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By Tom Bissell
Published by Vintage on 2017-02-07
TRAVEL, HISTORY, RELIGION
The story of Twelve 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, Tom Bissell embarks on a years-long pilgrimage to the apostles’ supposed tombs, traveling from Jerusalem and Rome to Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, India, and Kyrgyzstan. Along the way, Bissell uncovers the mysterious and often paradoxical lives of these twelve men and how their identities have taken shape over the course of two millennia.
Written with empathy and a rare acumen—and often extremely funny—Apostle is an intellectual, spiritual, and personal adventure fit for believers, scholars, and wanderers alike.
Christianity begins with a body presumed missing, which is then raised up from the dead. (“Okay, so we killed him, but only for three days”, runs the Jewish joke.) Jesus, a Jewish rabboni, or teacher, had dared to confound the Temple authorities by returning to life.
Bissell’s informative and diverting book is the beginning of wisdom in all things apostolic, Catholic, Roman and Caravaggesque. I enjoyed it. Ian Thomson, a writer and journalist, is working on a book for Faber about the Baltic during the second World War
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT The Irish Times Copyright (c) Irish Times
A deep dive into the heart of the New Testament, crossing continents and cross-referencing texts.
Bissell (Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creations, 2012, etc.) delivers an unusual work of Christological travel literature, visiting the alleged tombs of Jesus’ disciples, supplementing his journey with close readings of Scripture and ancient church history. At the church sepulchers, which have become tourist attractions, the author met priestly defenders of the faith who make broad claims for ...
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT Kirkus Reviews Copyright Kirkus Reviews
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Praise for Tom Bissell's Apostle 'Expertly researched and fascinating.' .' .' . Bissell is a wonderfully sure guide to these mysterious men.' .' .' . This is a serious book about the origins of Christianity that is also very funny. How often can you say that'? ''The Independent (London) 'A writer of restless curiosity and lively wit.' .' .' . Bissell has mastered his source materials in a meticulous and open-'minded manner.' ''The Seattle Times 'Bissell's apostolic journeys create a fascinating and quirky blend of contemporary travel narrative and scholarly investigation into the New Testament.' ''BBC.com, 'Nine Books to Read in March 2016? 'Apostle is a fine mash-'up. Certainly, early Christianity is its subject, but storytelling is its object, how we call our world into existence and try to make sense of it.' ''The Philadelphia Inquirer 'The book? .' .' .' is not a diatribe against Christianity.' .' .' . Rather, it attempts to examine the stories and legends of the apostles and the development of church teaching about Jesus on the basis of current historical, theological and archaeological evidence.' .' .' . The person of Christian faith who is willing to navigate the currents Bissell is riding will be rewarded with startling new insights.' ''The Wichita Eagle
'At a time when most discussion of religion in the public sphere is couched in impregnable certainty, mealymouthed apologetics or scoffing rationalism, Bissell's voice is rare. He is? .' .' .''vividly empathetic and conscious that this is not just one of the most significant stories ever told but also one of the most beautiful.' ''The Times (London) 'Profound.' .' .' . This is no ordinary tourist trip through the Holy Land; rather, it's a thoughtful journey and should be savored.' ''Booklist 'Tom Bissell is a wonderful, elegant writer and a dryly funny nonbeliever (a lapsed Catholic) who is nevertheless fascinated by Christianity.' .' .' . Apostle is a richly entertaining mishmash of travel book, history of early Christianity, journey of religious nonfaith and human comedy.' ''The Sunday Times (London) '[Bissell's] account of his travels is an excellent cornucopia of history, exegesis, travelogue, biography, analysis, corrective, and hilarity.' .' .' . Even if readers don't care about the apostles, Bissell's style is compelling on its own. His unforced humor is delightful, his wealth of research grounds this formidable apostolic project, and his crafty rhetoric and irresistible charm make it a must-? read.' ''Publishers Weekly (starred review) 'A deep dive into the heart of the New Testament, crossing continents and cross-'referencing texts.' .' .' . Illuminating.' .' .' . A rich, contentious, and challenging book.' ''Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Tom Bissell Apostle Tom Bissell was born in Escanaba, Michigan, in 1974. He is the author of eight previous books, including Chasing the Sea, The Father of All Things, and Extra Lives, all available in Vintage paperback, and has been awarded the Rome Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Two of his short stories were adapted into the feature films The Loneliest Planet (directed by Julia Loktev) and Salt and Fire (directed by Werner Herzog); The Disaster Artist (cowritten with Greg Sestero) is currently being adapted into a feature film by James Franco. He lives in Los Angeles with his partner, Trisha Miller, and their daughter, Mina.
also by tom bissell Chasing the Sea (2003) Speak, Commentary (with Jeff Alexander) (2003) God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories (2005) The Father of All Things (2007) Extra Lives (2010) The Art and Design of Gears of War (2011) Magic Hours (2012) The Disaster Artist (with Greg Sestero) (2013)
Apostle or bones That Shine LIke Fire ? Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve ? Tom Bissell VINTAGE BOOKS A Division of Penguin Random House LLC New York
FIRST VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION, FEBRUARY 2017 Copyright ? 2016 by Thomas Carlisle Bissell All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Pantheon Books, a? division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, in 2016. Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Portions of this work originally appeared, in different form, in The Lifted Brow, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Best American Travel Writing 2010. The author gratefully acknowledges the American Academy in Rome, the Black Mountain Institute, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for their support. Photographs of Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ courtesy of Marco Ronchin; all other photographs ? Marie-'Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons The Library of Congress has cataloged the Pantheon edition as? follows: Bissell, Tom. Apostle : travels among the tombs of the twelve / Tom Bissell. pages ; cm Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Apostles.' 2. Church history''Primitive and early Church, ca. 30''600.' 3. Christian pilgrims and pilgrimages.' 4. Bible''New Testament''Criticism, interpretation, etc.' I. Title. BS2440.B57 2016? 225.9'22''dc23? 2015023269 Vintage Books Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-'0-'307-'27845-'6 eBook ISBN: 978-'1-'101-'87097-'6 Author photograph ? Joanna DeGeneres Book design by Soonyoung Kwon www.vintagebooks.com Printed in the United States of America 10? 9? 8? 7? 6? 5? 4? 3? 2? 1
Again and always for Trisha Miller, and for Heather Schroder
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. ''luke 9:46
Contents Author's Note? xi '? Judas Iscariot? 1 '? Bartholomew? 45 '? Historesai: On Paul? 63 '? Philip & James Son of Alphaeus? 89 '? Peter? 125 '? Andrew? 175 '? John? 211 '? Thomas? 257 '? Christos: On Jesus Christ? 317 '? Simon the Cananaean & Thaddaeus? 351 '? Matthew? 389 '? James Son of Zebedee? 433 Glossary of People and Terms? 439 Acknowledgments? 443 Bibliography? 445 Index? 459
grew up Catholic in a moderately churchgoing household and was an enthusiastic altar boy until I was sixteen. Along with my Sunday Mass duties, I showed up two or three times a week for the impossibly early, poorly attended, and much shorter daily Mass, which priests otherwise performed alone. The enjoyment I received from being an active participant in the various rituals of Catholic observance''slipping the bone-? white robe over my head, cinching a red rope belt around my waist, ferrying the chalices, pouring ablutions over sacerdotal hands''was real, and I have never once looked back on those years with anything but fondness. My loss of faith was nonetheless sudden and decisive. I will spare the reader any emotional archaeology of that event, other than to say that during my junior year of high school, while doing a report on a national newsweekly's annual Easter-? timed 'Who Was Jesus'? cover story, I read a book that forced me to recognize that what I had previously accepted as an inviolate block of readily understandable scripture was the product of several cultures intergalactically different from my own. Moreover, these scriptures contained all manner of textual and translational difficulties, many of which grew more, not less, bewildering as new manuscripts and findings came Author's Note My religion makes no sense and does not help me therefore I pursue it. ''Anne Carson, 'My Religion'
xii author's note historically to light. A true understanding of God via scripture suddenly seemed beyond the power of anyone I could imagine. I stopped attending Mass and soon enough abandoned Christian belief altogether. I realize that others have pondered the same quandaries and doubts and come to different conclusions; some of them have written books you will find in my bibliography. Est modus in rebus. I have few certainties about early Christianity; I hope nothing here serves to advance fringe theories fattened by scholarly table scraps. As often as possible, I try to summarize and quantify scholarly views, though I sometimes identify those that seem to me the most reasonable. One of my goals was to try to capture something of early Christianity's doctrinal uncertainty and how it affected the first Christian storytellers. The earliest Christian stories were about Jesus, and at least some of those telling them were presumably related to his earliest followers. Tradition has assigned a term for the most elite circle of his earliest followers: 'Twelve Apostles.' Soon enough, stories were being told about them. From 2007 to 2010, I traveled to the supposed tombs and resting places of the Twelve Apostles. In doing this, I visited nine countries (one of which I literally walked across) and more than fifty churches and spent many hours talking to the people I met at and around these sites. Most of the Twelve have more than one tomb or reliquary, but I decided early that I would limit myself, at least in narrative terms, to one site each. 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. Popular understanding holds that after Jesus's ascension to Heaven the Twelve Apostles, working initially out of Jerusalem, quickly moved to establish identifiably Christian churches throughout the Roman world and beyond. Eusebius, one of the earliest Christian writers to attempt a proper historical account of his faith, wrote that the 'chief matter? of his history was
author's note xiii to establish the 'lines of succession from the holy apostles.' But Eusebius, who lived three centuries after the apostles themselves, 'failed to find any clear footprints of those who have gone this way before me.' There are few facts about the apostles in Eusebius's pages, and as often as not they come from outside the New Testament. Indeed, since the very beginning of Christian history, the Twelve Apostles have wandered a strange gloaming between history and belief. After the gospels, the Twelve are featured prominently within the New Testament only in the first few chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, when 'divided tongues, as of fire? .' .' .''rested on each of them.' These divine tongues apparently grant the apostles the ability to speak in other languages. The 'amazed and perplexed? people of Jerusalem wonder if these unaccountably polyglot Galileans might not be 'filled with new wine,' but Peter, their spokesman, assures the crowd that the apostles are not drunk, 'for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.' The Twelve Apostles go on to perform many 'signs and wonders? before the people of Jerusalem. With this, save for a few brief later appearances in which they referee interfaith disputes and supply general community guidance, the Twelve as a group sink from sight within the New Testament. How to account for the sudden disappearance of Jesus's specially privileged followers in the only extant primary source of Christianity's rise? The church fathers, working off a strange passage in chapter 10 of Luke, seized on talk of Seventy Disciples*''unmentioned in the other gospels''who are chosen by Jesus to spread his word 'to every town and place where *? The numbers seven and seventy recur throughout scripture. In this case, seventy apparently mirrored a concomitant Jewish belief related to the number of languages thought to have been spoken around the world; by coincidence or design, it was also close to the number required to assemble the supreme administrative Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin.
xiv author's note he himself intended to go.' Jesus even claims to have 'watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning? during their travels. According to Eusebius and other church fathers, the Seventy Disciples were Christianity's chief proselytizers. The authors of the New Testament are not consistent in their use of the terms 'disciple? and 'apostle,' but in most cases they have clear differences in terms of theological responsibility. (Later use of the terms was looser. Irenaeus referred to the Seventy as apostles, and Jerome confidently bestowed the title of 'apostle? upon the Jewish prophet Isaiah, who lived seven centuries before Jesus.) The term 'disciple? occurs far more frequently in the gospel tradition, though it is usually unclear whether it is intended to describe followers of Jesus generally or a smaller, more privileged group within those followers. Among New Testament writers, only Paul and Luke seem to view the title 'apostle? as applicable to those outside the Twelve, though Luke's expansion of the term is fleeting. Paul had obvious self-'interested reasons for seeing the title 'apostle? extended to those outside the Twelve, because he himself was outside the Twelve and did not begin to follow Jesus until several years after his death. Most of the church fathers attempted to keep the Seventy Disciples separate from the Twelve Apostles, an effort that resulted in much confusion. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, seemed to number the apostle Thaddaeus among the Seventy. He also included among them a certain Cephas. This is Peter's special nickname in the Gospel According to John, bestowed by Jesus himself, yet Clement appeared to argue that Cephas was, in fact, a different man from Peter. Eusebius, following Clement, wrote that Cephas was 'one of the seventy disciples, who happened to have the same name as Peter the Apostle.' Paul mentions Cephas several times in his letters, and while it is highly probable Paul is actually discussing Peter, it is not certain. A few hundred years after his death, even the most famous member of the Twelve had moved beyond accountable certainty.
author's note xv Like the Seventy and much else that distinguished the beliefs and self-'understanding of the first Christians, the notion of the Twelve is Jewish in origin and concerns one of Judaism's first historical traumas: the capture, deportation, and 'loss? of ten of Israel's twelve tribes following the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century bce. In his time, Jesus would not have been unique if he believed that the tribes would one day reunite in Jerusalem upon Yahweh's final victory over the forces of unrighteousness, whereupon a new Temple would be constructed, allowing all the nations of the world to worship him. But Jesus would certainly have been unique, and radical, if he foresaw his own followers sitting 'on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,' as he says in the Gospel According to Matthew. This suggestion that the Twelve will in some way rule some form of a somehow reconstituted Israel is as explicit as Jesus gets in the canonical gospels about the role of the Twelve. Most scholars believe the historical Jesus's concerns were quite a bit more modest. They look to his stories, teachings, and parables''tales of dying beggars, angry sharecroppers, quarrelsome peasants, and hungry landowners ordering around their slaves''as indications of these more local concerns. 'Jesus was not teaching some sort of new lifestyle to individuals,' the scholar Richard Horsley notes, 'but addressing local communities about their disintegrating socio-'economic relations.' While the precise nature of Jesus's relationship to Judaism is a question that will never be resolved, it is difficult, nevertheless, to read the gospels without seeing the hand of the later Gentile church. In the Gospel According to Mark, for instance, we are told that Jesus is understood to have 'declared all foods clean? by instructing his disciples, 'It is what comes out of a person that defiles.' We can safely assume Jesus had some basic connection to his culture and religion, which means that his tacit endorsement of shellfish, pork, and improperly butchered meat is probably not the voice of a first-'century Galilean speaking''
xvi author's note especially when, in another gospel, that of Matthew, Jesus explicitly says he intends to abolish 'not an iota, not a dot? from Jewish Law. In Acts, Peter is celestially prodded to 'kill and eat? unclean beasts during a vision. Peter's response: 'I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.' Not until the next day does the Peter of Acts realize his religion's dietary laws have been divinely rendered void. The vision allows Peter a clear conscience as he makes his first non-'Jewish convert: the Roman centurion Cornelius. Such seeming scriptural contradictions, especially those involving Judaic observance, are why the Twelve were, and continue to be, regarded as important to Christians. Whatever they believed must have been similar to what Jesus believed. The church fathers recognized that the Seventy might have played a more active role in spreading the faith, but the Twelve came to be seen and safeguarded as guarantors of legitimacy. This was a long process'? in fact, its full realization took centuries'? and became less a matter of learning what the apostles believed and more a matter of retroactively assigning to them the prevailing beliefs of a later time. Clement of Rome, in his supposed letter to the Corinthians, also known as 1 Clement and written around the turn of the first century, was the first to explicitly make the case of doctrinal purity based on succession from the Twelve. A few years later, Ignatius of Antioch argued that the apostles belonged on a spiritual plane above that of lowly bishops and deacons, who were intended merely to follow apostolic teachings rather than initiate their own. Thus, by the turn of the first century, Christian teachers such as Clement and Ignatius were already discussing the apostles as part of an honored era now concluded. Who were the Twelve Apostles, and what, exactly, did they believe? Were they wanderers and preachers conscious of creating a new faith or largely observant Jews who stayed mostly