Rabbi Bar Talmay-Nathanael is always called Bartholomew in the synoptic lists of Rabbi Yeshua‘s Apostles Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13. However, Rabbi Yokhanan calls him Nathana-el Jn 1:45, 46, 47, 48, 49; 21:2.
“Bartholomew” comes from his Aramaic name, Bar Talmay, son of Talmay. Nathanael comes from the Hebrew for “God has given.”
When Rabbi Philippos told Rabbi Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” Jn 1:45, Rabbi Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jn 1:46, reflecting the view, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” Jn 7:41–42. Rabbi Philippos responded in a way that should alert all Catholics: “Come and see” Jn 1:46.
Witnesses are certainly important, but in the end, knowing Rabbi Yeshua requires a deep and penetrating experience with him for ourselves. When John the Baptizer heard in prison about Rabbi Yeshua, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Mt 11:3. Rabbi Yeshua replied, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” Mt 11:4–5.
When Rabbi Yeshua saw Nathanael approaching he said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jn 1:47. Nathanael replied, “How do you know me?” Jn 1:48. And Rabbi Yeshua replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” Jn 1:48. Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jn 1:49.
We do not know what happened while Nathanael was under the fig tree, but it must have been a crucial moment in his life. It brings to mind Rabbi Yeshua’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Rabbi Yeshua told her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly” Jn 4:17–18. The woman replied, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” Jn 4:19. Nathanael, the Israelite in whom there was no guile, also understood that Rabbi Yeshua knew about him what only a Son of God would know. In this too we discern the presence of God in our lives.