St. Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles. He is only mentioned by name in the lists of the Apostles in the Synoptic Gospels. (There is a list given in the Acts of the Apostles, but that was also written by St. Luke, and thus is identical to the list found in the Gospel according to St. Luke.) There are slight discrepancies in the lists of Apostles, mainly in the case of Sts. Simon and Jude. Matthew and Mark (who likely got their information from the same source) list Thaddaeus and Simon the Cananaean while Luke, in both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, lists “Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.”
What’s in a Name?
Kananaios or Kananites and Zelotes both derive from the Hebrew word meaning “zealous,” so it is logical to conclude that Simon the Cananaean and Simon the Zealot are the same person. In the case of St. Jude, Thaddaeus (meaning “courageous”) is most likely a surname, while Judah would have been his first name. This is supported by the position of Judas, the son of James and Thaddaeus being the same in the lists of the Apostles. If this is the case, St. Jude’s patronymic would have been bar Yaqov
A patronymic is a name that identified the person as the son of his father. Thus, Christ’s patronymic would have been bar Yosef, (“the son of Joseph”) This would have been the equivalent of the Roman nomen, which identified to which gens (family) a man belonged. In Hebrew culture, surnames were given based on some defining characteristic. In Roman culture, the cognomen was a third name, that was originally similarly based on some defining characteristic. However, by the late Republican period these cognomina were used to denote to which branch of one’s (now very large) gens a man belonged. (The most well-known examples are Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Tullius Cicero) Thus, a Hebrew surname was more similar in function to the honorary agnomen granted to victors in important military campaigns. (For example, Publius Cornelius Scipio was granted the agnomen Africanus for his defeat of Carthage, in North Africa, during Second Punic War.)
Bartholomew is a more interesting case. Unlike the Synoptics, the Gospel according to St. John has no list of the Twelve Apostles. However, various apostles identified as such in the other Gospels are mentioned. Bartholomew, however, is not. Rather, there is the character of Nathaniel, who is not mentioned in any of the other Gospels, or in the Acts of the Apostles. This apparent discrepancy is easily rectified by identifying Bartholomew with Nathaniel. If one takes Bartholomew to be the patronymic bar Tolmai, or a surname meaning “son of furrows” (similar to “sons of thunder” for the Sts. James and John), Nathaniel was likely his given name.
In that Gospel, Phillip tells him that they have meet Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Messiah. Nathaniel sneers, saying “What good can come from Nazareth?” but goes with Phillip anyway. When Jesus meets him, Our Lord astounds Nathaniel by telling him that He saw him under the fig tree, which is where he was sitting when Phillip called him. This inspires Nathaniel to follow Jesus. This incident leads credence to the identification of Bartholomew with Nathaniel, because Bartholomew is always mentioned in the company of Philip in the Synoptic Gospels. Thus, Nathaniel Bartholomew is one of a number of apostles, including Philip himself, who are mentioned briefly in the Synoptics, but have a larger role in the Gospel according to St. John.
Nathaniel is one of the Apostles, along with John, James the Great, Thomas and two anonymous others, (most likely Philip and Andrew) who were present with Peter when the resurrected Christ appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was present with the rest of the Apostles at Our Lord’s Ascension, the election of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot, and at Pentecost. After Pentecost, he along with the rest of the Twelve, was arrested, released from prison by an angel, arrested again, put on trial by the Sanhedrin, flogged and then released.
It was around this time that Apostles dispersed to preach the Gospel throughout the world. According to tradition preserved by church historian Eusebius of Caesarea and St. Jerome, Bartholomew preached in India and Armenia. It was in one of these two places, that he gained the crown of martyrdom by being either crucified or flayed alive and then beheaded (or some combination of the three?). The tradition of him being flayed alive (perhaps because it is the most gruesome martyrdom method for an Apostle) is the one that had endured. Thus, he is usually pictured carrying his flawed skin