The Twelve Disciples: their names, name-meanings, associations, etc

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is nothing more than a bit of idle trivia per se. But maybe Kakadu Dreamtime wisdom somewhere says “Clever bower bird can find something among trivia to relocate so it has power to attract a mate.”

The data comes primarily (not exclusively) from two sources:

The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature by Dale and Patricia Miller (marked with *)

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition by Robert M. Price (marked with *)

Both these works discuss some of the following name-meanings within a broader context of what the various gospel authors were attempting to convey through their characters. But for most part here I’m skipping that side of the discussion.

Note throughout:

The theme of brothers and twins*

  • Peter and Andrew are signified as brothers at their calling, but this signifier is dropped in the list of the Twelve;
  • James and John are signified as brothers in both places.
  • Thomas = Twin;
  • Levi and James are both sons of Alphaeus

Theme of supplanting*

  • Alphaeus is a designator given to a child thought of as a substitute for one lost. Levi, son of Alphaeus, is called in Mark 2 but then appears to be substituted (Mark 3) in the list of Twelve by another son of Alphaeus, James.
  • James (Jacob) = One who supplants

Theme of gifts, giving and grace*

Physical (geographical, political, ethnic) versus Spiritual Israel*

Also gentile and jewish names*

Also noteworthy in the name allusions are the “pillar themes” associated with Simon/Peter, James and John (compare Galatians 2:9).*


Simon is the Hellenized (Greek) form of Simeon. In Genesis Leah, the mother of the first Simeon, used the name to mean “God has heard”.

Possible allusions: Simon hears at first but is deaf at the end?*

In The Testament of the Twelve Patriachs (dated anywhere between 100 b.c.e and 200 c.e)

In the Testament of Simeon 2:2-4

  • Simeon has become hardened, very hard hearted (c.f. Simon’s name being changed to Peter, Rock)*
  • and his right hand was half withered 7 days (c.f. Jesus’ miracle in the synagogue)
  • he repented and wept (TS 2:10-13) (c.f. Peter after his betrayal of Christ)
  • Simeon is worse than Judas in seeking Joseph’s death*

1 Hearken, my children, to Simeon your father, And I will declare unto you what things I have in my heart.

2 I was born of Jacob as my father’s second son; And my mother Leah called me Simeon, Because the Lord had heard her prayer.

3 Moreover, I became strong exceedingly; I shrank from no achievement, Nor was I afraid of ought.

4 For my heart was hard, And my liver was immovable, And my bowels without compassion.

5, 6 Because valour also has been given from the Most High to men in soul and body. For in the time of my youth I was jealous in many things of Joseph, because my father loved him beyond

7 all. And I set my mind against him to destroy him, because the prince of deceit sent forth the spirit of jealousy and blinded my mind, so that I regarded him not as a brother, nor did I spare even

8 Jacob my father. But his God and the God of his fathers sent forth His angel, and delivered him

9 out of my hands. For when I went to Shechem to bring ointment for the flocks, and Reuben to Dothan, where were our necessaries and all our stores, Judah my brother sold him to the Ishmaelites.

10 And when Reuben heard these things he was grieved, for he wished to restore him to his father.

11 But on hearing this I was exceedingly wroth against Judah in that he let him go away alive, and

12 for five months I continued wrathful against him. But the Lord restrained me, and withheld from

13 me the power of my hands; for my right hand was half withered for seven days. And I knew, my children, that because of Joseph this had befallen me, and I repented and wept; and I besought the Lord God that my hand might be restored, and that I might hold aloof from all pollution and envy

14 and from all folly. For I knew that I had devised an evil thing before the Lord and Jacob my father, on account of Joseph my brother, in that I envied him.

In 2 Maccabees the impious Simon betrayed the legitimate high priest to the Greek emperor (3:4-12)

4 But one Simon of the tribe of Benjamin, who was made governor of the temple, fell out with the high priest about disorder in the city.

5 And when he could not overcome Onias, he gat him to Apollonius the son of Thraseas, who then was governor of Celosyria and Phenice,

6 And told him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of infinite sums of money, so that the multitude of their riches, which did not pertain to the account of the sacrifices, was innumerable, and that it was possible to bring all into the king’s hand.

7 Now when Apollonius came to the king, and had shewed him of the money whereof he was told, the king chose out Heliodorus his treasurer, and sent him with a commandment to bring him the foresaid money.

8 So forthwith Heliodorus took his journey; under a colour of visiting the cities of Celosyria and Phenice, but indeed to fulfil the king’s purpose.

9 And when he was come to Jerusalem, and had been courteously received of the high priest of the city, he told him what intelligence was given of the money, and declared wherefore he came, and asked if these things were so indeed.

10 Then the high priest told him that there was such money laid up for the relief of widows and fatherless children:

11 And that some of it belonged to Hircanus son of Tobias, a man of great dignity, and not as that wicked Simon had misinformed: the sum whereof in all was four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold:

12 And that it was altogether impossible that such wrongs should be done unto them, that had committed it to the holiness of the place, and to the majesty and inviolable sanctity of the temple, honoured over all the world.

In 2 Samuel 16:13 Shimei, a sound-a-like, threw stones at David and cursed him. C.f. Peter cursing Christ.

And as David and his men went by the way, Shimei went along on the hill’s side over against him, and cursed as he went, and threw stones at him, and cast dust.

Sem, Shem, or Shamash was the same name with reference to the Sun, as found in Samson (“little sun”). Sem was also another name for Hercules. There is much more to be said in connection with Simon Magus and the detail that Simon Peter is the only apostle named with a wife. But a full discussion of this would fill a chapter. Another time.

But till then, just one more point: The sun-god was linked with the symbol of the heavenly pillar — upholder of the vault of heaven, so that the Mid Eastern god could also bear the name Khon, Khiyun, Khwean, or Keiwan = “the upright standing one” or “pillar” (kion in Greek). (Drewes) The Pseudo-Clementines say that Simon Magus was “the Standing One” or Pillar and was worshipped as a stone pillar on Mount Gerazim in Samaria. Compare also the central place of pillars in the narratives of Samson and Heracles. (And compare the Pillar association with the name Boanerges below.)


Petros = an Aramaic name, apparently meaning “firstborn”*

But Matthew 16:18 implies we should think of it as a Greek name meaning “the rock”:*

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Possible allusions: Rocky soil of the parable? (Begins well but withers under threat of persecution when realized Jesus is to die at hands of Romans, not kill Romans). See hardness of hearing (understanding) in relation to Simeon above.

Also: Deut 32:18; 30-31; Ps 118:22; Isa 8:14-15; 1 Pet 2:7-8*

Compare Abraham in rabbinic Judaism, Yalkut, Numbers 766:*

But when [God] perceived that Abraham would one day arise, he said, ‘Behold, I have found the petra on which to built and base the world.

Compare Mithra also being called “Rock-god”, “Rock-born” (Petrogenes, ho ek petras, Saxigenus). He was called simply, “the Rock”, (Petros, Peter), presumably with reference to his birth as sparks of fire struck from a rock. (Drewes, p.21)

Think also of the cosmic foundation stone on which the Temple was supposed to have been built.

Further, “just as Moses (Moyses) strikes water from a rock with a staff, and just as his analog Dionysus (Sabazios) — who also bore the name Myses (an allustion to the invigorating liquid) — causes wine to flow from a rock with his Thyrsus staff, so too Mithra conjures water or wine out of rocks, and supplicants come to refresh their palates.” (Drewes, p.22)


Matthew 16:17-18 addresses Peter as Simon Barjona. (Though sometimes thought to mean “son of Jonah”, note that John 21:15-17 says his father was Jonathan.)* Robert Eisler suggests the reference is not originally to a proper name, but to the Akkadian/Aramaic loan-word barjona or baryona, meaning something like “militant/revolutionary”.* Compare Simon the Canaanite/Zealot? Compare Peter believing in the temporal Kingdom of God, that Jesus ought to overthrow the armies of Rome?

(Was double name Simon-Peter an attempt to combine two separate characters, as we find in other religious and mythological traditions? Detering suggests that the double name may be an attempt to conflate Simon Magus (=Paul) and the Jerusalem apostle who originally opposed him.)*


Cephas is Aramaic for “the rock”.

Cephas is a leading apostle in 1 Corinthians 1:12, 9:5; 15:5; and is used interchangeably with Peter in Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14.*

The Apostolic Church Order, the Epistula Apostolorum, and Clement of Alexandria (Outlines 5, cited in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 1.12.2) all considered Peter and Cephas different apostles.*


Andrew = Adam, man, manly

Possible allusion: new man?*


John = God is Gracious

Possible allusion: Compare Zebulun/Zebedee, below, proclaiming himself as a good gift.*

With reference to John the Baptist, Joseph Campbell pointed out in Occidental Mythology the fact that John bears the same name, and practices the same rite, as Ea (= Oannes, Ionnes, Johannes, Yohanan) the water god.


James/Jacob = Israel or He Who Supplants His Brother

Possible allusion: c.f. the meaning of Alphaeus, and the theme of supplanting*


Zebedee = Gift of God

Possible allusions: Compare Zebulon. In the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs Zebulon describes himself as “a good gift”, which could be considered as bringing his name close to the etymology of Zebedee.*

Genesis 49:13: Zebulon = by the sea*

Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon

Deuteronomy 33:18-19*

And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand.

In The Testament of Zebulun (see above for date) Zebedee catches fantastic amounts of fish, just as in the miraculous catches of fish in John 21 and Luke 5:*

5. . . . And when I was in Canaan, by the sea-coast, I caught spoil of fish for Jacob my father; and when many were choked in the sea, I abode unhurt.

6. I was the first who made a boat to sail upon the sea, for the Lord gave me understanding and wisdom therein; and I let down a rudder behind it, and I stretched a sail on an upright mast in the midst; and sailing therein along the shores, I caught fish for the house of my father until we went into Egypt; and through compassion, I gave of my fish to every stranger. And if any man were a stranger, or sick, or aged, I boiled the fish and dressed them well, and offered them to all men as every man had need, bringing them together and having compassion upon them. Wherefore also the Lord granted me to take much fish: for he that imparteth unto his neighbour, receiveth manifold more from the Lord. For five years I caught fish, and gave thereof to every man whom I saw, and brought sufficient for all the house of my father. In the summer I caught fish, and in the winter I kept sheep with my brethren.


Boanerges = Sons of Thunder / Cult of Twins

Possible allusion: Some suggest the word means Sons of Rage, but Bar/Son is Aramaic and Orges/Rage is Greek.*

Another suggestion is that Boanerges represens an old Sumerian term, Geshpuanur (swap the prefix to suffix – puanur-gesh), “upholder of the vault of heaven”.* That is, the same title as one of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces). Compare the Pillar association in the discussion under Simon.*

Also compare the Dioscuri myth. Zeus, the father of these twins, was the God of Thunder.* The Dioscuri were the sons of Thunder. Castor was killed while his brother Pollux was granted immortal life. But Pollux refused to accept this and persuaded Zeus to allow him to share death — and life — with his brother Castor. They alternated their time in heaven and hades. Compare James who was killed early, and John his brother of whom it was said that he would not die.*


Levi = joined. Levi was the ancestor of the Priests.

Possible allusions: Priests are “joiners” — joining humanity to the gods. Levi was both a tax collector for the Romans and the bearer of the name of Jewish priests. Both Rome and Jew meet in Levi?*

Note also that in Mark’s Gospel Levi’s call begins a series of narratives about controversies over violations of priestly laws. The apostasy of Israel began when Jeroboam cast out the Levites from his priesthood (1 Kings 12:31). Jesus is calling a new spiritual Levi?


James son of Alphaeus = (Jacob was a supplanting twin in genesis) — cf Levi supplanted


Alphaeus = Chalphi in the Hebrew 1 Maccabees 11:70

All the men with Jonathan fled; not one of them was left except Mattathias the son of Absalom and Judas the son of Chalphi, commanders of the forces of the army.

Meaning and possible allusion: “The Designation Given to a Child Thought of As a Substitute for One Lost”*


Thomas = Twin, Gemini (the constellation)

Not a proper name but an epithet.

The Acts of Thomas, The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas the Contender and some manuscripts of John call him Judas Thomas. (Greek for Twin is Didymus)*

Possible allusions: In the Syrian church Judas Thomas was believed to be the Twin of Jesus. This may have been meant to indicate spiritual likeness, but note also that Jesus had a brother named Judas! (Mark 6:3)*


Matthew = Gift of God


Thaddeus (Theudas ,,,, Theodosios, Theodotos, Theodorus) = Gift of God


Simon the Cananaean or (Aramaic for Zealot) — or Jealous One*

Possible allusion: Compare Simon Barjona above.

Compare also the jealousy of the Ten against James and John (Mark 10:41)*

Genesis 49:5-7*

Simeon and Levi are brethren; weapons of violence are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

Compare Simon Maccabee who led a rebellion against Greek rule.*

Another question has been raised: Are the Twelve Names variations on Messianic Themes?* Is the hope of a new military Israel compared with the spiritual Israel? (Miller) Compare the names in 1 and 2 Maccabees. The Maccabee family is the prototype of the Zealot party. Mattathias used the root for “zealot” 5 times in 1 Macc 2:23-68.*

The Maccabee names were both priests and soldiers

Father Mattathias (Matthew) began revolt against Greeks. His priest-sons were surnamed:*

John (Gaddis: Fortunate)

Simon (Thassis: Burning)

Judas (Maccabaeus: Hammer-headed or Hammerer or Designated by Yahweh)

Eleazar (Auaran: Awake)

Jonathan (Aphphus: Favorite)

All preferred to die than be unfaithful to Jacob/James/Israel.*

Jonathan’s only 2 faithful followers were (1 Macc 11:70) Judas Son of Chalphi (Alphaeus) and Mattathias (Matthew) son of Absalom*

2 Macc 14:19 — Theodotus (Thaddeus) was sent on a mission concerning a gift of God.*

2 Macc 9:29 — Philip, a Greek general, was a ‘bosom friend” of Antiochus Epiphanes*

Canaanite also sounds like Canaanite — Canaan — people of the land: In Gen 46:10 one of Simeon’s sons is born to a Canaanite woman.*

Judges 1:17 — Simeon with Judah defeated the Canaanites in Zephath*


Andrew = Manly (New Man?) — no longer designated a brother of Simon here*

Possible allusion: A Greek name. Inclusion of the Greeks in the Kingdom?*


Philip = Lover of Horses

Possible allusions: Greek name. In John the Greeks sought Jesus through him (John 12:21) as he himself sought a vision of the Father (John 14:8). As here, and again in the Gospel of Philip and in Acts in the mission to the Samaritans, Philip is some kind of revealer.*

A Greek name. Inclusion of the Greeks in the Kingdom? Also the name of several rulers in Macedonia and Israel. His name represents the opposite pole of Simon the Zealot.*

(Compare the other namesake of a Macedonian emperor, Alexander, as the son of Simon the Cyrenian — and the note on Rufus in relation to Judas Iscariot, below.)*


Bartholomew = Son of Talmai*; or Son of Ptolemy*

Possible allusions: Talmai is a Canaanite giant in Numbers 13:22, Joshua 15:14 and Judges 1:10 — driven out after Joshua. Judah and Simon fought against the Canaanites (in Kiriath) and defeated Talmai.*

2 Samuel 3:3, 13:37; 1 Chronicles 3:2 — Talmai is king of Geshur, one of David’s fathers in law. Thus David is a son of Talmai? David killed a giant. Talmai and otherl giants frightened the twelve spies sent to spy out Canaan. Joshua (God Saves) was to destroy them.*

Or referenced to the Ptolemies who had the Jewish scriptures translated into Greek?*


Judas = Judah, the Jews (praise or praised one)

Possible allusions: Judah was the betrayer of Joseph, persuading his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill him — for money.*

Iscariot is often translated “from Kerioth”, a city in Judah. In Joshua 15 it is a prefix meaning ‘city’. C.f. Judges 1:10. But Iscariot also means “Red Dyer*

Possible allusions: James/Jacob’s twin is Esau. Genesis 25:25-30*

  • Esau is Red,
  • he eats red pottage,
  • his region Edom is ‘the red region’

Iscariot is a midrash on Esau who rejected God’s love as gift to Jacob*

Genesis 27:41-42 — Esau made plans to kill James/Jacob.

Compare also the other son of Simon the Cyrenian, Rufus.* Simon the Cyrenian who was compelled to assist with the execution of Jesus (in place of the Simon Peter whose duty was to carry his cross) was the father the namesakes of a world conqueror and red-betrayer. (The Markan procession of the cross is also based on a Roman Triumph, and it may be of interest that in that procession the emperor’s face was dyed red.)

On Iscariot meaning “red dyer”:

In Gittin 56a, it is noted that the head of the revolutionary party (the Siqarii) in Jerusalem during the great Jewish revolt against Rome in 70 C.E., was a certain Abba Saqqara, the nephew of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. Since Abba Saqqara is specifically named as the Reysh Biryoney di-Yerushalayim, it was but natural that many scholars would interpret his name as meaning “Head of the Siqarii.” But against these scholars, Louis Ginzberg has argued, quite persuasively, that Abba Saqqara can simply not mean Rosh Siqrin (Head of the Siqarii) because Abba is never used in the sense of “chief” or “leader” anywhere in Rabbinic literature. Moreover, Gittin itself renders Rosh Siqrin with Reysh Biryoney. Nor should it be overlooked that throughout the Mishnah, Siqari is written without an alef and with a yod’0 whereas Abba Saqqara is written with an alef and without a yod.

Ginzberg, therefore, having demonstrated the non-connection between Saqqara and Siqari, declared unhesitatingly that Saqqara means the “dyer.” . . . . . . (necessarily deleting discussion requiring Hebrew characters unable to be produced here) . . . . . . Saqor does not mean to be “of red color”; saqor means “to dye or paint red.” Judas Iscariot and Abba Saqqara were not “redheads”; they were both (red) “dyers.”

from article by Albert Ehrman

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  • 2008-09-09 20:45:06 GMT+0000 - 20:45 | Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to research this. I must admit that I am grateful for the info. I pray that every need will be met to continue to bring insight to the kingdom of God. Now I pray that God will help me to meditate on these hidden truths. Jesus never does anything by chance and I firmly believe that there is a hidden meaning in these names.

  • 2008-09-10 07:44:03 GMT+0000 - 07:44 | Permalink

    Little children love to imagine their story-book heroes are secretly real. Is it a coincidence that the Bible praises adults who continue to embrace the submissive attitudes and uncritical mindsets of little children?

    I would hope in your meditations that you will come to see that the above name meanings are entirely within the realm of human artifice and creativity.

    If you can, life admittedly would lose a lot of childlike drama, but that loss will be more than compensated by the bracing sense of maturity, responsibility and courage that will accompany such honesty.

  • Cat Strasburg
    2008-10-12 16:40:36 GMT+0000 - 16:40 | Permalink

    Have you considered that Judas Iscariot might be a reference to this man’s having been a member of the Sicari, a group of Jewish zealots, perhaps even terrorists.

  • 2008-10-13 07:38:17 GMT+0000 - 07:38 | Permalink

    Yep. I cite a summary of Ginzberg’s reasons for rejecting this explanation at the end of the post:

    In Gittin 56a, it is noted that the head of the revolutionary party (the Siqarii) in Jerusalem during the great Jewish revolt against Rome in 70 C.E., was a certain Abba Saqqara, the nephew of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. Since Abba Saqqara is specifically named as the Reysh Biryoney di-Yerushalayim, it was but natural that many scholars would interpret his name as meaning “Head of the Siqarii.” But against these scholars, Louis Ginzberg has argued, quite persuasively, that Abba Saqqara can simply not mean Rosh Siqrin (Head of the Siqarii) because Abba is never used in the sense of “chief” or “leader” anywhere in Rabbinic literature. Moreover, Gittin itself renders Rosh Siqrin with Reysh Biryoney. Nor should it be overlooked that throughout the Mishnah, Siqari is written without an alef and with a yod’0 whereas Abba Saqqara is written with an alef and without a yod.

    Ginzberg, therefore, having demonstrated the non-connection between Saqqara and Siqari, declared unhesitatingly that Saqqara means the “dyer.” . . . . . . (necessarily deleting discussion requiring Hebrew characters unable to be produced here) . . . . . . Saqor does not mean to be “of red color”; saqor means “to dye or paint red.” Judas Iscariot and Abba Saqqara were not “redheads”; they were both (red) “dyers.”

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  • Autymn D. C.
    2009-07-26 17:03:06 GMT+0000 - 17:03 | Permalink

    Pfft—Shem and Shamash aren’t the same word! Their roots may be the same, as demonstrative.

    Cijjun is Saturn, not Sun.

  • Anonymous
    2010-01-24 00:40:00 GMT+0000 - 00:40 | Permalink


  • glen
    2010-06-21 15:32:17 GMT+0000 - 15:32 | Permalink

    I need the meaning of the 12 Apostles Names

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  • 2013-05-01 11:51:41 GMT+0000 - 11:51 | Permalink

    when you look up the names of te 12 apostles, nicknames, and father’s name or family names – in a baby book they actually come out to show at least 23 different characteristics that a follower of Christ or a disciple should exhibit in his everyday walk with God. I did a sermon on this once ….karan

  • Francis Blay Aidoo
    2016-04-14 21:12:42 GMT+0000 - 21:12 | Permalink

    This is the revelation of time! Great

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