I Saw You Under the Fig Tree
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
They said she was a lunatic, and with good reason. Her gaunt, filthy, underfed wrists were shackled to the cold, lifeless stone behind her. Her feet, too, were bound. And it wasn't because she had committed some treacherous crime. As best we know, this girl was neither a murderess, nor a thief, nor even an adulteress. No. This girl was permanently shackled for her own safety and the safety of those around her, for she was a demoniac.
She was also the princess, daughter of the Hindu Viceroy of Kalyan named Pulumayi and niece of King Aristakarman of the Stavahanan dynasty (37-62). To the untrained ears of the contemporary west, the Viceroy was called Polymius and the King's polysyllabic name was bastardized to Astreges.
Presumably, the Viceroy had tried everything he could to knock the demon out of the young, enchained princess. They had tried herbs, no doubt. They had invoked charms. They had attempted to restrain her using gentler methods, and they had even prayed to their god Astaruda that was supposed to have healing powers for the sick and the infirmed and whom the westerners called Astaruth. But their efforts were to no avail. The princess's condition progressed to the point where she was maiming herself with her teeth and bighting those around here.
And it wasn't just the princess who was not benefiting from the appeals for divine intervention. The people of Kalyan were also suffering from "maladies, violence, infirmities, and much affliction." Previously, the people had been able to pray to Astaruth with some relief, but not now. Frustrated, they turned to the "demon Becher," which may actually have been the Hindu god Bachiran, to ask him why the Astaruth was no longer answering their pleas.
Bachiran responded that Astaruth himself had been ensnared. Ever since the one true Almighty God sent Bartholomew, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, Astaruth had been rendered powerless. Find him, Becher pleaded, and tell him to leave so that both Astaruth and he could once again be set free.
Immediately, the people searched for Bartholomew. According to Becher, "He ha[d]black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middle height, and neither tall nor stunted, but middling, clothed with a white undercloak bordered with purple, and upon his shoulders a very white cloak; and his clothes have been worn twenty-six years, but neither are they dirty, nor have they grown old. Seven times a day he bends the knee to the Lord, and seven times a night does he pray to God. His voice is like the sound of a strong trumpet; there go along with him angels of God, who allow him neither to be weary, nor to hunger, nor to thirst; his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing; he foresees everything, he knows and speaks every tongue of every nation. And behold now, as soon as you ask me, and I answer you about him, behold, he knows; for the angels of the Lord tell him; and if you wish to seek him, if he is willing he will appear to you; but if he shall not be willing, you will not be able to find him."
Bartholomew's Long and Distant Voyage
The people of Kalyan did find St. Bartholomew. He had come to southern Asia to spread the word of the Lord.
Distance was no longer foreign to Bartholomew, as he had already traveled long and far to share with the world the good news. Indeed, the words Jesus addressed to him when they first met had been quite prophetic.
Bartholomew, which translates to "son of Talmai" was also known as Nathaniel. He was introduced to Jesus Christ by his good friend from Bethsaida, Philip. According to Gospel of John, Philip heralded the discovery of Jesus Christ to Bartholomew by saying, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
Bartholomew's response was as immediate as it was flippant, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” he answered.
“Come and see,” Philip said.
It is interesting that Philip should have mentioned the law to Bartholomew (referred to as Nathaniel by John). It appears that Bartholomew's interest in Judaic law was central to his existence back then. In fact, so faithful to Jewish law must Bartholomew have been that immediately upon seeing him, Jesus observed, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.”
Taken aback, Bartholomew responded by asking Jesus how he knew him, to which the Lord answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Jesus's allusion to the fig tree was not accidental. The fig tree is of great significance in Jewish tradition. It is the third tree mentioned in the Old Testament behind the Tree of Life and the Tree of Good and Evil. Tending to the fig tress is akin to taking care of one's master. It is also held in Jewish tradition that the Tree of Good and Evil was indeed a fig tree. Thus, "gathering figs" was a term meaning studying, and explains why rabbis studied the law "under the fig tree."
The profoundness of Jesus's allusion to the fig tree struck Bartholomew, moving him to answer, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel,” thus making Bartholomew the first recorded person to recognized Jesus as the Son of God.
Jesus was not disarmed by Bartholomew's response, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?" he asked. "You will see greater things than this. Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Indeed, Bartholomew did witness our Lord's ascension, but his venture did not end there. It is believed his mission took him to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Lycaonia, and Armenia before culminating in India.
Polymius listened, and he converted.
When word arrived to Astreges, Polymius's brother, he was infuriated that the Indian gods had been "broken in pieces" by this foreigner and sent out a thousand soldiers to arrest Bartholomew. Upon apprehending him, Astreges had Bartholomew beaten with rods, scourged, and beheaded.
The reaction of the multitudes must have been devastating to King Astreges. Instead of abandoning the now deceased apostle, they took his body, laid it in the royal tomb, and glorified God. This infuriated Astreges even further. He took Bartholomew's body and dumped it into the sea by the Island of Lipari, which is near Sicily.
The events described can be pinned to 62 A.D. because a month after the Bartholomew's beheading, Astreges himself was "overpowered by a demon and miserably strangled; and all the priests were strangled by demons, and perished on account of their rising against the apostle, and thus died by an evil fate." Astreges died in 62 A.D. His brother Polymius was made bishop by Bartholomew himself and served as such for twenty years.
That Bartholomew spent time in India is beyond dispute. First century India had a permanent Jewish population, which Bartholomew undoubtedly sought. Multiple accounts have noted the presence of Christians in India as far back as the second century. Eusebius and St. Jerome of the fourth century both discuss Bartholomew’s time in India. Additionally, Pantaenus, the head of the Christian school in Alexandria, visited India in 189 A.D. and was surprised to find the actual Gospel of Matthew left there by Bartholomew. Apparently, according to Jerome, Pantaneus returned home with the Gospel.
There is an alternate tradition that holds Bartholomew died in Armenia. In fact, Bartholomew is one of the patron saints of Armenia. It maintains that Bartholomew was beheaded by King Polymius of Armenia after skinning him alive, but there is no king or high-ranking official by that name in Armenian history, making it more likely that he died in India.
The disposition of Bartholomew's body is also disputed. Gregory of Tours says Bartholomew's body washed ashore in Lipari where it was kept in the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. From there, some of his relics were transferred to Rome. He is often portrayed with his skin draped about his body and holding a knife. In Spain, he is often depicted with a chained demon.
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Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.