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The Search for the Twelve Apostles

The Apostle Jude Thaddaeus


by McBernie Ph.D.

     There are a number of men named "Judas mentioned in the New
Testament for "Judas" is simply the Greek form of Judah, probably
the most common name among the Jews. Jude is the Latin form of
     St.Jerome called this Judas, "Triontus," which means, the
man with three names. In Matthew he is called "Lebbaeus" whose
surname was "Thaddaeus." (Matthew 10:3) in Mark he is called
"Thaddaeus." (Mark 3:18) Luke refers to him as, "Judas the son of
James." (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13 )
     The correct identification of this Judas is extremely
complicated, not only because of the three names which are used
for him in the Scriptural record but also because of the
enigmatic reference to him as the "son of James." We could tell
considerably more about him if we were certain exactly who this
James was. The Roman Catholic versions choose to translate the
reference in Luke 6:16 as "brother of James." But the revised
versions generally agree that he was the son of the man named
James. In the Greek it merely says, "Judas of James" but the
common meaning of this is "son of."
     Further complicating the identification of this Apostle is
the fact that there are two other prominent New Testament
characters by the name of Judas. There is Judas Iscariot who
betrayed Jesus, and Judas the brother o f Jesus who was probably
the author of the Epistle of Jude. In this book the writer spoke
of himself as the "brother of James." It is believed that modesty
forbade him to claim Jesus as his brother after the flesh, but it
is quite certain that he was a younger son of Joseph and of Mary.

     However, the "Judas son of James" we study here was probably
the son of James the Great, the son of Zebedee. This
identification is based upon the following argument. 

(1) This Judas was the son of James. (2) He could hardly have
been the son of James the brother of Jesus, since that James was
probably younger than Jesus and it would have been impossible for
him to have a son old enough for the son also to have been an
Apostle. Besides, all early tradition describes James the brother
of Jesus as a holy man who was probably an ascetic, and
therefore, probably unmarried. (3) "James the Less" was the son
of Alphaeus, the brother of Matthew and Joseph and Salome. If his
title "James the Less" actually means "James the Younger," we
must ask, younger than whom? Obviously, younger than James the
Great. Would, therefore, a man who is plainly declared to be the
younger of the two James' have a son old enough to be an Apostle?
This leaves us with James the Great, sometimes called James the
Elder, as the father of Judas. If this is so, then we can clearly
identify "Judas Thaddaeus Lebbaeus" as the grandson of Zebedee
and the nephew of John the Apostle.
     The name Thaddaeus may be a diminutive of Theudas or
Theodore, derived from the Aramaic noun "tad" which means
"breast" and which would mean "deal" or "beloved," that is, one
close to the heart of the one who named him.
     The other name, Lebbaeus, may be a derivation of the Hebrew
noun "leb," which means heart, and in that case it would bear the
same meaning as Thaddaeus. (See Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Volume
11, p.120).


     The Gospel of the Ebionites mentioned by Origen narrates
that St.Jude was also among those who received their call to
follow Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius. In the "Genealogies of the
Twelve Apostles" Jude was declared to be of the house of Joseph.
According to the "Book of the Bee," he was of the tribe of Judah.
(It is, however, more probable that if Jude is the son of James
the Great, be was of the tribe of Judah-ED )
     Another apocryphal document called "The Belief of the
Blessed Judas the Brother of Our Lord Who Was Surnamed Thaddaeus"
describes his mission in Syria and Dacia and indicates him as one
of the Twelve. The apocryphal book, "The Acts of St.Peter"
describes that Apostle as appointing St.Jude "over the island of
Syria and Edessa." It is obviously at this point that we are
suffering from a corrupted translation since there can hardly be
any such place as "the island of Syria." Syria is an inland
country, the capitol of which is Damascus.
     A solution suggests itself. Damascus is an "island' of
green, that is to say an oasis, in a "sea" of sand and
wilderness. Further, when the Apostle Paul was baptized it was in
Damascus, at the hands of a Christian named Annanias while he,
Paul (then Saul) was staying "in the house of a man called Judas"
about whom we know nothing except that he was the proprietor of
the house in which Paul stayed. (Acts 9:11) Admittedly, this is
flimsy evidence indeed for an apocryphal writer to build a legend
upon, to the effect that St.Peter appointed St.Jude to be a
missionary to "the island of Syria." But this obscure Scripture
reference to a Judas in Damascus, and the fact that the word
"oasis" could mean an "island" of fertility in a barren
wilderness, might actually be enough for the birth of the legend.
     The Jude of Damascus is not St.Jude, but the reference might
well have assisted the association of St.Jude with Syria.
     When it comes to a reference to a city called Edessa we are,
of course, on firmer ground, since there is an abundance of
tradition associating St.Jude with that part of Armenia of which
Edessa was the leading city.
     The "Acta Thaddaei" mentioned by Tischendorf (in "Acta
Apostolorum Aprocrypha, 1851, 281) refers to Thaddaeus as one of
the Twelve but also as one of the Seventy, as does Eusebius. 
St.Jerome, however, identifies this same Thaddaeus with Lebbaeus
and "Judas of James."
     A book published by The Church of the East in India
(Souvenir-India, p.125) contains a statement which confirms the
movement of Jude from Jerusalem eastward. This church makes a
claim that the leaven which they use in their Communion bread is
made from "the Holy Leaven ... a portion of the original bread
used by Christ at the Last Supper was brought to the East by the
Apostle Thaddaeus. And in every Holy Communion since the bread
used is made from meal continuous with that used in the first
Lord's Supper." The same book continues, "The Apostolic liturgy
of St.James of Jerusalem, brother of our Lord who celebrated the
first Qurbana or Holy Communion, is still in use in the Church of
the East, without variation or change. It is known among us by
the name of saints 'Addai' [St.Jude Thaddaeus-Ed.] and Mari who
brought the Liturgy from Jerusalem to Edessa."
     Despite the charm of this tradition it presents at least one
difficulty. The bread of the Lord's Supper could not have been
made with leaven, since the first Lord's Supper was the
celebration of the Passover and unleavened bread was commanded by
the Mosaic Law, according to Exodus 12:15. Thus we cannot accept
the tradition that Thaddaeus (Jude) brought the leaven or
sour-dough from the original Lord's Supper. Nevertheless, the
name of the city of Edessa appears in connection with Thaddaeus
(Jude) and this at least demonstrates the historical continuity
of that association.
     An early church historian (Nicephorus Callistus, His. Eccl.
240) tells how Thaddaeus (Jude) preached in Syria, Arabia,
Mesopotamia and Persia. He adds that Thaddaeus (Jude) suffered
martyrdom in Syria.


     The association of the Armenian Church with the Apostles is
one of the firmest facts in all post-Biblical Christian
historical tradition. St.Jude is consistently associated as one
of five of the Apostles who visited Armenia and evangelized
there. Armenia became the first Christian nation in the world.
Christianity was officially proclaimed in 301 A.D. as the
national religion of Armenia. 

(Nope, not so! Here McBirnie did not do his home work, if had, he
would have known that it was BRITAIN that was the FIRST Christian
nation on earth, declaring Christianity as its national religion
in the 2nd century A.D. - way before Armenia ever did - Keith

     King Tiridates, together with the nobility of his country,
were baptized by St.Greogry the Illuminator. In the history of
the Armenian church (Jerusalem and the Armenians by Assadour
Antreassian, p.20) the author states:

"Thus all Christian Churches accept the tradition that
Christianity was preached in Armenia by the Apostles Thaddeus and
Bartholomew in the first half of the first century, when the
Apostles of Christ were fulfilling their duty in preaching the
Gospel in Jerusalem and all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the
uttermost parts of the earth - (Acts 1:8). Armenia was among the
first to respond to the call of Christ so early. Thus, the above
mentioned Apostles became the first illuminators of Armenia. The
generally accepted chronology gives a period of eight years to
the mission of St.Thaddeus (35-43 A.D.) and sixteen years to
that of St.Bartholomew (44-60 A.D.), both of whom suffered
martyrdom in Armenia (Thaddeus at Ardaze in 50 A.D. and
Bartholomew at [Derbend] in 68 A.D.)."

     The same author writing on the organization of the Armenian
church makes the following claim. "As head of the Armenian
Church, the Catholicos of all Armenians at Etchmiadzin is
regarded as the successor of the Apostles Thaddaeus and

     Aziz S. Atiya in his authoritative "History of Eastern
Christianity" deals with the origins and development of Armenian
Christianity with restraint but with a clear reflection of this

"It is conceivable that Armenia, because of its close
proximity to Palestine, the fountain head of the faith of Jesus,
may have been visited by the early propagators of Christianity,
although it is difficult to define the extent of the spread of
this new religion among its inhabitants. Orthodox Armenian
historians, such as Ormanian, labour to make a case for the
continuity of Apostolic succession in their church. To him the
'First Illuminators of Armenia' were Saints Thaddaeus and
Bartholomew whose very shrines still stand in the churches of
Artaz (Macao) and Alpac (Bashkale) in south-east Armenia and have
always been venerated by Armenians. A popular tradition amongst
them ascribes the first evangelization of Armenia to the Apostle
Judas Thaddaeus who, according to their chronology spent the
years 43-66 A.D. in that country and was joined by St.Barth-
olomew in the year 60 A.D. The latter was martyred in 68
A.D. at 'Derbend.' According to Armenian tradition, therefore,
Thaddaeus became the first patriarch of the Armenian Church, thus
rendering it both Apostolic and autocephalous. Another tradition
ascribes to the See of Artaz a line of seven bishops whose names
are known and the periods of whose episcopates bring the
succession to the second century. Furthermore, the annals of
Armenian martyrology refer to a host of martyrs in the Apostolic
age. A roll of a thousand victims including men and women of
noble descent lost their lives with St.Thaddaeus, while others
perished with St.Bartholomew.
It is interesting to note that the apocryphal story of King
Abgar and Our Lord was reiterated by some native writers as
having occurred in Armenia in order to heighten the antiquity of
that religion amongst their forefathers.
Though it is hard to confirm or confute the historicity of these
legends so dear to the hearts of Armenians, it may be deduced
from contemporary writers that there were Christians in Armenia
before the advent of St.Gregory Ulluminator, the fourth-century
apostle of Armenian Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea (ca.
260-340 A.D.) refers to the Armenians in his 'Ecclesiastical
History' on two occasions. First, he states that Dionysius of
Alexandria (d. ca. 264), pupil or Origen, wrote an Epistle 'On
Repentance', 'to those in Armenia ... whose bishop was
Meruzanes.' On a second occasion, speaking of Emperor
Maximin's persecution of 311-13, he says that 'the tyrant had the
further trouble of the war against the Armenians, men who from
ancient times had been friends and allies of the Romans; but as
they were Christians and exceedingly earnest in their piety
towards the Deity, this hater of God [i.e., Maximin], by
attempting to compel them to sacrifice to idols and demons, made
of them foes instead of friends, and enemies instead of allies.
Although this second episode must have occurred in the lifetime
of Gregory the Illuminator, there is no doubt as to the antiquity
of the first reference to the Armenians.
Further, if we believe the argument advanced by Ormanian and
other native Armenian historians about a second-century quotation
from Tertullian, it must be admitted that Christianity was not
unknown in that region at that early date" (pp.315-16).

     In a book published by the Armenian Christians in Jerusalem
called "The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem," the Armenian
tradition of St.Jude is described as natural from the early
relationship of Armenia to the Holy Land:

"The indestructible and everlasting love and veneration of
Armenians for the Holy Land has its beginning in the first
century of the Christian Era when Christianity was brought to
Armenia directly from the Holy Land by two of the Apostles of
Christ, St.Thaddeus and St.Bartholomeus.
The early connection with Jerusalem was naturally due to the
early conversion of Armenia. Even before the discovery of the
Holy Places, Armenians, like other Christians of the neighbouring
countries, came to the Holy Land over the Roman roads and the
older roads to venerate the places that God had sanctified. In
Jerusalem they lived and worshipped on the Mount of Olives.
After the declaration of Constantine's will, known as Edict of
Milan, and the discovery of the Holy Places, Armenian pilgrims
poured into Palestine in a constant stream throughout the year.
The number and importance of Armenian churches and monasteries
increased year by year" ("Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem,"

     One of the most unusual side references to the association
of St.Jude (Thaddaeus) with Armenia is found in Catalogue No.1,
"Treasures of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem":

"The traditional founders of the Armenian Church were the
apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, whose tombs are shown and
venerated in Armenia as sacred shrines. During the period between
the Apostolic origins of the Armenian Church and the beginning of
the 4th century, when the country as a whole formally adopted
Christianity, there have been Armenian bishops whose names are
mentioned by ancient historians," ("Treasures of the Armenian
Patriarchate of Jerusalem" by Arpag Mekhitarian, Helen and Edward
Mardigian Museum - Catalogue No. 1, Jerusalem, Armenian
Patriarchate, 1969, p.3).

     The association of St.Jude with Persia, where part of the
ancient Armenia is found today (the other parts being within
Turkey and the Soviet Union) is acknowledged by Roman Catholic
tradition as follows: 

"St.Jude preached throughout Samaria, Edessa and Mesopotamia and
penetrated as far as Persia where he was martyred with a javelin
or with arrows or by being tied to a cross. He is pictured as a
young or middle aged man in sacred art. His relies are widely
distributed. Some are in St.Peter's, Rome, and others in the
Church of St.Saturninus in Tolosa, Spain." ("Traveller's Guide to
Saints in Europe," Mary Sharp, p.129).

     We have a mixture of traditions about the death and burial
places associated with St.Jude. In "The International Standard
Bible Encyclopaedia" (p.2964) C.M.Kerr says that the burial
place of Thaddaeus is variously placed in Beirut and in Egypt.
     However, in 1971 this writer carefully investigated these
claims and found no evidence of an Egyptian tradition for the
tomb of St.Jude, and no knowledge whatever in Beirut of any such
association. Consultation with both Catholic and Syrian Orthodox
Church leaders in Lebanon indicate that no such tradition exists
there today.
     On the other hand the Assyrian Church leaders, as well as a
major general of the Iranian Army, informed the author during a
visit to Teheran (October 16, 1971) that the original tomb of St.
Jude (Thaddaeus) was in a small village called Kara Kelisa near
the Caspian Sea, about 40 miles from Tabriz. This is in Iran,
near the Soviet border. This could well be the site of the
original tomb of St.Jude even though it is likely that to keep
the relics safe from the invasion of Genghis Khan, the relics
themselves may have been moved westward and scattered from Rome
to Spain. The tremendous tomb which is built for these relics in
St.Peters Basilica in Rome, which is located directly south of
the main altar in a side area, attests to the firm belief among
the Catholic authorities that some of the genuine relics of St.
Jude are indeed to be found there in Rome to this day.


     An attractive legend has come down to us from Eusebius
concerning Thaddaeus. This legend tells of a correspondence
between Jesus and Abgar, King of Edessa (in what is now southern
Russia). Eusebius claims to have seen this correspondence in the
archives of Edessa and to have translated it himself from the
Syriac language. In the letter Abgar tells that he has heard of
Jesus, his divinity, his miracles and his cures. He invites Jesus
to come to Edessa to escape from the ill-treatment of the Jews
and to heal him of his affliction. Jesus replies in a letter that
he must remain in Palestine and fulfill all things there, but
that after he is taken up into heaven, he will send one of his
disciples to heal him. The story claims that, after the ascension
of Jesus, Thomas sent Thaddaeus to Edessa where he preached the
gospel and healed many people, including the King. The story ends
with Thaddaeus refusing to accept a large gift of gold and silver
from the King.
     A later account of the legend, which is added by John of
Damascus, says that since Jesus could not go to Edessa, he
allowed the messenger to try to paint a picture of him to satisfy
the longing of Abgar to see him. The messenger could not paint
the face of Jesus because of the light that flowed from him. So
Jesus pulled a garment over his face, and on it the picture of
his face remained. The garment was sent to Abgar and became the
means whereby many miracles were wrought. It is then said that
Thaddaeus went on to preach the gospel in other places and was
finally killed with arrows at Mt.Ararat.

(We must remember that many basic true traditions, in time, do
get added to, embelished upon, and become larger than life, so
with the above - Keith Hunt).

     A historical footnote by Jean Danielou in "The Christian
Centuries" (p.82-83) records that the earliest church historian,
Heggesippus, tells that Domitian, the Roman emperor who
imprisoned John the Apostle, once visited, Jerusalem and summoned
before him the descendants of Jude who had been denounced to him
as of the royal house of David. He examined them and found that
they were only simple farmers and dismissed them as of no
potential danger to his rule. Eusebius, who tells the story and
quotes Hegesippus, earlier recalled that Emperor Vespasian had
ordered a search for all the descendants of David after the
capture of Jerusalem (HE, III 2, 20).

     This story is one of the most significant of the historical
footnotes to early Christianity because it confirms the literal
Davidic ancestry of Jesus. Christians today have thought of Jesus
as a "King" because he was the Son of God. They have overlooked
the historical fact that he was an actual descendant of David
legally through Joseph and both legally and by blood through
Mary who was also of the royal house of David. Alas for our
history of St.Jude the Apostle, however, the grandsons of Jude
mentioned here were the grandsons of Jude, the brother of Jesus,
the author of the book of Jude - not the St.Jude (Thaddaeus) into
whose history we have inquired in this study.


     Subject to the corrections of further discoveries, the
following biographical sketch can be deduced from the traditions
and discoveries which are at hand:

     Jude was the son of James the Elder and the grandson of
Zebedee. He was of the tribe of Judah as befits a man whose name
is the Greek form of Judah. He probably followed his father into
the ranks of the Apostles from the place near Capernaum where
they were engaged in fishing. He may have had a close alliance
with the 'Seventy' who were also disciples of Jesus. But he had
as well, a firm position as one of the Twelve.
     St.Jude is mentioned in the Bible as asking a single
question of Jesus. "How is it you will reveal yourself to us and
not to the world?" (John 14:22).
     Many scholars believe this was the last question any
disciple asked of Jesus before Jesus began His prayer vigil in
Gethsemane, which concluded with Jesus being seized by the
sergeants of the high priests. Jesus answered Thaddaeus, "If a
man loves me and keeps my word, my Father and I will love him and
we will come to him and abide with him" (John 14:23).
     After the resurrection Thaddaeus is listed in the official
roster of the Apostles (Acts 1:10). He was present on the day of
Pentecost. Doubtless he was one of the first Apostles to leave
Jerusalem for a foreign country. If there is even a grain of
truth in the Abgar legend, St.Jude became one of the first
Apostles to witness directly to a foreign king, a Gentile. There
is no serious reason to doubt that St.Jude did indeed evangelize
that area of Armenia associated with the city of Edessa, in
company perhaps with St.Bartholomew, and for a brief period with
     One can also believe that he spent his years of evangelistic
effort in Syria and Northern Persia. It is likely that he died
there and was originally buried at Kara Kelesia. It is also
likely that later a part or all of his body was removed for
safekeeping because of the threat of the Mongolian invasion. It
is also not unreasonable to believe that important relics of St.
Jude are now to be found in Rome and Tolosa, Spain.
     Another Apostle with whom he is frequently associated is St.
Simon Zelotes. It is said that his bones are mixed with those of
St.Simon in the tomb at the Vatican. The Persian tradition is
that the two were slain at about the same time, or possibly


Entered on this Website April 2008

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