Phenomenology of World Religions ©
This is an introduction to a series of chapters dedicated to the biographies of the original twelve disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, who came to be known as Jesus Christ. They became known as apostles after Jesus left the earthly world.
The number of apostolic biographies totals to thirteen, because Matthias took the place of Judas Iscariot after the latter's tragic ending. The period during the lives of the disciples-turned-apostles is referred to by theologians as the Apostolic Age. The disciples had transformed from followers of the teacher to evangelists of Christianity, the evangelism of the Word and spreading the doctrine of Jesus Christ to the Jews and Gentiles of the ancient world. The Apostles were the founders of the first churches, the location of the first seven are mentioned in the New Testament of the Holy Bible. The primary apostles were also the authors of the Gospels, as well as letters and books that were put together to make the addition to the original Hebrew Bible text.
The following is an early Christian Apostolic Timeline, adjusted according to historical chronological accuracy: i
AD 26: John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth begin ministry.AD 28: John the Baptist is executed by Herod Antipas.AD 30: Jesus Christ is crucified, rises, ascends; Pentecost.AD 35: Paul is converted.AD 46: Paul and Barnabas on first missionary journey.AD 49-51: Paul's second missionary journey.AD 53-57: Paul's third missionary journey.AD 64: Emperor Nero persecutes Christians.AD 67: Peter and Paul are martyred in Rome.AD 95: John is exiled to Patmos.AD 106: John, last disciple, dies.
Early Christians did not leave much writing, at least that which has survived, so there are gaps in documentation of historical events of early Christian history.
Part of the reason may be that Christians were forced to practice their faith underground, literally in the case of the catacombs of Rome; and any literature would be safeguarded from discovery by the ruling pagans who persecuted the Christians. They did leave behind pictographs and images on the walls of the catacombs and other secret Christian meeting places and dwellings, but that did not reveal as much as written text would. What remained were the texts that were later collected for the New Testament Canon written by the apostles in gospel and letter scriptures.
Secular historians didn't write much about Christians and there isn't much in the Roman official records that survived time. Even the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, who lived during the period, makes little mention of the Jewish sect who called themselves Christians, but does mention Jesus and the death of the Apostle James.
A researcher or theologian can only rely upon later works when Christianity became more established in Rome and other cities of the Roman Empire by church historians like Hegesippus and Eusebius.
Archaeology has aided the historical research of Christianity in recent times and reveals, as well as verifies, information passed down from that period when Christianity was becoming established and Peter, Paul, and John preached there.
The Roman Empire was an entity of several nations kept together by Roman universal law and the language of Latin, enforced by the legions and ruled by one central government that delegated authority by appointment of governors, as well as the cooperation of puppet monarchs in certain Roman-occupied territory, like Judah-Israel under the regin of the Herod dynasty.
All roads and trade routes led to Rome – from Britain to Africa, from Russia to France, and India to Spain; all conquered by Rome before Caesar's reign starting in 47 BC. Rome was the center of the ancient world and except for the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, was the cultural center, Latinizing the known western world.
Emperor Constantine, who established Christianity as the official religion in Constantinople, intended to construct the Church of the Holy Apostles ii in their honor, whose purpose was to have the remains of the apostles placed there to keep them centralized and to honor them. Constantine was able to obtain the remains of Andrew, Luke, and Timothy; but failed in obtaining the other apostle remains. Constantine had a basilica built to honor the apostles and house relics of Paul in Rome, but the Roman Church (early Vatican) was reluctant about releasing artifacts and so Emperor Constantine did not push the issue further. However, instead of the circle, six sacred coffins were placed on each side of the Emperor's coffin instead of the circle arrangement.
Some historians believe, from certain evidence, that Constantine had intended to have the apostles placed in crypts that circled his crypt, which made him the thirteenth apostle.
Eusebius wrote in The Last Days of Constantine:
… He accordingly caused twelve coffins to be set up in this church, like sacred pillars in honour and memory of the apostolic band, in the centre of which is own was placed, having six of theirs on either side of it. Thus, as I said, he had provided with prudent foresight an honourable resting place for his body after death, and, having long before secretly formed this resolution, he now consecrated this church to the Apostles. … Planning the Church of the Apostles, Constantine had dreamed of resting there forever in the midst of the Twelve, not merely one of them, but a symbol of, if not substitute for, their leader. iii
John Holland Smith wrote:
Constantine celebrated the 30th anniversary of his accession in the summer of 335. Probably the most significant ceremonies at Rome that year were those accompanying the solemn translation of the bones venerated as relics of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul from the catacombs of St. Sebastian, where they had been venerated since 258, to the basilicas built to honour them at the traditional sites of their martyrdom, at the Vatican and on the Ostian Way. iv
The apostles were not just missionaries and evangelists, but were also founders of the earliest churches, and those churches became the main hub of continued evangelism efforts to spread Christianity and established organized Christian doctrine that emanated from Rome and the Vatican. The apostles encouraged converts to become part of their local church, as well as Christian activities within their city; and it was those efforts that retained and expanded the Christian religion. To Christians, the disciples-turned-apostles have always been heroes of the Christian faith. The Roman and Greek Catholic bestowed them the title of “Saint”, which they were the original; and gave them the status of demigods.
Long before the Church established the Canon, collections of apostolic literature
into one volume became the New Testament of the Holy Bible. Twelve disciples remained after the defection of Judas Iscariot, after Matthias replaced him; thus keeping the number at twelve, as originally established.
As far as the reasoning behind the number twelve, theologians hypothesize that it represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and Jesus represented the 13th priestly tribe of Levi.
The disciples were witnesses to Jesus' teaching and his miracles performed, as well as witness to his resurrection; thus the choice of Matthias to replace Judas who had been with Jesus and present when he preached.
Saint Paul is considered an apostle, but was not originally part of the twelve disciples, because he had been converted after the death/resurrection of Jesus Christ. He maintained that his calling and instruction came directly from Jesus.
The Book of Acts is an important Christian historical text describing how Christianity evolved from a sect of Judaism, and which expanded to the Gentiles after Jesus' death and resurrection. As time went by, the Gentiles dominated the Christian religion, and the church would end up persecuting the Jews, even after the fact that the Old Testament was created by the Hebrews, Jews, and the patriarchs of the Bible were Jewish, as well as their Saviour and founder being Jewish and who had honored the old customs and traditions, such as Passover. In reality and historically, Christianity had originally been a Jewish religious sect, based upon the prophecy of the Messiah.
The Book of Acts (of the Disciples) is a fragmentary source of information, its main theme following the followers of Christ breaking off from Jewish religious origins, especially in doctrine. Other sects of Judaism remained for a time – Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. All three Jewish sects are mentioned in the history written by Flavius Josephus.
Thus, the importance of Peter and Paul as evangelistic apostles became embedded in the Church doctrine and history. It should be noted that the majority of converts were Gentiles, who more readily gave up their pagan religions than the Jews did, recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah that prophets of old had foreseen. v
This historical examination of the apostles and their movement is an introduction to the biographies of the twelve original apostles and of Matthias who took the place of Judas Iscariot.
The recent find of the Gospel of Judas is of great historical significance, affording an opportunity to see the view from Judas Iscariot's perspective. It is fragmented, unfortunately, and considered a Gnostic text. This controversial text translated from original Greek to the Coptic language around 300 AD will be closely examined in another chapter.
Other references to the first few years in Jerusalem and the evangelical missions of the apostles can be found in Epistles and Book of Revelation, as well as traditions and legends established by the Christian Church in its early period. Legends are less fantastic than myths, but both contain elements of historical facts; usually based upon the life of a real person deified or whose character and biography has been embellished by the author or authors.
The next chapter begins the apostolic biographies with Simon Peter.
i Note that “BC” traditional means “Before Christ”, also “BCE” - Before Common Era; and “AD” traditionally designates 'After Death'. However, after modern archaeological findings and historical correlation, the dates reflected are not truly 'after death' but corrected dates according to the dating system.
iii J. Stevenson, A New Eusebius; London, 1960; p. 360.
iv John Holland Smith, Constantine the Great; NY 1971; p. 286.
v William Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles; Tyndale, 1973; pp. 1-17.