Beyond the mention of their names in the lists of apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13,14), we know little about these two apostles; and after Pentecost we hear nothing of them apart from the tradition of their joint work and martyrdom in Persia. Even the information we have is conflicting and not always easy to interpret.
Simon, one of the Twelve, is described by Matthew and Mark as “the Cananaean”, which is not a reference to his home town or locality, but represents an Aramaic word which Luke correctly translates as “the Zealot”. The Zealots were a nationalistic resistance movement that became prominent in the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the 60s AD. While an identifiable Zealot party probably did not exist at the time of Jesus’ ministry, there was a long history of zealous Jewish opposition to foreign occupying forces since the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BC), including the violent protests led by Judas the Galilean in 6 BC. While Christian piety has assumed that Simon gave up being a Zealot upon following Jesus, the movement may have been the other way. His zeal for God’s righteousness may have led him first into the apostolic band and later into the Zealot movement, perhaps as a further zealous response to Jesus’ call to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Jude (Judas), another of the Twelve, is identified by Luke as “James’ son” (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). The author of the letter of Jude describes himself as “Judas, brother of James” (Jude 1), which probably means to refer to another brother of Jesus. So, although Jude the apostle is frequently identified as the author of the letter, the identification is not at all certain. Further confusion is added by the fact that Mark and Matthew in their lists of apostles never mention Jude, but include the name of Thaddaeus (or Lebbaeus). Later tradition solved the problem by regarding Thaddaeus as Jude’s surname. According to John’s Gospel, at the Last Supper Jude asks Jesus why he is to reveal himself to them and not to the world (John 14:22), a question that introduces some comments from Jesus about the coming of the Spirit.
Even the tradition of the joint martyrdom of Simon and Jude in Persia is not beyond dispute. Another tradition says that Simon, and possibly Jude, died peacefully in Edessa.