Nathanael

General Information

Likely the same as Saint Bartholomew.

Nathanael

Catholic Information

One of the first disciples of Jesus, to Whom he was brought by his friend Philip (John 1:43-51). It is generally held that Nathanael is to be identified with the Apostle Bartholomew of the Synoptic writers. The latter make no mention of Nathanael, but in their lists of the Twelve, one, Bartholomew, is always designated by his family Bar-Tolmai (son of Tolmai), and it is assumed that it is he whom the author of the Fourth Gospel designates by his personal name Nathanael. The main reasons on which this assumption rests are:

that the circumstances under which Nathanael was called do not differ in solemnity from those connected with the call of Peter, whence it is natural to expect that he as well as the latter was numbered among the Twelve; Nathanael is mentioned as present with other Apostles after the Resurrection in the scene described in John 21;

Nathanael was brought to Jesus by Philip (John 1:45), and thus it seems significant that Bartholomew is always mentioned next to Philip in the lists of the Twelve given by the Synoptists (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14).

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Publication information Written by James F. Driscoll. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


Nathanael, known also as Bartholomew

Coptic Orthodox Information

The details of Bartholomew or Nathanael's call to discipleship are recorded in John 1:43-51. He was brought to Jesus by his friend Philip.

It is generally believed that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same individual. The Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) do not mention a Nathanael as a disciples. John's gospel makes no mention of Bartholomew.

Notice that Bartholomew's name is coupled with Philip's name in the listings of Matthew and Luke. It is found next to Philip in the list of Mark. This would seem to agree with the gospel of John, where the evangelist describes Philip as an old friend who brought Nathanael to Jesus.

Bartholomew means "son of Talmai (Tolmai)" which was ancient Hebrew name. It appears in 2 Samuel 3:3 where it is listed as the given name of the King of Geshur who was the father of a wife of David, Maacah. Just as we sometimes refer to close friends by their family name rather than their given name, so it appears that only John lists this disciple by his given name. The other three gospel writers apparently designated him by his family name, Bar-Tolmai.

Characteristics of This Disciple

Nathanael means "gift of God." John's account tells us that he was from Cana in Galilee, a small village about 5 miles northeast of Nazareth. He might well have been present when Jesus performed his first miracle in that town. One obscure legend even suggests that he was the bridegroom at that wedding; another pictures him as the former boyfriend of the bride who didn't quite make it. Thankfully we can ignore such reports. When Philip suggested that Jesus was the Messiah, Nathanael honestly expressed his doubts. He failed to see how such a great one could come from a town such as Nazareth. Bartholomew reminds us of the many very nice people we meet who straightforwardly tell us that they don't believe in Jesus as their Savior. Maybe they had a bad experience with a church or a pastor or some church members. Perhaps they are confused about religion in general. Like Nathanael, they need to see Jesus. We won't be able to change their minds, but we can invite them to "come and see."

Other than his call to be a disciple Nathanael/Bartholomew is not mentioned frequently in the biblical record. He is mentioned with the other apostles after the resurrection in the account recorded in John 21, in particular verse 2. His innocence and simplicity won high praise from the lips of the Savior when Philip brought him to Jesus.

Outside of Scripture, we hear little of this man. There is no mention of him in ecclesiastical literature before Eusebius, who records in his Church History that Pantaenus of Alexandria, the teacher of Origen, visited India in the second century and found there a Hebrew copy of the Gospel According to Matthew. He was told that Bartholomew had been to India before him and had left this gospel. We should note that "India," at the time, meant everything from Arabia to the east. Other traditions suggest that Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Phrygia and the shores of the Black Sea.

Even church tradition cannot agree on his death. He supposedly died in Albanopolis (Urbanopolis) in Armenia. Some say he was beheaded and others insist that he was skinned alive and crucified head down at the command of King Astyages for having converted King Polymios.

In Michaelangelo's "Last Judgment" he is pictured as flayed and holding in his hand his own skin. Due to this account of his death, the symbol for Bartholomew/Nathanael is a skinning knife or a series of them. Sometimes the knives are pictured together with a "skin."

James F. Korthals


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