How Tom Bissell’s lack of belief compelled him to write ‘Apostle’

La-ca-jc-tom-bissell-20160410-001Jeffrey Fleishman at The LA Times:

The life and legacy of the apostle Thomas were a shimmer of myth and fact that sent Tom Bissell across oceans and down alleys; he scribbled notes with a high fever and cried with dysentery and diarrhea in a church bathroom on a mountaintop in India.

In researching his new book, “Apostle,” Bissell, a writer of wanderlust and obsessed curiosity, spent years hunting the supposed tombs of disciples who for centuries have been gauzed in ecclesiastical mist, including Thomas the doubter, whose bones and relics have been scattered from Rome to Kerala, India.

“Apostle” is a ride-along through unanswerable questions about 12 imperfect men who set out in the first century to spread the word of Jesus Christ. The book is a trip into faith, history and skepticism. The story glows with enchanting asides and stitches together how Jesus' life and meaning were edited and refined through the ages from contradictory accounts and incongruous translations.

“What Christianity promises, I do not understand,” Bissell writes. “What its god could possibly want, I have never been able to imagine, not even when I was a Christian.”

“Apostle” was a fitting undertaking for a fallen altar boy, beleaguered Peace Corps volunteer, adventure journalist and writer whose short fiction delights in the mishaps of expat Americans navigating foreign lands. When discussing the book the other day, Bissell, veering from biblical legends to primal urges, smiled like a man who had overheard an indiscreet whisper.

more here.