One of the Twelve Apostles, mentioned sixth in the three Gospel lists (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14), and seventh in the list of Acts (1:13).
The name (Bartholomaios) means
son of Talmai (or Tholmai) which was an
ancient Hebrew name, borne, e.g. by the King of Gessur whose daughter was a wife
of David (II Kings 3:3). It shows, at least, that Bartholomew was of Hebrew
descent; it may have been his genuine proper name or simply added to distinguish
him as the son of Talmai. Outside the instances referred to, no other mention of
the name occurs in the New Testament.
Nothing further is known of him for certain. Many scholars, however, identify
him with Nathaniel (John 1:45-51; 21:2). The reasons for this are that
Bartholomew is not the proper name of the Apostle; that the name never occurs in
the Fourth Gospel, while Nathaniel is not mentioned in the synoptics; that
Bartholomew's name is coupled with Philip's in the lists of Matthew and Luke,
and found next to it in Mark, which agrees well with the fact shown by St. John
that Philip was an old friend of Nathaniel's and brought him to Jesus; that the
call of Nathaniel, mentioned with the call of several Apostles, seems to mark
him for the apostolate, especially since the rather full and beautiful narrative
leads one to expect some important development; that Nathaniel was of Galilee
where Jesus found most, if not all, of the Twelve; finally, that on the occasion
of the appearance of the risen Savior on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias,
Nathaniel is found present, together with several Apostles who are named and two
unnamed Disciples who were, almost certainly, likewise Apostles (the word
apostle not occurring in the Fourth Gospel and
disciple of Jesus ordinarily
meaning Apostle) and so, presumably, was one of the Twelve. This chain of
circumstantial evidence is ingenious and pretty strong; the weak link is that,
after all, Nathaniel may have been another personage in whom, for some reason,
the author of the Fourth Gospel may have been particularly interested, as he was
in Nicodemus, who is likewise not named in the synoptics.
No mention of St. Bartholomew occurs in ecclesiastical literature before
Eusebius, who mentions that Pantaenus, the master of Origen, while evangelizing
India, was told that the Apostle had preached there before him and had given to
his converts the Gospel of St. Matthew written in Hebrew, which was still
treasured by the Church.
India was a name covering a very wide area, including
even Arabia Felix. Other traditions represent St. Bartholomew as preaching in
Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, and on the shores of the
Black Sea; one legend, it is interesting to note, identifies him with Nathaniel.
The manner of his death, said to have occurred at Albanopolis in Armenia, is
equally uncertain; according to some, he was beheaded, according to others,
flayed alive and crucified, head downward, by order of Astyages, for having
converted his brother, Polymius, King of Armenia. On account of this latter
legend, he is often represented in art (e.g. in Michelangelo's Last Judgment) as
flayed and holding in his hand his own skin. His relics are thought by some to
be preserved in the church of St. Bartholomew-in-the-Island, at Rome. His feast
is celebrated on 24 August. An apocryphal gospel of Bartholomew existed in the
LE CAMUS, Vie de Notre Seigneur (tr. New York, 1906), I; IDEM in VIG., Dict. de la Bible, where references are given for the sources of the traditions, FOUARD, Life of Christ (New York, 1891).
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