Bartholomew is a family name meaning “son of Tolmai, or Talmai,” so he may have had another personal name. For that reason and because he was always associated with St. Philip the Apostle in the Gospel lists, a 9th-century tradition identified him with Nathanael, who, according to John 1:43–51, was called with Philip by Jesus.
Upon seeing Nathanael, Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” This identification sought to explain how the otherwise unknown Bartholomew could be mentioned in the Apostle lists, while Nathanael, whose call is explicitly described by John, does not figure in them. His full name would then be Nathanael bar Tolmai.
Traditionally, Bartholomew also served as a missionary to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (in modern Iran), Lycaonia (in modern Turkey), and Armenia.
The manner of his death, said to have occurred at Albanopolis in Armenia, is equally uncertain; according to some, he was beheaded, according to others, flayed alive and crucified, head downward, by order of Astyages, for having converted his brother, Polymius, King of Armenia. On account of this latter legend, he is often represented in art (e.g. in Michelangelo's Last Judgment) as flayed and holding in his hand his own skin. His relics are thought by some to be preserved in the church of St. Bartholomew-in-the-Island, at Rome. His feast is celebrated on 24 August. An apocryphal gospel of Bartholomew existed in the early ages.