the synoptic gospels know the names of twelve apostles, John only know 10 names, which could be an indication of the number twelve being an invention simply to fit in with the twelve tribes of Israel. On the other hand, Jesus could have selected 12 disciples for exactly the same reason. In a future article I will take a look on Jesus religious and political aims, and in this I will suggest that Jesus never meant to extend his teachings outside Israel; it was meant for Jews only, and Jews would have understood the meaning of the number.


But let me get back to the band of brothers. According to Mark, the first two disciples that Jesus called for were the brothers Simon and Andrew, whom he met while the were fishing at The Sea of Galilea, also known as Lake Tiberias. As soon as he spoke to them, they left their nets and followed him, and soon after they met another pair of brothers, John and James, sons of Zebedee, who left their father in the boat and also followed him (Mark 1.16-20). The next he called according to Mark was Levi, who most likely is the same as Matthew (Mark 2.13). Mark doesn't mention the calling of other disciples but already in 3.13 he appoints the twelve. So far we have two pairs of brothers among the twelve! Matthew mentions the same callings as Mark, only as mentioned above, he names the tax collector Matthew instead of Levi. Luke has almost the same story about Simon and Andrew as Mark and Matthew, only he expands the story a bit and let John and Andrew be Simons partners, and let Simon and Andrew fish from a boat, while in the first two gospels they are throwing their nets from the beach - and Luke also adds a miracle here, when Jesus makes sure that Simon - efter working all day with no results to show for it - catches so many fish that the net is bursting. John is, I almost said as usual, different. According to John, the first to follow Jesus were two disciples of John the Baptist, but only one is named, Andrew. Then Andrew looks up his brother, Simon and convinces him to follow Jesus as well. Next Jesus finds Philip and make him a follower, and then Philip looks up Nathanael. They are both from the same town as mentioned, and I believe that they may very well have been brothers as well. Interesting is, that while the calling of the first disciples takes place in Galilee according to the synoptic gospels, they apparently takes place in Judea, as John claims: "This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing" (John 1.28). Also John doesn't mention anything about being them fishermen. As John doesn't mention the recruitment of other disciples, we don't know today how other disciples like Judas, Simon the Zealot and others were recruited.

So among the twelve probably there three pairs of brothers, but we are not done yet. The synoptic gospels all agree that that "the other James" was son of Aphaeus, and Mark adds that Levi/Matthew was also son of Alphaeus. Another pair of brothers here? No such thing is mentioned anywhere in the gospels, and there could of cause be two different fathers, both called Alphaeus, but at least to me this is not likely. "Alphaeus" actually means "successor", so that doesn't say much, but I will get back to it below. That leaves us with Thomas, Thaddeus/Judas, son of James, Simon Zelotes and Judas Iscariot. Let me look at the latter two first. According to John, Judas is the son of Simon (John 6.70 and 13.2). But as mentioned above the word for brother could also be used for other male relatives, so maybe it was the same with the word for "son" that John uses. But no matter if they were father and son, cousins, or brothers, they were most likely closely related.

The name Thaddeus actually can be translated into something like "the brave heart", and the Judas, known only in John, is in many later sources called Judas Thaddeus, indicating that it is actually only one person, not two! The only remaining disciple that is left is Thomas. Could he be a brother of Judas Thaddeus? There is no mention of such a relationship in the gospels, but does that mean, that they were not brothers? Some scholars believe that this Judas was actually the brother of Jesus mentioned in the synoptic gospels, but I don't agree here, but of course I can be wrong. I actually believe that Thomas was Jesus's brother Judas! How is that, you may ask? Well, in John, Thomas is called Thomas Didymus. Didymus means "twin" and so does Thomas, so John actually calls him "Twin with the nickname Twin", which seems ridiculous. For some reason it is never mentioned anywhere in any of the gospels, who Thomas' twin brother might have been, but it is mentioned in other sources - and so is the name.  The apocryphical Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hamadi in Egypt in 1945, begins with these words: "These are the secret sayings which the living Yeshua has spoken, and Didymos Judas Thomas inscribed them." This gospel has no storyline but is just a collection of sayings. Among these is: "The Disciples say to Yeshua: We know that thou shall go away from us. Who is it that shall be Rabbi over us? Yeshua says to them: In the place that you have come, you shall go to Jacob the Righteous, for whose sake the sky and earth have come to be." What is interesting here, is that Jesus himself declares that his brother, James, who at an earlier time thought he was crazy, shall be his successor, and even declares that the sky and earth have been created for the sake of James, who is also known as James the Just. To me that sounds like a really close relationship, so maybe be, James, son of Alphaeus was actually Jesus' brother? And I'm not the only one who believes that may have been the case. Saint Jerome (around 347- 420 AD) identified the two as the same person, and already Hippolytus of Rome (170 - 235 AD) did the same. But if James was Jesus brother, how come his father's name was Alphaeus then? As I have already explained, Alphaeus simply means successor, so it could hint at Josef, being a successor of David, or there could be any other reason for the name. But back to Thomas. Another text that was found at Nag Hamadi was The Book of Thomas the Contender or just The Book of Thomas. This book starts with the line: "The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another." and a few lines later Jesus said: "Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be." If Thomas actually was Jesus' twin brother, there was no reason to mention this, as everybody who mattered must have known and to later writers, who wanted to claim that Jesus was Mary's only begotten child, there was all the more reason not to mention that Jesus had a twin brother.

According to the rather infamous book "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln from 1982, claims that Jesus closest followers could be divided into two groups, of which one was "of the family", including among others Thomas, Simon Zelotes, Judas Iscariot and more, and the other was"of the faith", and not closely involved in Jesus's plans. These included Simon and Andrew and John and James, sons of Zebedee and more. This is of course pure speculation, but to me it might very well be the case that the twelve were actually a band of brothers, no matter if one or more of them were Jesus' brothers or they were just related to one another. I will get back to the disciples in a future article.

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