If you are new to the Bible or even a long time student, it is important to know who the key players are in this story.

Sometimes this can get confusing. There is more than one John and more than one Herod and more than one James and more than one Mary.

No wonder it can get confusing.

So let’s try to sort it out so that you can follow the story, in anticipation of traveling to the Galilee region with the “Holy Land Guru”.

Elsewhere in this site you will find a link to information as to where these people ended up and, in many cases, how they finally died, most of them brutal deaths. If you are interested in history you will find this fascinating as did I.


This John was Jesus’ cousin. You may remember from the Christmas story how a pregnant but yet unmarried Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who lived in a little town just outside Jerusalem called Ein Karem. You can see it on the way to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, high on a hill to the North.   You will also recall how Elizabeth, upon seeing Mary approaching, declared that Mary was bearing the unborn Son of God.

Elizabeth was also pregnant at this time with John, later known as the Baptist.

As in any truly great story the central characters intermingle and cross each others paths frequently along the journey of life.

John was the prophet that God sent to officially identified Jesus as the promised Messiah when he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River at its south end near Jericho and the Dead Sea.

John made remarkable claims about Jesus then and Jesus did the same thing about John.

Jesus stated that this John known as the Baptist, was like a return to earth of the Old Testament prophet Elijah who, at that time, had been dead for about  800 years, and that John was God’s messenger to announce the final long anticipated arrival of the Messiah.

John identified Jesus as that person, the long awaited Messiah of God.

Before Jesus began teaching and healing, John was already a controversial figure.

John’s appearance and life style was out of the norm even for those days. He slept in the open, wore animal skins, ate very natural foods, had a strong sense of concentration on his role and had no tolerance for those who violated God’s laws. He was fearless in confronting even the most powerful when they needed to be called on their behavior. In the process he gathered a group of loyal followers or disciples, just as Jesus would do. They were loyal to John and later had to be persuaded to switch their allegiance to Jesus.

John earned the anger of the religious/political establishment and, because he confronted  King Antipas, (the son of Herod the Great the one  who tried to kill the infant Jesus in Bethlehem,) for his immoral behavior with his sister in law, John lost his head….. literally.

Oh, and that beheading occurred in Jordan, in the mountains to the East of the Dead Sea in a fortress called Machaerus.

John’s beheading was a shock to all, left his loyal followers in shock and even resulted in Jesus changing his travel plans. Jesus responded to changes in his environment. God’s timing was important to him.



He was a rough untrained Galilean blue collar working stiff.   (Matthew 4:18)

He had a fishing business on the Sea of Galilee.

He will feel very familiar to us when we go there as we will see the remains of an old fishing boat that was recently dug out of the mud and that was probably like the one that Peter used and that Jesus rode in. Peter was the first disciple that Jesus called to follow him. Peter was a tough hard working dude, impetuous at times but probably had a loveable personality.

He was with Jesus from the very first and was the one who, when the time of testing came, caved in and denied that he ever knew Jesus, as the cock crowed for the third time.

When we go to Capernaum where Peter lived, on the North side of the Sea of Galilee,.  We will see the foundations of the town that Jesus knew and we will see the location of the probable house of Peter and his family. Yes Peter was married, contrary to what you may have been told.

Peter died in Rome under Nero about 60 AD, crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy of dying in the same way as had Jesus, about 30 years earlier. Peter had a brother named Andrew who also was a follower of Christ.


He was the brother of Peter and also a blue collar working guy and a fisherman.

He does not stand out among the disciples but apparently was a steady follower of Jesus though out his ministry.  (Matthew 4:18)

Tradition tells us that, following the resurrection, Andrew traveled to modern Turkey and is said to have established the church in what is now Istanbul, thus making him a patron saint of that area.

It is said that he was crucified but on an “X” shaped cross.

He is still remembered because, part of the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain, contains more than one cross. One of them is called the cross of St Andrew.


This James was the blood brother of Jesus

It is interesting to note that James, the younger brother of Jesus, was apparently slow to accept the supernatural aspect of his older brother.

Understandable. They lived together all of their lives.

Familiarity breeds contempt as they say.

He must have sensed that clearly Jesus was different.

Perhaps Mary and Joseph tried to explain to him the remarkable aspects of Jesus’ birth.

Whatever, it probably took a while for James, the natural brother of Jesus, to accept the fact that his older brother was the incarnation of God and was God’s “only begotten Son”.

There is not a lot of mentioning of this James during Jesus’ ministry, up to the resurrection.

But then things changed for James. Jesus was gone and was received up into heaven.

James, as the blood brother of Jesus, was suddenly thrust into leadership in the Jerusalem Church, as would be expected, given the relationship.

In Acts 15 he is seen as the head of the Jerusalem Church during those post resurrection days of danger and enormous growth and persecution.

It is interesting to note that, apparently, none of Jesus’ earthly brothers ( and presumably sisters in the flesh) accepted his supernatural role as the Messiah (John 7:4-8) until after the resurrection appearances.


(Matthew 4:18)  This James is part of another pair of brothers who again were fishermen on Galilee. His death is recorded in the New Testament book of Acts 12 where it describes him as being run through with a sword. This James is not as well known as the other James, the blood brother of Jesus, or his own brother John mentioned below.

JOHN (another one)

This John was the better known brother of the James described just above.  He and his brother James were among the first who Jesus called to be his disciples in Capernaum and they left their father tending the nets when Jesus called them to be his disciples.

They never turned back until the crucifixion when everyone scattered in terror and horror.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to this John, because it was he who wrote down a significant part of the New Testament part of the Bible for us, including: the Gospel of John, which is one of the 4 biographies of Jesus, the 3 Epistles or letters that bear his name, and last, the final book in the Bible called the Book of the Revelation.

As far as we know John is the only one of Jesus’ disciples to die naturally of old age. He was also the disciple described as the one Jesus loved. There was a special bond there apparently.

When Jesus hung on the cross he turned over the care of his mother Mary, to this John, and we are told that John took her with him when he went to live in Ephesus in Turkey where, following a stint as a Roman prisoner on a prison Island called Patmos, he lived out his years as did Mary the mother of Jesus.

Those who travel with the “Holy land Guru” on the April 26, 2014 Missionary Journey of Paul to Greece and Turkey will have the opportunity to see the traditional home of Mary there in Ephesus.


He was the father of the fishermen, James and John, mentioned just above. (Matthew 4:22) He was left to run his fishing business alone, when his 2 boys abruptly left to follow Jesus. There is no record of him complaining or fussing which would have been a very normal reaction.

You are going where??”                                                                                                                                    

“Well who is this guy Jesus anyway?”

Makes him one of the unsung heroes of the Bible.


Jesus attracted some unlikely followers.

Matthew worked for the IRS. But it was worse than that.

The IRS he worked for, openly overtaxed people, skimmed the proceeds, and collected money for the hated Roman oppressors.

On the local social ladder Mathew was at the very bottom.

Nobody would have wanted to have anything to do with him.

To most he was scum.

It was probably scandalous that Jesus picked him at all.

Gives the rest of us hope.

When approached by Jesus while in his tax office, Matthew, also called Levi, abruptly quit his lucrative job and followed Jesus.

Many must have thought “Who’d have thought that this would happen? An unlikely choice for the rabbi.”

We know Matthew best as the one who composed the first book in the New Testament part of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew, one of the 4 biographies of Jesus.

He was an eye witness to Jesus’ entire ministry and a trusted member of the band of the disciples.  So he had an abundance of original material and experiences to draw upon when he wrote the story so we could read it today.


There are actually 3 Marys  mentioned in the New Testament story:

Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, and

Mary the mother of Jesus, and finally

Mary of Magdala.

It is interesting to note how, from being known as “Mary from the town of Magdala”, her name, over the centuries, has been contracted into “Mary Magdalene” as though that was her last name.

Magdala was a small fishing village on the North West corner of the Sea of Galilee, less than a mile from Capernaum, that became Jesus’ headquarters in the area.

Jesus drove 7 demons out of her and she became a loyal follower.

She was prominent in the early part of the story and her name appears in all 4 of the biographies of Jesus found in the Bible.

At the end she was at the crucifixion and, because she was the first to arrive at the tomb on what became resurrection Sunday, she was the first person to see Jesus alive after the resurrection. She did not recognize him at first until he spoke her name, “Mary”, and she then recognized him and fell to her knees.

Because of her close association with Jesus she became an important part of the early church in Jerusalem after the ascension.


Herod’s father was a practicing Jew while Herod only gave the religion lip service. Enough to be barely tolerated by the Jews that he ruled with Rome’s blessing and authority.

Herod was a close friend of Mark Anthony of Rome and apparently knew Cleopatra.

Herod represented the hated hand of the Roman oppressors to the Jews of Palestine and could not let his guard down for a minute.

He actually ruled this restless and unhappy conquered people who longed for release from the taxing bondage of Rome, on two occasions.

He was first appointed king of Galilee.

While he was King of Galilee, they were attacked by foreign invaders and Herod fled across the Jordan River to Petra in modern Jordan.

His mother, a Nabatean, was from Petra.

After a respite there, he went to Rome and was then appointed King over Judea, and that is when he enters the Bible story and our interest.

Herod  endeared himself to the Jews by his building accomplishments that were many and impressive.

The one they favored the most was the great temple he built in Jerusalem, the same one that the young Jesus visited and later drove the money changers from.

Jesus also predicted its destruction which did occur in 70 AD

Even though he had built this magnificent temple Herod still knew that he was not loved by his subjects.

As added insurance he therefore built a fortress called the Antonio, named after his friend Mark Anthony, on the North East corner of the temple plateau, where he stationed his temple military forces.

They were constantly on duty to quell any hint of rebellion or protest.

As added protection he prepared the spectacular mountain retreat above the Dead Sea  which he called Masada, that those traveling with Dr. Bob on the February 10, 2014 departure will visit and actually ascend.

More on that later.

So Herod had a long history in the lands of the Jews and was appointed by Caesar as ruler over both Judea and Galilee on two separate occasions. (Matthew 2:1-19).

He was cruel and brutal and manipulative and paranoid.

He murdered members of his own family including his beloved wife Miriamne and his 3 sons.

He constantly was on the watch for anyone who might threaten his power. Hence his reaction when word came of the birth of a rival in Bethlehem. This is what prompted his brutal response of infanticide that Jesus barely escaped by fleeing into Egypt.

The Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus tells about the death of Herod. Herod  knew that nobody would mourn his death and that troubled him.

He wanted tears to be shed no matter how or why, and so he concocted a psychotic  plan that, when he died, the murder of prominent Jewish leaders was to occur and thus prompt the shedding of tears although  not for him. Fortunately when he died his orders were not carried out.

Herod died in the ancient city of Jericho, a terrible and painful death, eaten up maybe with cancer.

Josephus also describes the impressive funeral procession that followed as the coffin of Herod the Great was carried up the road from Jericho to Bethlehem (We will travel up and down that road on the February 10, 2014 journey) all the way to a strange volcano shaped hill outside of Bethlehem where he had built a magnificent complex of palaces and gardens.

There he was buried.

For hundreds of years archeologists have searched in vain for his tomb. The Herodion is a huge site. It was constructed by Herod like a great country club.

The Smithsonian magazine August 2009 reports the following concerning the finding of Herod’s tomb by Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, after a 35 year search.

He found what appeared to him to be fragments of a smashed sarcophagus that was highly ornate and decorated and he pieced much of it together and came to the conclusion that this was indeed the sarcophagus of Herod and that it had probably been destroyed in the early 2nd century AD during the second Jewish revolt against Rome.

According to the historian Josephus, the body was originally placed in a tower that stood 80’ tall and was about 30’ to the side and that was perched on the side of the volcano shaped mound of Herodion.

A spectacular end for Herod.                                                                                       .

Josephus’ account of Herod’s death reads as follows, quoting from the Penguin Classic translation. It reports that prior to his death, Herod launched a bloody round of murders and even burned some rabbis alive.

From then the sickness spread through his entire body accompanied by a variety of painful symptoms. He had a slight fever and unbearable itching all over his body, constant pains in the lower bowel, swellings on the feet as in dropsy, inflammation of the abdomen and mortification of the genitals producing worms, as well as difficulty in breathing especially when lying down, and spasms in all of his limbs. The diviners said that his many diseases were a punishment for what he had done to the rabbis. But though he was wrestling with so many disorders he hung on to life, hoping for a recovery and planned his own treatment. He crossed the Jordan and tried the hot baths at Callirrhoe which empty their water into the Dead Sea, water sweet enough to drink.                                                                                                                                                                          

The doctors there decided to warm his whole body with hot oil by lowering him into a full bath but he fainted and turned his eyes up as if dead………………By the time he arrived in Jericho on the return journey he was melancholy-mad and in a virtual challenge to death itself he proceeded to devise a monstrous outrage. He brought together the most eminent men of every village in the whole of Judea and had them locked up in a hippodrome”.

His obsession at the very end was that he have a terrific funeral.

A magnificent funeral at that.

And so the tyrant died and, as he feared, few if any mourned his passing.


Another Herod, this one was the son of the former. Some of his brothers were less fortunate than he as they were killed by their father. Antipass ruled over Galilee (Matthew 14:1-12)

He was the one responsible for the murder of John the Baptist .


You will search your Bible in vain and not find him mentioned there.

So why have I included him in this list of important characters in the Galilee?

You should consider him a major non Biblical actor in the story.

Josephus was an infamous Jewish collaborator with Rome.

When there was a threat of conflict with Rome, he tried to persuade the Jews to back off. He was convinced that war with

Rome would not end well and he was correct.

When the conflict between Rome and the Jews began, he was the reluctant Jewish general in charge of the military opposition to the Roman army, in the Galilee area, in the late 60s AD.

By 70 AD, when the temple was destroyed and Jerusalem torn down, he had switched sides and was on friendly terms with the Romans.

While these years of conflict in Galilee and Samarea and Judea continued, Josephus observed and he kept meticulous notes.

After the war ended, Josephus was hated by the surviving Jews who saw him as a traitor, and so he moved to Rome, taking along with him his body of research material and notes, and from Rome he wrote a 20 volume set of books called, the Jewish Wars.

It is the most extensive history of the Jewish people in existence and is relied upon by us now for an understanding of what happened then.

As is true of all historians, Josephus’ history has a bias.

His slant and prejudice is in favor of Rome and that creeps in, but the record he wrote is of great value in understanding the times that he observed.


Other disciples of Jesus:


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