In the time of Jesus, Palestine was subject to the Romans and the part west of the Jordan was divided into three provinces: Judea in the south, Samaria in the middle, and Galilee in the north. Galilee was the largest. The land of Gennesaret, which Capernaum and Bethsaida were situated near, was a thriving and heavily populated district of Palestine. It was in Galilee that Jesus spoke 19 of his parables and performed 25 of his miracles. The first three Gospels speak mainly of events that occurred during Jesus' time in Galilee.
Zebedee was a Galilean fisherman and the husband of Salome. Zebedee means abundant proportion and is an appropriate name for a man who was a well established businessman in Capernaum. He was the owner of two boats (Luke 5:4) and had hired servants. (Mark 1:20) He was the father of James the Greater and John, two of the original Apostles, known as the Sons of Thunder, or the Boanerges. (Matthew 4:21; 27:56; Mark 15:40). Salome means peaceable. She is thought to have been the sister of Mary, Jesus' mother and the daughter of a priest.(John 19:25). She asked Jesus to give her sons seats on his right and left hand in his new kingdom. (Matthew 20:20, 21; comp. 19:28). She was also a witness to the crucifixion (Mark 15:40), and was with the other women at the sepulchre when they discovered Jesus' body was missing. (Matthew 27:56).
Zebedee's sons were born at Bethsaida. Bethsaida means house of fish and was a town in Galilee, on the west side of the sea of Tiberias. The modern Ain Tabighah, which is a bay north of Gennesaret, is thought to be the original location of Bethsaida on the east side of the Sea of Galilee approximately two miles up the Jordan River. Other sources think that is was built on both sides of the lake near where the Jordan flows into it, and is now the ruins et-Tel. It was also the home town of Peter and Andrew, the sons of Jonas, and Philip. Jesus was a frequent visitor, establishing a home there when he began his ministry and after his expulsion from Nazareth. It is near here that the miracle of the loaves and fishes occurred (Luke 9:10; John 6:17; Matthew 14:15-21), and where Jesus restored a blind man's vision. (Mark 8:22; Mark 6:45; John 1:44; 12:21).
Zebedee would have educated his sons in the manner of young Jewish men of the time although it is not likely that they had the technical education of rabbinical school. It is quite likely that they, like the other apostles, spoke Greek and Aramaic. James, John, Peter and Andrew were partners in a fishing business of their own (Matt. 20:20; 27:56). His son John came into contact with John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea and was deeply intrigued. John witnessed the announcing of Jesus - "Behold the Lamb of God" and he and his brother were invited to follow Jesus, which they did. Their energy, temper and vehement preaching style earned them the name of Boanerges, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17) which was probably a product of their Galilean race. The Galilean accent differed from that of Jerusalem, it was broader and more guttural, (Mark 14:70) which would have given the power of their rhetoric further impact. Galileans were well respected for being religious, hardy, enterprising, courageous, and staunch defenders of the Jewish nation
Although James and John returned home to their parents and to fishing at one point, they left to follow Jesus when he called them again. They became part of Jesus' trusted inner circle. John was the overseer of all seven churches and was entrusted with the care of Jesus' mother at the crucifixion. James, the elder brother, was the first Apostle who was martyred. He was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1, 2), in 44 A.D. John was the only apostle to die of old age and was the author of the Gospel of John, three epistles and the Revelations. Zebedee is not mentioned again in the Bible after his sons have been called to be with Jesus.
Alphaeus was the father of James the Less or the Little, Matthew (Levi), Simon, Jo'ses (Joseph), Jude (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Mark 15:14, Acts 1:13) and possibly Thomas (Didymus). Alphaeus meant a thousand, learned or chief. The Hebrew form of Alphaeus is Cleopas or Clopas, abbreviations of the name Cleopatros. Other sources indicate that Joseph had a brother names Clopas. Alphaeus was the husband of the Mary mentioned in John 19:25 who is thought to be a sister or sister-in-law of Jesus' mother, Mary. Jo'ses meant raised, one who exists and there is no information on him.
There is also very little information available regarding Alphaeus, although it is possible that he is one of the two disciples with whom Jesus spoke on the road to Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, on the day of the resurrection (Luke 24:18). Emmaus was in Pa1ęstina Prima, suffragan of Cęsarea. Today 'Am'was (the native name) is a Mussulman village about eighteen miles from Jerusalem, on the road to Jaffa. There are ruins of a basilica built in the fourth or the fifth century.
James was called to be an apostle with his brother Jude and is also identified as "the brother" or close relative of Jesus in Galatians 1:18,19. This indicates that there was a family connection through blood or marriage to the family of Jesus. Brother meant the sons of the same father as well as all the male members of the same clan or tribe. James is called the Less or the Little to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee, and because he was short. There is some speculation that it means he was held in diminished stature as one of the twelve. This is unlikely as he was of the head of the church in Jerusalem and had a separate meeting with Jesus after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian, who lived about the middle of the second century, informs us that James was called the "Just", and that he drank no wine or strong drink, ate no meat, no razor touched his head, that he did not anoint himself or bath, and that he was put to death by the Jews. He was the author of the Epistle of James.
Jude was sometimes called Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18) or Judas, brother of James, to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot.(Luke 6:16) The name Judas meant the praise of the Lord. He was the author of the Book of Jude and identifies himself as James' brother (Jude 1:1). He was included in the brethern of the lord who were known to the Galatians and the Corinthians. Several of them were married and they were not true believers in Christ until after the Resurrection (I Cor.9: 5; Gal 1:10; John 7: 3-5; Acts 1:14). From Hegesippus, as related by Eusebius of Cęsarea, we learn that Jude was said to have been the brother of the Lord according to the flesh and that two of his grandsons lived till the reign of Trajan. Legend has it that he evangelized Armenia and died there.
In the lists of the apostles, Thomas is always mentioned between Matthew and James which has lead to the supposition that they were brothers. The name Thomas or Didymus translates as twin. In the Apocryphal Acts of Thomas, his name is the basis for his identification as the twin brother of Jesus. He is responsible for the expression "doubting Thomas" because he didn't recognize Jesus in ascension and demanded physical proof. "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25; John 20:29)
Matthew and James were both publicans or tax-collectors. Matthew is identified as a publican in Capernaum so it is quite likely that this is where Alphaeus raised his family. Jesus passed by where Matthew was working one day and said, "Follow me." Matthew went with him and became his disciple. The name Matthew means gift of God and was a common name at the time. It is thought that he changed his name from Levi to honour his being called as an apostle. Matthew preached the gospel to the Hebrews for fifteen years and then went to Ethiopia, south of the Caspian Sea, Persia, Macedonia and Syria where he evangelized in their native tongues. There are conflicting details as to when, where or how he died but Ethiopia is listed in the Roman Martyrology. It is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded.
Sources indicate that Simon succeeded his brother, James, as head of the church in Jerusalem and identify him with Simon the Canaanite or Zealot, also one of the original twelve apostles. Both surnames have the same meaning and are a translation of the Hebrew qana - the Zealous. This name doesn't mean that he belonged to the party of Zealots, but that he was an passionate practioner of the Jewish law before his call to apostlehood. The Greeks identify him with the bridegroom at the marriage in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine. There are various versions on how he was martyred, one version being that he suffered crucifixion as the Bishop of Jerusalem, after he had preached the Gospel in Samaria. His body was said to have been sawed to pieces.
Capernaum, which translates village of Nahum, is thought to be Tell Hum, a significant archeological excavation about two miles south-west of where the Jordan River flows into the sea. It was located on the road from Damascus to Acco and Tyre, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, and was a fishing village established in the first century BCE The population is estimated to have been about one thousand people. There are ruins of a magnificent synagogue which dates to about the fourth century CE. A smaller one, built from basalt, dates to the first century CE. The smaller one may have been built by the centurion in (Luke 7:5), and was the synagogue where Jesus frequently taught (John 6:59; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:33).