[Bissell] favors a zesty maximalist prose when describing the places where the apostles’ remains may rest. Some maps would be helpful, as would an overview of how the various manuscripts and archives he cites were preserved or destroyed. But you don’t have to be a career theologian to sense that Bissell has mastered his source materials in a meticulous and open-minded manner.
...Apostle seems fundamentally confused about its aim and audience. Readers familiar with the material will be frustrated by the unfocused scholarship, not to mention the jagged contrasts in tone. And many an amateur is going to plow into a sentence like this — 'Traditionalists such as the Maccabees overthrew the Seleucid modernizers seeking to bring Judaism into a place of accommodation with Hellenism?.?.?.' — and reach for the remote.
...Bissell will travel far to gather these fragments, to the apostles' tombs, Spain to India. In so doing, he pulls off the neat trick of humanizing the apostle in question. His place writing is light as merengue, as befits a flying carpet. 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.
Tom Bissell’s book is consistently fascinating about the stories that crept as inexorably as lichen over a gravestone around the people closest to Jesus. The travelogue elements make for a pleasant hike out of the archive and into surprising places...[but] in elegantly unpicking the minutiae, Bissell sometimes forgets to stand back and look at the wider picture. It is undergraduate fun to quibble over whether Judas hanged himself or fell and exploded in a suppurating mass of corruption. It is much more difficult to pose the big questions.