Oct 282016


Today is the feast day in Western Christian churches of Jude the Apostle, also known as Judas Thaddaeus. My title, “Jude the Obscure,” is somewhat sardonic – as is Hardy’s book title. Jude is an obscure apostle. He is generally identified with Thaddeus, and is also variously called Jude of James, Jude Thaddaeus, Judas Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. He is sometimes identified with Jude, the brother of Jesus, but is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus prior to his crucifixion. Judas Thaddaeus became known as Jude in English after early translators of the Greek Bible into English sought to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot and subsequently abbreviated his forename. Both Jude and Judas are translations of the name Ὶούδας in the original Greek, a variant of the Aramaic Judah (Y’hudah), a common name at the time. Most versions of the Greek Bible in languages other than English and French refer to Judas and Jude by the same name.


“Jude of James” is only mentioned twice in the New Testament: in the lists of apostles in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. The Epistle of Jude states that it was written by “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1:1). Luke’s name, “Jude of James,” is ambiguous as to the relationship of Jude to this James (Jacob). Though such a construction sometimes connoted a relationship of father and son, it has been traditionally interpreted as “Jude, brother of James” (Luke 6:16). Although some modern Protestants identify him as “Jude, son of James” (in the New International Version translation for example), in the King James Version and Revised Standard Version he is “Judas the brother of James.” The Gospel of John also mentions a disciple called “Judas, not the Iscariot” (οὐχ ὁ Ἰσκαριώτης), who asks Jesus, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22). This is often accepted as being the same person as the apostle Jude.

Tradition holds that Saint Jude preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. Although Saint Gregory the Illuminator is credited as the “Apostle to the Armenians” when he baptized King Tiridates III of Armenia in 301, converting the Armenians, the Apostles Jude and Bartholomew are traditionally held to have been the first to bring Christianity to Armenia, and are therefore venerated as the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Linked to this tradition is the Saint Thaddeus Monastery (now in northern Iran) and Saint Bartholomew Monastery (now in southeastern Turkey) which were both constructed in what was then Armenia.


According to tradition, Saint Jude suffered martyrdom around 65 CE in Beirut, in the Roman province of Syria, together with the apostle Simon the Zealot, with whom he is usually connected. The axe that he is often shown holding in pictures symbolizes his method of execution. Their acts and martyrdom were recorded in the Acts of Simon and Jude part of a collection of passions and legends traditionally associated with the legendary Abdias, bishop of Babylon, and said to have been translated into Latin by his disciple Tropaeus Africanus.


Some time after his death, Saint Jude’s body was believed by some to have been taken from Beirut to Rome and placed in a crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica which was visited by many devotees. Now these bones are in the left transept of St. Peter’s Basilica under the main altar of St. Joseph in one tomb with the relics of the apostle Simon the Zealot. According to another popular tradition, the remains of St. Jude were preserved in an Armenian monastery on an island in the northern part of Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan at least until the mid-15th century.

The Dominicans began working in present-day Armenia soon after their founding in 1216. At that time, there was already a substantial devotion to Saint Jude by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the area. This lasted until persecution drove Christians from the area in the 18th century. Devotion to Saint Jude began again in earnest in the 19th century, starting in Italy and Spain, spreading to South America, and finally to the United States (starting in the area around Chicago) owing to the influence of the Claretians and the Dominicans in the 1920s.


Among some Roman Catholics, Saint Jude is venerated as the “patron saint of lost causes.” Saint Jude is also the patron saint of the Chicago Police Department and of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo (a soccer team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). His other patronages include desperate situations and hospitals. One of his namesakes is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, which has helped many children with terminal illnesses and their families since its founding in 1962.

I’ll stand by my epithet, “the Obscure.” In truth we know virtually nothing about Jude the Apostle, and don’t even really know if the name Jude has been applied to one or several men indiscriminately. In my more skeptical moments I tend to think that the notion that there were 12 close disciples of Jesus who were contemporaneously known as “the Apostles,” is an invention of the gospel writers (or their sources), perhaps mirroring the 12 tribes of Israel. A select few of Jesus’ disciples, such as Peter, John, and James, are well attested in the gospel narratives, and the rest, including Jude are shadowy at best. They seem to be included in lists of the apostles to make up the number 12, rather than because they had some clear identity.

Whether or not an actual apostle or person from Judea evangelized Armenia is not historically verifiable, but the relationship between St Jude and Armenia is indisputable. So, let’s talk about khash. Khash is a major institution in Armenia. Like all Armenian cuisine, versions of khash can be found across a wide region from Persia to the Caucasus, but the Armenian version is special. At heart it is a soup made from the feet and shanks of sheep or cows (sometimes with tripe as well). The feet are depilated, cleaned, kept in cold water, then simmered slowly all night long until the water has become a thick broth and the meat has separated from the bones. No salt or spices are added during the cooking process. The dish is served hot. Here is a video showing how it is eaten in Armenia. Lavash is traditional Armenian flatbread.

Khash is generally served with a variety of other foods, such as hot green and yellow peppers, pickles, radishes, cheese, and fresh greens such as cress. The meal is almost always accompanied by vodka (preferably mulberry vodka) and mineral water.


Khash was formerly a nutritious winter food but is now considered a delicacy, and is enjoyed as a festive winter meal. Modern-day convention in Armenia dictates that it should be consumed during months with ‘r’ in the name, thus excluding May, June, July, and August (month names in Armenian are derivatives of the Latin names).

There is much ritual involved in khash parties. Many participants abstain from eating the previous evening, and insist upon using only their hands to consume the unusual (and often unwieldy) meal. Because of the potency and strong smell of the meal, and because it is eaten early in the mornings and so often enjoyed in conjunction with alcohol, khash is usually served on the weekend or on holidays.  It is therefore a perfect meal for the feast of St Jude.