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A profound and moving journey into the heart of Christianity that explores the mysterious and often paradoxical lives and legacies of the Twelve Apostles—a book both for those of the faith and for others who seek to understand Christianity from the outside in.   Peter, Matthew, Thomas, John: Who were these men? What was their relationship to Jesus? Tom Bissell provides ricA profound and moving journey into the heart of Christianity that explores the mysterious and often paradoxical lives and legacies of the Twelve Apostles—a book both for those of the faith and for others who seek to understand Christianity from the outside in.   Peter, Matthew, Thomas, John: Who were these men? What was their relationship to Jesus? Tom Bissell provides rich and surprising answers to these ancient, elusive questions. He examines not just who these men were (and weren’t), but also how their identities have taken shape over the course of two millennia.   Ultimately, Bissell finds that the story of the apostles is the story of early Christianity: its competing versions of Jesus’s ministry, its countless schisms, and its ultimate evolution from an obscure Jewish sect to the global faith we know today in all its forms and permutations. In his quest to understand the underpinnings of the world’s largest religion, Bissell embarks on a years-long pilgrimage to the supposed tombs of the Twelve Apostles. He travels from Jerusalem and Rome to Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, India, and Kyrgyzstan, vividly capturing the rich diversity of Christianity’s worldwide reach. Along the way, he engages with a host of characters—priests, paupers, a Vatican archaeologist, a Palestinian taxi driver, a Russian monk—posing sharp questions that range from the religious to the philosophical to the political.   Written with warmth, empathy, and rare acumen, Apostle is a brilliant synthesis of travel writing, biblical history, and a deep, lifelong relationship with Christianity. The result is an unusual, erudite, and at times hilarious book—a religious, intellectual, and personal adventure fit for believers, scholars, and wanderers alike.From the Hardcover edition....

Title : Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve
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ISBN : 9781101870976
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Number of Pages : 407 Pages
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Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve Reviews

  • Hadrian
    2018-08-08 20:56

    This books wears its topics like a man wears three hats. It is a travelogue about the author's visits to the tombs and reliquaries of the twelve Apostles, an overview of the history of early Christianity, and an explanation of the disputes and controversies in early Christian theology. The author is a lapsed Catholic since adolescence, and he only alludes to why he set out upon this journey and why he covered this topic. He meets with defenders of the faith, monks, and other pilgrims, and delves deep into theological research and textual analysis - where this topic is concerned, the textual origins of words (or letters) could challenge the faith of millions. I enjoyed hearing about Monophysites and Nestorians, though I wonder if everybody does, or has the time to. His travelogue is charming, sometimes irreverent or oversharing - my god, must we hear about your stomach pains in Chennai? Why does he call the old ladies in a Russian church 'blobby'? But, I can say that he is unfiltered in his observations. I get the feeling of honesty from it. When he goes along the pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela, and he asks why he does not believe when others do, why he feels nothing - that is an honest investigation into faith. That, my believing friends tell me, is the point of faith begins.

  • Mike
    2018-07-20 18:46

    What a strange, impressive, infuriating book this is. As I see it, Tom Bissell's Apostle has three audiences, and those parts of the book that gratify one may well aggravate the other two. There's the Bissell fans, the people who enjoy Bissell's voice and sensibility and will follow his writing wherever it leads. (Put me in that camp.) There's the travel literature readers, who want to experience all the textures of an unseen landscape. And there's biblical scholars, seeking a rigorous analysis of the lives of the twelve apostles. I don't know how much overlap there is among those three groupings, how many people are going to find themselves in the center of that interlocking Venn diagram. For my part, my admiration for Bissell's storytelling (the chapters concerning his trips to Israel, India, and Kyrgyzstan are highlights) was matched only by my frustration at the bewildering passages dealing with the apostles themselves. "Anyone who does not find Christianity interesting has only his or her unfamiliarity with the topic to blame," writes Bissell. Fair enough. But not finding wonky exegesis of the quasi-historical/literary/religious traditions of the lives of twelve men with multiple names, fluid identities, and questionable historical reality interesting is another matter. My interest in the personal/travel sections of Apostle dwarfed my interest in the sections on the apostles themselves, which I admit I began to skim a little halfway through the text. (Similarly, I imagine serious students of early Christianity reading Apostle and wondering: I just wanted to know about the formation of the Cult of Thomas in India in the first century CE; why exactly am I being treated to this dude's gastrointestinal difficulties?) It's been many years, but I don't remember this schism being a problem in Bissell's much earlier book Chasing the Sea. In that book, Bissell's memoir of returning to Uzbekistan after many years was deftly intertwined with an engaging history of the Soviet project to drain the Aral Sea, and I never became bored. Apostle is a major achievement, many years in the making and with a lot to recommend about it, but it ultimately left me cold and dissatisfied.

  • Louise
    2018-07-28 21:52

    The author spent three years visiting the supposed and disputed resting sites of each apostle. While the author is a journalist and not a scholar, he is well versed in exegetical issues, theology, and early church history. His scholarly commentary is punctuated by highly entertaining travel writing. For each apostle, the academic issues are given along with the author’s trips from Israel (Judas) to Italy (Bartholomew, Philip, James, Peter) to Greece (Andrew), Turkey (John), India (Thomas), France (Simon), Kyrgyzstan (Matthew) and Spain (James) in search of the tombs. Through the academics the reader gets pages of etymology, possible genealogies, information on the early Christian sects (Sethians, Nestorians Ebonites to name a few) and discussions of disputes on source material and theological issues. There is a flood of information on particulars such as Jesus’s “most beloved disciple” – was it John?; design of “pilgrimage churches”; the spread of Andrew’s bones; on Jesus’s brothers, etc. He shows how the Bible’s dearth of information on these men can be contradictory and how the text has been interpreted and/or “harmonized” over the centuries. The travel portions are among the best of the genre. He writes of the getting to the site, the look of the surrounding area, the maintenance (or lack of), conversations with cab drivers and other tourists, priests, “curators” (custodians of relics?) and the general feel of anything he sees that relates to the apostle and/or the site’s history. I loved the woman in Kirgizstan who said she couldn’t speak of the monastery, only a priest could talk about it.The first chapter, on Judas, is a good example of the depth and pace of this unusual narrative. Bissell cites the many and contradictory portrayals of Judas in scholarship, art and fiction (evil, penitent, tragic, tormented, possessed, confused, loving, committer of fratricide, diseased and more) that have been derived from a mere 22 mentions in the Bible. He gives background on the gospels and compares their presentation of Judas and his betrayal. He discusses the scriptural conflict of how Judas died: Acts says he “burst open and died” on Hakeldama -The Field of Blood - and Matthew says he hung himself. He notes that Judas may have bought this field with the money from the betrayal and other aspects of the betrayal story.Side by side with the academic is the travelogue with insight into the current status of this supposed grave site - in this case -Hakeldama. The signs of the conflict in Israel are everywhere. Barbed wire and a separating wall are visible from this vacant and barren Field. Bissell and his companion see two children, sheep and a shepherd wearing blue jeans and a wind breaker. The shepherd waves and they speak. They ask if many people visit this site. The shepherd say some days 2 people visit, some days none. It is hard to interpret but he seems to want their help in his divided house (2 houses?) that may have been shot at or taken by the Israelis. Silwan, an Arab neighborhood is down the road from the Field, is currently being “settled” by Israelis (with one settlement named for Jonathan Pollard!). In further visits to other sites on this trip, the image of contemporary divided Israel are noted, most sadly as the cab driver tries to find unblocked roads to get to the Garden of Gethsemane. This book will please few readers. The academic reader while reading the summation of sources on Thomas (and perhaps Mary) in India will not be happy to read of the author’s digestive problems in India or that the “Santhome Basilica was the single cleanest thing I had seen in India this side of Domino’s Pizza bathroom porcelain” (p.253). The travel reader will be turned off plowing through 3 pages of intricate etymology before re-joining Bissell on his travels. A book like this should appeal to believers which Bissell is not (he says so up front), but, while most of the book is even handed, there are parts when he goes overboard with needling descriptions that challenge faith. The last chapter could outright offend.

  • Holly
    2018-08-01 14:01

    So Tom Bissell has been doing more than playing video games these last few years (he wrote a book on 'why video games matter,' which I can't see myself ever wanting to read). I was impressed with the staggering amount of research he has absorbed on the apostles and early Christianity. He's a former Catholic altar boy and now a non-believer, but is interested in history, myth, relics and tombs, and, obviously, narrow doctrinal and theological disputes. These are all things that I, too, want to read about, without snuck-in doses of proselytization or apologetics! So I felt like a fellow traveler with Bissell - I learned new things and remembered things I had once learned and forgotten. In some ways reading this felt like a 2016 update to a terrific undergraduate class on the New Testament that I had the privilege of taking from Ron Farmer in the early 1990s. I will say, though, that Bissell's dense pages of information sometimes read like a regurgitation of all this research. Not in the sense of the P word, because it was probably in his own words, but he often gets sounding very scholarly but never uses endnotes. And some of it wasn't so reader friendly and I felt the urge to skim, but didn't because it's my choice to read this after all. I am ready for the Bible-trivia pub quiz.And because the book seemed so comprehensive (though of course it isn't; the number of books written on early Christianity fills entire libraries), I was a little surprised by a few omissions:- Though he discusses the textual criticism and redaction criticism of the synoptic gospels in great detail, he never mentions or explains Q source. - Though he discusses heresies, fringe sects of first-century Palestine, and Gnostic texts as they become important to each apostle's story, he doesn't discuss the Qumran community of Essenes.- Though he discusses the many Marys of the NT, he never explores the idea of Mary Magdalene as apostle.These are all missed opportunities, I think, especially the last.Bissell isn't afraid to use adjectives and adverbs liberally (peregrinative piety, say) even when they are strange (a Niagarically massive waterfall), but I love adjectives and adverbs, so I enjoyed those. He's frequently funny, though you have to wade through a few hundred pages before he allows the humor to emerge, little bombs like "He was either a Greek Orthodox priest or the Prince of Darkness's personal assistant." The juxtapositioning of the information-downloads with the humor and travel accounts was usually abrupt, though I got used to it more in the later chapters where he began incorporating a lot more of the travel narratives. Not sure why, except that perhaps these trips were more important to him, more recent, and more eventful, such as his gastrointestinal problems when in Chennai, India (which was really funny to read, albeit with pained sympathy). His final trip is to the tomb of James at Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, and Bissell decides to cut his account short, which was frustrating (perhaps for another book to come?), but at least it reminded me to read the book of his travel companion, Gideon Lewis-Kraus (A Sense of Direction, 2012).All in all, very impressive book. Not a fast read, but rewarding for the time it demands.

  • Ani
    2018-08-13 21:55

    2.5 stars rounded up. This book was awkward to read because it was trying to be 3 different genres at once: travel diary, a history of Christianity, and commentary on religion. But, I powered through because the parts about the author's travels were charming. It was a noble adventure, but spoiled by his chip on his shoulder about his religious beliefs...or lack there of

  • Mark
    2018-07-23 18:58

    Like Tom Bissell, I am an nonbeliever, who finds the study of early Christianity fascinating. This book is for believers and nonbelievers alike though, because it is not religious criticism, but a highly enjoyable historical travelogue. Each of the twelve apostles gets his own chapter, plus there is a chapter on Paul, the apostle "not of the twelve," and one on the historical Jesus. Bissell spent over fours years, traveling to the resting places of all twelve apostles and their relics. He also engages pilgrims he finds on his travels, which makes for some interesting and often humorous conversations. Thanks to Bissell's research and intelligence, we get not only a glimpse at the apostles, but a real view of the very beginnings of Christianity.

  • Michael Carlson
    2018-07-19 16:46

    In this provocative "tour" of the burial sites of the Twelve Apostles (plus Paul and Jesus), Bissell does not (quite) recover the faith he lost as a teenager. In fact, many of his (negative) views about Christianity are strengthened. While I might have wished otherwise--and while I disagree with many of his interpretations of texts and traditions--I found this a valuable and interesting book.A point I'd make (which Bissell does not) is that it seems that many ancient non-Roman Catholic Christian communities honored the remains of apostles they claimed were interred there as a protest against the Peter-centered version of Christianity in Rome. "Our saint was also one of the Twelve! His voice and our traditions are just as ancient and revered as Peter's!"A very good read.

  • Jerry Rocha
    2018-08-12 21:42

    The best book on faith I've read. The story of each supposed resting place of the twelve is as fascinating and puzzling as religion itself. Many genuinely funny and heartbreaking moments happen throughout the book. As someone who only vaguely remembers the parts of the bible I had to read the few times I went to church, I wasn't as lost as I feared I'd be while reading Apostle. A great read no matter if you don't believe in a thing or are the type of person who whips themselves with a belt to punish the shame of masturbating.

  • Walt
    2018-07-31 13:54

    Having soldiered through 370 pages of text, I have to wonder how a lapsed Catholic received the funds to go jaunting around the world looking for the tombs of the apostles. The reader receives a clue in his chapter on Andrew. He won an award to live in a mansion in Rome and write. After some months of living in Rome, he grabs his roomie and they decide to visit Corinth to see the tomb of St. Andrew. The book reads like one part history, one part religion, and one part philosophy all seen through the lens of a guy who is fortunate, or talented, enough to win an award to live in Rome for a year free of charge and do whatever. I learned a lot from this book; but I did not enjoy it. I did not like it. Bissell does not bother me that he is a lapsed Catholic writing about Catholicism. He bothers me that he frequently reminds his audience that he is a lapsed Catholic. So, why the pilgrimage? The answer is in the title: "Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve." He probably received a nice advance on the book and enjoyed travel. Through this lens, readers can see the frustration of the priest in Rome when Bissell asks him 'how important are Philip and James? How do you celebrate them?' In Jerusalem, he asks a random Palestinian shepherd 'what do you know about Judas Iscariot?' The simplicity of these types of questions make Bissell look condescending while at the same time conveying his bewilderment that people place any importance on the Apostles. I am reminded of David Letterman walking New York and asking random people if they want to buy gum. Letterman thought it was funny. Or, Matt Taibbi visiting Republican gatherings with the intention of taping people on film in their stupidity. Bissell fits snugly between them.There is not much known about the Apostles except through religious books. Bissell does an admirable job in discussing the religious texts, comparing and contrasting, and offering some perspectives on more modern experts. The ultimate lack of historical records on the Apostles leads to the conclusion, that just about any and all stories repeated in the original texts could be, and likely are, fictional. The chapter on Simon the Canannite and Thaddeus even focuses on the use of metaphors and allegory in the Gospels. The travel commentary is a crucial part of the book. Bissell cleverly uses this commentary to break up the dryer parts of the book. Many reviewers were not too pleased to read about him harassing young lovers in Toulouse to ask them their opinions about the church in front of which they were kissing. I used these interludes of fluff to consider the meat and potatoes of the book. Like most reviewers, the travel commentary was worthless to me: 'Jerusalem is a divided city; I got drunk in Patras; I got diarrhea in India; and faced down children in India; I had fun in Kyrgyzstan.' None of that helped me understand Judas Iscariot, St. Andrew, St. Thomas, or St. Matthew. What was interesting to me is that they only thing "known" about Judas Iscariot was the he purchased a place known as the Field of Blood; but Bissell could not determine if the place had that name before or after Iscariot died. Overall, I cannot recommend this book. Although readers can learn a little about the Apostles, that information is buried in chapters of fluff. Some of the chapters drone on and on. Bissell spent a lot of time discussing Simon Peter. He barely mentioned St. James (of Santiago Campostella fame). In fact, the book really just suddenly ended with a few pages on St. James. It was as if Bissell said 'I got 370 pages, I'm done.' It is a conclusion that I can easily expect from someone who has a jaundiced view towards the subject matter. His social skills and fearlessness may be somewhat amusing; but they did not appear to help him in his quest.

  • Leanne
    2018-07-30 19:52

    This is an absolutely fabulous book! Organized like many great travel books, it is personal travel based on a historical quest. In this case, the author’s travels to visit the tombs of the twelve apostles. I could read hundreds of “in the footsteps of” travel books and never grow tired—and this one is no exception. It is great! First of all, he is a very good writer. Second of all, in the book he takes up the challenge of explaining some of the fairly mind-bendingly complicated theology of the early church. Think Council of Nicaea etc. He does a great job here. His explanations are easy to understand and fun to read.Where he falls down in my opinion is actually in the travel writing section. I recently read a wonderful book organized like this one, called Walking to Canterbury. In that book, all the people whom the author meets on the road are treated with enormous respect. In fact, you could say that is the point. Somehow, the author of Walking to Canterbury creates these multi-dimensional “fellow travelers” who hold a lot of interest in terms of character. It is pretty uplifting to read the compassionate and respectful way he paints their portraits for the reader. In contrast, Tom Bissell treats everyone as a kind of caricature (where only he comes out looking good). There are the Indians… with their quirky dialogue and his imaginings of the "dirty hovels" they live in and the French man, who surely lives all alone in an alcohol infused dismal apartment; there are the goth teens who care and know nothing… it is a bit of a drag to read caricature on top of caricature and you wonder why he imagines things the way he does-this is not fiction. And I have yet to see American tourists as beautifully dressed and yet vacuous in the way he describes. Everyone is treated with a kind of snide condescension. This is not a novel after all (and if it was, his characters still are awful!) But anyway, that is a smaller point, and I do congratulate him for keeping his own skeletons in the closet; for refreshingly this book does not have a personal psychological component—hallelujah, if he had a bad childhood, we don’t know. He could have kept his faith commitment (he is actually a non-believer) quiet but the way he explains his own interest (Catholic childhood) makes it all the more interesting.There is also a chapter of Christology that is extremely well done. And yet in this book of tomb visits, why did he fail to visit the most fascinating tomb of all (Holy Sepulcher Golgotha--if he wrote the chapter on "Christos" as he called the chapter, he could have delved into that tomb as well). Why didn't he? That is an amazing story that should have been in a book like this—as I would argue, with the possible exception of Thomas in India, it is the only truly interesting story of a tomb (history of the Church of Holy Sepulcher is absolutely fascinating). The other tombs are not all that interesting, in my opinion.(I also didn't appreciate all the details of his stomach travails in India--too much information!! SHEESH!)And speaking of India, he is great on the Malabar Christians. Less great on Toulouse, where there are more disparaging caricatures and cliches—like that of the Middle Ages being one of dark ages and the disconnect with the great Gothic Cathedrals. Or of Saint Sevrin Bascilica being built “for tourists.” Indeed, as strong as he is on early church history, I guess I could venture he is as weak on the Middle Ages.The book is fabulous—read it for sure. It inspired me to re-read a favorite history book of mine called, The Lost History of Christianity—now that is a five star book! (Silk Roaders will love it!)

  • Steve Bomgaars
    2018-08-09 15:40

    Bissell is a former Catholic. He left the church in his late teens. However, he definitely has a passion for the early days of Christianity. He takes the reader on an historic ride through the years immediately after the death of Christ and beyond. All in all Bissell gives us insight to the lives of the apostles by looking not only at the Bible but historic texts, apocrypha texts,oral tradition etc. The end product is a very readable book about how Christianity was spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Bissell actually travelled to the "supposed" final resting place of all of the apostles....which makes for some interesting travel narrative as well.

  • John
    2018-07-24 19:56

    "Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve" is a book that is extremely engrossing, exceptionally literary, frequently witty, and ultimately disappointing.The author, Tom Bissell, is a writer who has published articles in numerous literary magazines and who has authored several books, many of which relate to travel. In "Apostle," Bissell sets out to visit a tomb linked to each of the 12 Apostles (actually 13, when St. Paul is included), a multi-year project that took the author to sites from Spain (St. James the Greater) to Kyrgyzstan (St. Matthew the Evangelist). Each chapter in the book covers an apostle or pair of apostles, while an additional chapter discusses the evolution of the orthodox Christian understanding of the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. In general, each of the volume's 12 chapter offers some combination of a travelogue, a review of what is written about the apostle(s) in question in both canonical and non-canonical scriptures, and a popular discussion of modern scholarship related to the apostle(s) in question. Bissell is an extremely talented writer, and the book is by and large engrossing. In some chapters, such as the one about the site in Kurmanty, Kyrgzstan, connected to St. Matthew, the travel component dominates, while in other chapters, such as the one about a site in Selcuk, Turkey, linked to St. John the Evangelist, the more biblical and historical elements take center stage. Depending on a reader's tastes, some chapters are apt to make stronger impressions than others.At the outset of the book, Bissell states that he is a lapsed Catholic who has no ax to grind with Christianity but who is not himself a believer--a description that is born out in the book, especially when Bissell writes about his interactions with more ardent believers, such as his dealings in Chennai, India, with Saint Thomas Christians (Syrian Christians) and his interactions around Patras, Greece (St. Andrew), with assorted Greek Orthodox priests and monks.Bissell's relative lack of faith gives him a perspective needed to write about religion in a dispassionate way. He, for instance, appreciates the fact that the Bible doesn't actually agree on the names of the apostles and whether or not there were actually 12. When recounting his visit to the joint tomb of St. Simon the Less and St. Jude (Thaddaeus) in Toulouse, France, Bissell delights in that there is no agreement in the New Testament as to just what the names of these apostles were. Are the author of the Letter of Jude, the "Judas of James" mentioned by St. Luke, and the "Judas (not Iscariot)" named by St. John the same person, three different people, or some combination thereof? Quips Bissell, "Fitting that Jude Thaddaeus became the patron saint of lost causes: discerning his real identity is as lost as New Testament causes get."Bissell's relative lack of faith also gives him the space needed to look seriously at surviving non-canonical scriptures and to weigh the assessments of modern scholars whose research challenges received wisdom or tradition. In the process, Bissell offers some insightful observations about why the canonical gospels became canonical. (Basically, despite their other problems, they generally are better pieces of literature than those that didn't make the cut.) At the same time, the author's lack of faith sometimes is a handicap. Bissell occasionally seems willing to grant disproportionate weight to non-canonical texts just for the sake of being edgy or rebellious, just as the dubious altar boy he once was might have done. Additionally, Bissell rarely has meaningful exchanges with the actual believers he encounters, and he rarely seems to make an effort to understand their perspective. Instead, he often pokes fun at them. To make matters worse, Bissell has an unfortunate tendency to mock his subjects through use of $10.00 words--a tendency that makes the author come off as petty and pedantic. Although extremely interesting and admirable in many respects, "Apostle" ultimately is an unsatisfying book. For a travel writer who spent years visiting religious sites, Bissell appears unchanged by his experiences. There is no expectation that Bissell should have embraced faith in the process, but ideally, the combination of travel, research, and writing should have had some discernible impact on Bissell's thinking and understanding of the world and Christianity's place in it. But apparently it didn't, as exhibited in the book's short, uninformative final chapter (a visit to a site in Santiago, Spain, connected to St. James the Greater) that fails to identify any real perspective gained from the almost 400 pages that preceded it.

  • Jim Gallen
    2018-07-17 20:58

    The story of early Christianity melds two of my great loves, history and the Church and “Apostle” nurtures them both. This book is author Tom Bissell’s quest for the tombs of the Twelve Apostles, the locations of some well-grounded in tradition, but others as insubstantial as the passing breeze. He settles venue on one for each Apostle, researches the legends, visits the site and describes the scene for the reader.Bissell has done his homework. He analyses the references, both Scriptural and secular, that reveal the story of each of these Saints. Readers come to appreciate how much of what we know about these men is based on indirect inferences from uncertain texts that leave us wondering where they traveled, preached, died and, ultimately rest. In some cases it is a challenge to identify which Apostle is associated with multiple names used by different evangelists, who was related to whom and how the rival doctrines each promulgated and how they molded the Church of our day.This work chronicles a Twenty-First Century quest for First Century tombs. Along the way the author travels with Sergi and Andrei in Kyrgyzstan in search of St. Mathew’s reliquary, a Vietnamese Catholic at St. Simon’s shrine in Toulouse, Indian Christians and non-Christians while exploring the tradition of St. Thomas in Chennai and several others. Their interactions introduce humanity and humor into the narrative.I found the theological mind games to be fascinating. Bissell does an excellent job of dissecting and combing the readings to reach as clear of an understanding of the truth as possible. I learned things about the Apostles and the Churches they founded. I was particularly interested in the Thomas Christians of India who had developed in isolation before reconnecting with Catholic and Protestant sects during the colonial periods.I only had one annoyance and one disappointment in this tome. The annoyance was that the author chose to use BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) rather than B.C. and A.D. Okay, in some contexts people prefer to avoid the suggestion that the Life of Jesus of the focal point of human history, but I think that in a book about the Apostles you can speak of times Before Christ and in the Year of Our Lord. Bissell early reveals that he was a Catholic Altar Boy and has favorable recollections of those days but that he eventually lost his faith. I kept hoping that in the journeys associated with this book he would find it again but apparently he did not. Hopefully he will in the future. His lack of faith was not, however, did not, in my opinion, carry over to a hostility toward his subjects. I usually give 4 stars to a good book, but reserve 5 for one that really challenges my thoughts, encourages more study and enables me to approach the topic with a new perspective. “Apostle” has definitely merited all 5.I did receive a free copy of this book for review.

  • Christopher
    2018-08-12 16:02

    According to the New Testament, the 12 apostles were the closest men to Jesus during his ministry and were key witnesses to his resurrection. Yet few of them have any spoken lines in the Gospels and Acts and all of them disappear into the shadows of history halfway through Acts. Into this void there have been a number of legends and local traditions across Europe, Asia and Africa about the Apostles' post-resurrection deeds. Many countries even claim to hold the bones of these saints. How to sort through them all? Thankfully, Mr. Bissell does that for us.Part travelogue and part historical and theological investigation into the early church, this book packs a lot of history and theology into its 360+ page narrative. Rather than visit every location that claims to hold an apostle, Mr. Bissell visits one and for each of them and uses his travel and studies on early Christianity to enlighten the reader on the Apostles and their legacy. It is a great read filled with fascinating details. I especially appreciated his examination of the apocryphal tales to broaden our understanding. In a way, Mr. Bissell has made the Apostles more accessible to me by being so thorough about the tales that have surrounded each of them. His insights into other aspects of early Christianity are especially appreciated.However, I was rather disheartened at how readily Mr. Bissell was willing to accept the most skeptical interpretations of the New Testament. Many of these views have been explained or debunked by scholars and theologians over the centuries, but Mr. Bissell doesn't seem to engage with these at all. Also, his snide comment toward the end of his book about certain strains of modern American Christianity being a "white-person Rastafarianism- a way for an aggrieved and self-conscious subculture to barricade itself in righteous anger" felt unnecessarily hostile and undercut the relatively respectful tone he had employed throughout the rest of his book. A rather heady and fascinating romp through the history of early Christianity, I would recommend this book to people who are interested in the topic and already have a firm grasp on basic Christian history and doctrine.

  • Caroline
    2018-08-01 18:56

    For three years author Tom Bissell travelled the world, seeking the putative final resting places of Jesus' Twelve Apostles. The journey took him from Jerusalem to Spain, Kyrgyzstan to Greece, seeking tombs, shrines, reliquaries and archaeological sites, all claiming to hold the bodies (or parts of the bodies, relic distribution being what it was back in the day) of Jesus' closest disciples.This book is a curious hybrid of genres - part travelogue, part learned disquisition on theology, part history of the early Church, part collective biography. Each chapter is devoted to one of the Twelve, broken up into sections, with Bissell's own experiences of his travels in these various countries interspersed with biographical detail, analysis of the relevant sections of the Gospels, and historical context. Bissell is a lapsed Christian, so the tone of this book is an appealing combination of active scepticism and reluctant reverence. There would be something in this book for both the believer and the atheist, and you don't find many books on Christianity that could lay claim to that. It makes for an enjoyable read, the lighter-hearted personal sections breaking up the otherwise weighty religious content. On occasion, Bissell's personal reminiscences verge into TMI (Too Much Information) - the lengthy section during his stay in India and his experiences of 'Delhi Belly' I could have done without. I don't expect to pick up a book on religion to read about the state of anyone's bowels!

  • Karen
    2018-07-21 18:05

    I've enjoyed Tom Bissell's pieces in the New Yorker, but this book just grated me the wrong way. Bissell's snarky comments about religion in general and Christianity and Christians in particular distract from what is, in general, pretty great historical analysis about the early Church and the apostles. The travelogue is lacking - Bissell tells us what he thinks of Christians and contemporary Christianity (not much), but hardly reflects on how his travels and encounters change him and, possibly, his views of Christianity. I think his book would have been better if he focused on solely history or travelogue, or, if he still wanted to combine the two, made sure that his personal opinions didn't leak into the historical analysis.

  • Susan Paxton
    2018-07-29 20:58

    Much of the content deserves more than two stars, but Bissell's "American Karl Pilkington" act in the travelogue portions got old quickly and unbearable by the end of the book.

  • Kam
    2018-08-09 13:55

    Anyone who has been to the Philippines and lived here for more than a year knows that an enormous majority of the schools are run by Catholic, Catholic-affiliated, or Christian institutions. I myself studied at Catholic schools my entire life - yes, even when I went to university. As a result, I am entirely familiar with the notion of catechism, or, as we called it in grade school and high school, “Religion” classes. In these classes we were taught such things as scripture, doctrine, dogma -everything the school deemed necessary for us to know in order to become good Catholics. By the time I graduated high school, my head was filled with a whole host of facts, figures, and ideas about the Catholic Church that I rather quickly forgot unless it had been insistently drummed into my head by constant repetition. This means that if someone asked me to list all of the Twelve Apostles I would probably only be able to name the most famous of them - but I can go through the motions of the average Catholic Mass (my cousin calls it “doing Catholic aerobics”) without thinking too hard. However, despite my rather complicated relationship with organised religion in general and Catholicism in particular, I still find myself drawn to the stories told about and within it - in particular, its history. And there is plenty to be interested in - not least the many conflicts and questions that have shaped Christianity into the form (or, more accurately, forms) we recognise today. When I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, I did so in an attempt to understand the figure at the heart of Christianity. It made sense, therefore, to read Tom Bissell’s Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, in order to understand the disciples who followed Jesus and who, for better or worse, laid down the groundwork for turning Christianity into the globe-spanning faith it is today.Apostle begins with an Author’s Note, featuring an interesting epigraph: My religion makes no senseand does not help metherefore I pursue it.— Anne Carson, “My Religion”The epigraph tells the reader all he or she needs to know about why Bissell chose to write a book on the apostles, though he clarifies it further in the Author’s Note itself:Even after I lost my religious faith, Christianity remained to me deeply and resonantly interesting, and I have long believed that anyone who does not find Christianity interesting has only his or her unfamiliarity with the topic to blame. I think, in some ways, I wrote this book to put that belief to the test.The notion that Bissell wrote the book “to put [his] belief to the test” is one that resonates with my own relationship with Christianity. While I no longer subscribe to (indeed, am wary of) organised religion, I am still deeply curious about its history and structure and how the most popular forms have managed to survive to this day. My interest in Christianity specifically is only natural given my own personal background - and again, similar to Bissell’s, since it was his own history in the faith that drove him to write Apostle in the first place.Aside from explaining the raison d’être behind the book’s existence, the Author’s Notes also explains Bissell’s approach to his subject:From 2007 to 2010, I traveled to the supposed tombs and resting places of the Twelve Apostles. … This book has no interest in determining which sites have the greatest claim to a given apostle’s remains. It is instead an effort to explore the legendary encrustation upon twelve lives about which little is known and even less can be historically verified.…… Indeed, since the very beginning of Christian history, the Twelve Apostles have wandered a strange gloaming between history and belief.These statements, and many others throughout the book, are sure to set off alarm bells in the heads of more devout readers, but that, I suppose, is why Bissell does the reader the courtesy of writing an Author’s Note in the first place. If the reader is looking for information that will conform to Christian doctrine, then he or she will be sorely disappointed, perhaps even angered, by its content. Take this excerpt, for example, which deals with the question of Jesus’s relatives - or seeming lack thereof - in Christian discourse:Why there is not more information about the influence of the relatives of Jesus has been said by some to be the greatest riddle of early Christianity. Yet Christians failed to preserve and in many cases destroyed the works of countless early Christian writers, including that of Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, and Hegesippus. The likely Gentile Christian response to work that emphasized the enduring influence of Jesus’s family’s descendants is not terribly difficult to imagine. Recognizing Jesus’s family endangered the doctrine of the virgin birth, placed the exceptionality of Jesus himself at risk, and unhappily reminded Gentile Christians that at the beginning there was only Jewish Christianity.Having asked similar questions to the one posed in the above excerpt, and having encountered people who are not comfortable answering them, I can see how it may difficult for someone who is not very open-minded to wrap their mind around what the excerpt - and Bissell’s book as a whole - is trying to say. If some of the reviews I have seen are any indication, I think it is quite safe to say that Bissell as lit more than a few fires in his wake. But I think it is also clear that Bissell did not write this book for the narrow-minded set. Apostle is a book for those who, like Bissell, are practitioners of “the boldly searching Christianity [he] has always been drawn to.” This is a book for people - believers or otherwise - who like asking questions, and like finding answers to those questions. It is for readers who are driven to address their faith, not with blind belief, but with the desire to “comprehend the comprehender”, to paraphrase Augustine. It is also for readers like myself, who no longer subscribe to Christianity but are driven by curiosity to understand it anyway. For such readers, Bissell’s book is easy to enjoy without the guilty squirming someone with a less open mind might feel. His language is easy to understand and get into - especially when he leavens the more serious historical analysis with snarky comments, both in the main text and in the footnotes. The following is one of my favourites, and is related to Bissell’s observations regarding medieval European cathedrals and basilicas:The peasants who lived in the shadows of these costly, otherworldly churches must have accepted all this as reasonable, just as we somehow accept that earning tens of millions of dollars for pretending to be Iron Man is reasonable.While the above excerpt does say something interesting about the medieval peasantry’s attitude towards the great cathedrals built in their communities, I think it says a lot more about Bissell’s scorn for Hollywood blockbusters than anything else - something the reader may find humorous, or irritating, depending on his or her preferences.Aside from the snark, Bissell also tells anecdotes from his travels while researching the book. There are quite a few amusing moments, but he tells one story, in particular, that I find remarkably touching:”I love Americans,” she said. “Do you want to know why?”I did, if only because the number of times a Muslim had asked me if I wanted to know why she loved Americans had just increased by 100 percent.“Because Americans can be many things, many ethnicities, and many religions, just like the Kyrgyz people. Because Americans, like Kyrgyz, are free people.” Then she took my hand. “You are looking for Matthew?”“Yes,” I said. “I am. Or I was.”“May God let you find him,” she said. I tried to retrieve my hand, but she was not yet done: her fingers warmly tightened. “May God straighten your road. May God put the wind at your back. May God allow the rain to come down softly. And may God bring us together again.”The above scene takes place in a wooden Russian Orthodox church in Kyrgyzstan, and aside from Bissell and the Muslim woman, there is also a Russian Orthodox priest present - a friend of the Muslim woman’s, with whom she trades poetry. This story is a reminder to the reader (as it must have been to Bissell, I imagine) that religion is not such a hard-and-fast thing as it is so often made out to be, that it is possible for all people, regardless of their religion or even lack thereof, to live alongside each other in peace, if only we are more understanding, more openminded, more willing to see the similarities instead of the differences. Still, despite Bissell’s language, travel anecdotes, and snarky comments, this is not an easy book to read. Bissell has structured the book in such a way that each chapter is a self-contained essay on its chosen subject, but within each chapter the narrative organisation is not as clear or cohesive as the reader might want it to be. There is a tendency to meander between travelogue and historical analysis, with a pace that varied wildly from relatively snappy to absolutely plodding. I also have an issue with the last chapter, which has an ending that feels like Bissell just throwing in the towel on the whole book. I do not expect any sort of triumphant ending, because this is not a book that requires one, but I do wish that Bissell had chosen to conclude his book in a manner that is more satisfactory than one that seems to say: “Well, that’s it, that’s all folks!”Overall, Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve can be an enjoyable book, in its own way, but it is also quite a challenging book, especially if the reader is a devout Christian not ready to confront certain ideas about his or her religion. However, for readers who are ready to ask such questions, or for readers who are not religious but still curious about how Christianity came to be, then this is a book will prove remarkably informative and may possibly open up other lines of inquiry in the future. As long as the reader is also willing to put up with Bissell’s sense of humour and the vagaries of his narrative organisation, then he or she should have fairly minimal problems with this book.

  • Caroline
    2018-08-06 15:06

    Tom read this book during his "six months of religion books" period. This is the only one I snagged after he finished it, and I am very pleased with that decision.Apostle combines religion writing with traveling writing, and sees author Tom Bissell visiting each of the traditional locations of tombs of the twelve apostles and investigating what historical information exists about them.So how much is know about the apostles? Not a hell of a lot. Almost nothing, in fact. Right before I cracked open this book, I tried to list all of the apostles from memory. I got through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Judas, and Thomas before I started to falter, realizing that even though I've sat through 20 years worth of Sunday school lessons, I could only name half of the them. When I looked at the table of contents and started seeing names like "Thaddeus" and "Bartholomew" I realized I didn't have a prayer of naming the rest. And that Luke and Mark aren't apostles, so I only actually knew one-third of them. Oops. I felt a bit better, though, when I learned that there is no one list of the twelve apostles. The lists in the four gospels disagree with one another, and John doesn't mention any apostles by name at all.At any rate, super interesting subject matter. The combination of Bissell's experiences with the more academic history helps to keep the book moving. And I learned a lot. I expected Bissell to spend the majority of the time wandering around the Middle East, with a stop or two in Rome. Instead, he hits a bunch of countries in Europe, Kyrgyzstan, and India in addition to Jerusalem and Rome. Apparently, there is an ancient Christian tradition in India, where it is traditionally held that Thomas traveled and eventually died. Who knew?? It was also cool to read the chapter on Greece (where Andrew's relics are) having just visited. Made me which we'd taken a side trip to Patras to check out the Basilica of St. Andrew.I think the main thing I took away from this book was just how fluid doctrine was in the early centuries of Christianity. Likely due to the complete lack of historical facts, Bissell spends a couple of chapters on the early history of the Christian church in general, as well as what is historically known about Paul and Jesus. Learning about all of the political intrigue and infighting that accompanied the establishment of doctrine was fascinating, particularly in comparison to the way that doctrine is presented in most churches today - as someone uniformly held and uncontroversial. Reality is far messier, blurred by the passage of time. The best example of this is the doctrine of the atonement. What today is one of the bedrocks of Christianity is actually completely unmentioned throughout the gospels and was a theory proposed sometime in the 2nd or 3rd centuries as a way for church leaders to explain Jesus' divinity and the significance of his death. Mind blown. Bottom line: a great read for anyone interested in the historicity of the figures involved in early Christianity. Four stars.

  • Scarlett Sims
    2018-08-15 15:51

    So this is the book I ended up picking for the "travel memoir" task. Only parts of it ended up reading like a travel memoir and those were the parts I liked best. If the entire book had just been Bissell writing about his experiences in far-flung locales searching for what tradition holds are the resting sites of the apostles, with maybe a bit of historical context as to why that tradition exists, I think it would have been a much better book.At the outset, Bissell states that he is no longer religious yet is not antagonistic toward religion. I didn't get that from the text, where he mostly takes a pretty condescending stance toward religion in general. I think that stance also determined which sources he would take more seriously than others. However, I can handle reading a book by someone I don't agree with. What really took this down to two stars was the chapter on Thomas, which took place in India. Bissell was extremely condescending toward both Indian Christians and also just the whole country of India. There was some standard stereotypical stuff about how he couldn't handle the food and just had to eat Domino's Pizza while he was there. And then he described a young American girl as having hair "like a squaw in a Thanksgiving pageant." Um. Did no one tell him you can't say that? It's not surprising no one caught it, but the fact that he thought that was acceptable really damaged his credibility in my eyes.After that point, a book which I was steadily making my way through despite not enjoying every second became a book I was actively putting off reading. I finished it, because I'm way behind on my reading for this year and I want to move on to other things.The one thing I can recommend is the bibliography. It is extensive, and if I have some time before I have to return the book I might go through it to find other books that I would find more interesting.

  • JQAdams
    2018-07-29 20:46

    Apparently Bissell mostly thinks of himself as a travel writer, and so the gimmick of this book is that he's going to go to one site associated -- apocryphally or otherwise -- with each of the apostles. That, in turn, is a launching pad for discussing the early history of Christianity, some of the relevant theology, and how people's beliefs about these things have changed over time. But the travel-book part and the history-of-Christianity parts don't really have much to do with each other, and I at least found the former generally uninteresting. That may mostly be my bias against memoir talking, but I don't entirely know who will be dazzled by the "will the sullen French teenagers waylaid by the author have insights about the apostle Thaddeus? Turns out: no" or "Domino's Pizza has the best, and sometimes only, public bathrooms in Chennai" interludes.Even with the more historical sections, Bissell's authorial voice can be pretty oppressive. He leaves few metaphors unmetaed. The book proper's very first paragraph manages to deem Jerusalem a "remote, baffling place" like a "world-historical Salt Lake City" but then also "the Finland Station of monotheism." His effort to generate humor or insight is admirable, I guess, but it's mostly exhausting. There's a similar feel of over-writing at both smaller and larger scales, too. I tolerate use of abstruse vocabulary more than most people do: I actively like learning new words, or see people use ones I don't think about very often, but Bissell larded lots of gratuitously esoteric word choices (e.g., "pistic" or "anfractuous") on top of possibly necessary architectural and religious jargon. Meanwhile, the length of text devoted to each apostle varies wildly, without any seeming relationship to how much or how interesting the material is, and then Paul and Jesus get chapters without being apostles, so why are we even pretending to have a structural gimmick?

  • Nikki
    2018-08-04 19:54

    Bissell has been on quite an amazing journey, traveling to the supposed burial sites of each of the 12 apostles. I was amazed at how dispersed the apostles were--Europe, India, Kyrgyzstan. This book is a tremendous work including not just Bissell's travels, but much of the traditions and scholarship surrounding each of the apostles. I read this book in small chunks over several months because I found the information too dense to take in at once. The only minor criticism I have is that Bissell's religious cynicism occasionally peeks through--he is clearly not a believer. Nevertheless, I will use this book as a future reference when confronted with questions about the apostles.

  • Rob Marney
    2018-08-03 19:58

    Tom Bissell, one of the best video game writers, bites off more than he can chew here, attempting to provide his usual self deprecating travelogue alongside a history of early Christianity and working through his issues as an ex-Catholic. The travel is great, bringing him from the center of the world to the edge, but ironically it's his holier than thou attitude that makes the book a slog. Everywhere he goes, he is not so much learning as checking to see whether those he meets are up on his preferred biblical scholarship; eventually there are entire chapters with no travel at all, just trying to explain why someone who doesn't believe in anything would spend so much time in crypts.

  • Richard
    2018-08-05 14:01

    Liked this, mainly for its perspective on religious traditions and theology from an admittedly, "enthusiastic" alter boy, now "lapsed". Some humor in that, some sarcasm that isn't warranted, but mostly a calm, wondering, attitude that attempts to be non-judgmental. His ventures outside Europe lack descriptive material or sufficient pertinent scholarship, which leaves him with only gastrointestinal ailments to share, which weren't necessary or welcome. Let's see if he is as underwhelmed in 25-30 years.

  • Paul Kerr
    2018-08-01 17:54

    Probably one of the more unusual travelogues you will come across, but an intellectually and theologically stimulating read, interspersed with cutting humour and dry observations on the influence of religion on modern day life. Some of Bissell's cynicism and dismissiveness for his subjects may be too strong for some, but I actually found a great deal of respect and admiration in his writing, and his passion and perseverance to understand a faith in which he no longer adheres to is impressive.

  • Paula
    2018-08-05 13:50

    After reading Apostle, I'm more confused than ever. Who were these guys? Were there really 12? What are their real names? Are their bones really contained in these sacred places? As Bissell writes, "The available evidence is confusing enough to baffle the most dogged New Testament detective." Even so, the author's work is brilliant and funny. I enjoyed this as travelogue.

  • Jerry
    2018-08-16 13:58

    An interesting read by a talented writer. I'd enjoy his company, but the reach for rationalism at the expense of the possibility of belief is hard to understand unless , of course, you read the Bible. "There is none righteous, no, not one." Easy to argue the origins of Christianity, difficult to argue against its enduring truth.

  • Karl Hallbjörnsson
    2018-07-31 20:55

    A very interesting concept for a book — the author traveled to the final resting places of Jesus' twelve apostles and describes his journeys amidst historical discussion of ancient Christianity and its surviving modern forms. Tends to drone on at times but very readable and very interesting. Dates read are inaccurate.

  • Andy Morgan
    2018-07-16 17:06

    Really lovely. It's about as easy a summary of early Christian history as is possible. Bissell has a skeptical view, but is also endearing - a real 'searcher'. Each chapter flips between travelogue and history (the history can be tedious).

  • John
    2018-08-10 21:54

    I really enjoyed reading this book. The author travels the Middle East, Asia and Europe, going to various sites that are said to have connection to each of the twelve apostles. He tells the legends of each one and comments on the state of Christianity as it is today.