Jesus had twelve apostles
(Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16)

Surprise, surprise. Actually, it isn’t very likely Jesus really had twelve apostles. Rather, twelve is a number of astrological significance: the 12 months.

The gospels themselves add up to a total of at least fifteen apostles.

Luke and Mark have thirteen disciples (of whom twelve are later on summed up as ‘apostles’). John unexpectedly brings in a brand new apostle named Nathanael. And John and Luke’s lists of apostles both have a second Judas. Interestingly, John’s list leaves out famous names like Simon the Zealot and, well… John himself.

You’re still with us? All these names! It’s a mess, really.

And there’s more. The gospel verses relating to the apostles have clearly been messed with. They contradict each other when it comes to how Jesus met the apostles. Also, some verses clearly have been added later, theologists have discovered.

A quite funny example is Mark 3:13-19, which very obviously was dropped into the gospel later. In it, we’re reading how Jesus is at the Lake of Galilee with many followers, when abruptly, ‘Jesus went up on a mountain’ (3:13) to meet with the apostles.

Hold it, mountains at the Lake of Galilee? Sadly, there aren’t any.

 

So, what’s going on?

The most often heard explanation is that the number of ‘apostles’ has been modified to please the pagans. Twelve apostles would have sound familiar to many pagans. The popular Persian sun god Mithra had twelve apostles too!

In the Roman Empire, worship of Mithra was hugely popular. In fact, religiously speaking, Mithra was the biggest competitor of Jesus!

Historians believe that whoever wrote the gospels must have added many elements of Mithra worship to make Christianity more attractive to Mithraists.

Another explanation is that the lists of the apostles were modified for political reasons.

In the early church, there were many opposing factions and internal quarrels. This may have caused editing of the list of apostles of the sort: “I’ll promote Levi into an apostle, so everyone can see how important my family is!” or “I’ll re-write this apostle's name here, so it looks more like my own name.” In that way, you could compare the verses dealing with the apostles with biblical tv-commercials.

It would also explain why the role of the apostles in the bible is so mundane. In the gospels, the apostles aren’t real, living, breathing characters. Most of them are just names.

Technically speaking, the apostles are just supernumerary actors. They’re there because Jesus needs a bunch of loyal worshippers to talk to and to say ooh and aah to his miracles.

And why were there twelve? Interestingly, this may reflect an age-old astrological belief. Mithra’s twelve apostles represented the zodiac (or the twelve months), the twelve ‘star animals’ the sun travels through in one year.

Fifteen apostles… and counting! - The mathematics of the apostles

Matthew 10:2-4

Mark 2:14, 3:14-19

Luke 5:27-30,
6:14-16

John

1. Simon, called Peter

2. Andrew

3. James, son of Zebedee

4. John, son of Zebedee

5. Philip

6. Bartholomew

7. Thomas

8. Matthew, the tax gatherer

9. James, son of Alphæus

10. Lebbæus, or Lebeus, or Thaddæus, or Lebbæus surnamed Thaddæus, or Thaddæus surnamed Lebbæus (manuscripts disagree on the name)

11. Simon the Zealot, Simon the Canaanite

12. Judas Iscariot

1. Levi, son of Alphæus, a tax gatherer

2. Simon, renamed Peter

3. Andrew

4. James, son of Zebedee

5. John, son of Zebedee

6. Philip

7. Bartholomew

8. Thomas

9. Matthew

10. James, son of Alphæus

11. Thaddæus, or Lebbæus, or Daddæus (manuscripts disagree on the name)

12. Simon the Zealot, Simon the Canaanite

13. Judas Iscariot

1. Levi, son of Alphæus, a tax gatherer

2. Simon, given the name of Peter

3. Andrew

4. James

5. John

6. Philip

7. Bartholomew, or Martholomew

8. Thomas, or Thomas the Twin

9. Matthew

10. James, son of Alphæus

11. Simon, called the Zealot

12. Judas Iscariot

13. Judas, son of James

1. Simon, son of John, to be called Cephas (“the Rock”)

2. Andrew (brother of Simon Peter) and...

3. ... an unnamed other

4. Philip

5. Thomas (Didymus, the twin)

6. Judas son of Simon Iscariot (or Simon from Karyot)

7. Judas not Iscariot

8. Nathanael

9. “The other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.”

The names of some of the apostles may be embedded in ancient religious traditions, too. Scholars have pointed out that some names refer to ‘pagan’ mythology.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, may refer to ‘Zalbatanu’, a Sumerian thunder god. And Levi the son of Alphaeus probably refers to the Babylonian word ‘alpu’. That’s the old word for Taurus in the zodiac.

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Bible scholars have pointed out that Mark’s Gospel adds up three different apostle stories. These stories look very much as if they have been added later on – the bible reads much better if you leave them out.

In Mark 1:16-39, four apostles are called. Further down the Gospel, in Mark 2:14, we suddenly read how Jesus aquires another disciple, named Levi. In Mark 3:13-19, the Gospel is abruptly broken into again by a completely different story. Here we read how the twelve disciples (without Levi, but with eight new guys) become apostles.

Frank R. Zindler, "The Twelve"