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Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  629 ratings  ·  124 reviews
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 ric
ebook, 407 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Pantheon
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Oct 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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), Franc
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 re ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion
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 ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Susan Paxton
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. ...more
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it
"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 fro
Maggie Boyd
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Al Bità
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Superbly elegant writing from Bissell is augmented by top-notch production values from Pantheon in the production of this book. Well done to everyone involved!

Bissell uses the literary device of providing a framework consisting of a 21st-c tour through some sites (not all of them) which are shrines and places of pilgrimage related in one way or another to the apostles of Jesus known as “the Twelve” and which are still extant to this day.

One of the intriguing elements of this journey is the fact
Sophia Jones
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book has a lot of three-star reviews, which makes me sad, since I really enjoyed it. The book is part travelogue, of the author's visits to various shrines and part history, as he covers the different stories and controversies surrounding various apostles. People expecting the book to be fully one thing or the other will be disappointed, but I loved the combination and felt it was well balanced, though a little more info on his travels would have been nice. The real weakness here is Bissell ...more
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, religion, travel
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 e ...more
Michael Carlson
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rob Marney
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
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 pref ...more
Jerry Rocha
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 pu ...more
Dana Kraft
Jun 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, faith
I had to abandon this after the first four chapters. The mix of travel, history and theology was off. He went way too far afield on seemingly irrelevant topics and hardly touched on others that might have been interesting. Mostly, it seems like his research, journey and experiences only served to confirm his lack of faith rather than point to any larger truths about people, history or religion. I also found his many of his descriptions to be almost disrespectful, especially of the people he enco ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 e ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Quite some time ago I picked up the theological travelogue, In Search of the Birth of Jesus: The Real Journey of the Magi by Paul William Roberts (1995). Along with remarkable insights into the cultures of the Levant (it was the first time I had learned of the Yazhidi who faced genocide in recent years by ISIS), Roberts wielded some unique takes on the Bible that I hadn't encountered before, despite being a lifelong Christian.

I'm happy to report that Tom Bissell pulls off a similar trick with Ap
Steve Bomgaars
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 Em ...more
Jim Gallen
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 sec
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 ...more
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 his
Bill Warden
Dec 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I really thought this was going to be a book about the tombs of the apostles and what they had done in evangelizing for the creation of the church.

This book was really just ramblings typically about how the apostles didn't do much and there may not really have been miracles or any good actions, but that the gospel writers were just making stuff up later.

I didn't enjoy this book and cannot recommend it to be read by anyone else. A bit of a waste of time.
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
What purported to be a search for the historical tombs of the Apostles, was, in reality, the sniping of a bitter non-believer , who claims he once wanted to be a priest. I do not know what happened to this poor man to make him lose his faith, but I do know the difference between a scientific work and an editorialized travelogue. What could have been an interesting story is just sad.
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Details are interesting but the author is very cynical.
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 -ever ...more
Mar 09, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The blurb on the back cover describes this as 'A profound and moving journey into the heart of Christianity'. It is not. It is a skeptical look at the traditions of early Christianity by a self-proclaimed lapsed Catholic.
It is an odd sort of travel book through biblical lands and holy sites interspersed with history, biblical study and the author's own jaundiced analysis. It could have been a very interesting and enjoyable read if the author could have tempered his own evident cynicism. It read
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 ope
Brandon Abraham
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
With this week’s news regarding the murder of John Chau, I could not help but reflect on how unique Christianity is in world religions in terms of its essential drive. No other religious faith, Islam and Buddhism included, has been so singularly defined by its drive to deliver its central message to “the ends of the earth.” For most of recorded history, religious belief has been relatively confined within the bonds of tribe, nation, and ethnicity. In these terms, belief is a relatively secondary ...more
Scarlett Sims
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 re
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Tom Bissell (born 1974) is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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“Sitting there, I remembered two things about going to mass with my father: he never took Communion because of his and my mother's divorce, and he always tapped his heart three times, with solemn insistence, after the recitation of the Apostles' Creed. I asked him about his ritual once. His eyes filled with such alarm that I instantly knew his heart tapping had something to do with a loss or devastation: his parents' early death, his divorce, his wounding in Vietnam. There was no reason for me to invade that space. Maybe that was the best simple explanation for religion: it filled our spaces.” 0 likes
“I could imagine a hot day. I could imagine a number of curious people spontaneously following a young man of great wisdom, a young man rumored to wield power over the mysterious afflictions they saw every day in their villages. They are not sure where they are going, and once the young man stops to speak, they find themselves on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the nearest town now very far away. Many are feeling hunger pangs, uncertain of why they have come so far. What will they do? One of the young man's friends arrives, unexpectedly bearing food. The people are happy and relieved, and among them talk circulates of the surprising tenderness with which the wise young man hands out victuals to the people, few of whom he knows well.

Eventually, the story is written down. Years go by, then decades, and in this time the crowd increases from fifty to five hundred to five thousand. The unexpected arrival of the follower bearing food vanishes from the telling. An event experienced by its participants in miraculous terms is transformed into a miraculous story. The core of the story remains the same: the hungry were fed when they were not expecting to be, and the young man who fed them do so of his own volition. You could base a code of ethics on a single act of unexpected munificence, and perhaps even fashion from it a crude if supple morality, but you would not have a cosmology, or anything close to one, and cosmologies were what most people craved.”
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