In his new book Apostle Tom Bissell has an advantage over writers who go looking for Jesus: he can start with human remains. His frame for this uneven combination of travel and Church history is a series of trips to the alleged tombs of the apostles.
To flesh out 13 ghosts (the 12 disciples and Paul) Bissell mines the gospels, the work of Church historians both early and late, and the Apocrypha. ‘Without the Apocrypha,’ he admits, ‘the 12 apostles would seem even more irrevocably distant.’
The former disciples of Jesus are an elusive bunch. Destroyed or partial texts throw up discrepancies and cases of contested identity, equivocal traditions set in unspecified places and fanciful pasts invented by unreliable chroniclers.