The name “Dismas” appears to have been first attributed to The Good Thief in the fourth-century apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, Arroyo found.
“Among the writings of the saints and Church Fathers, I discovered a trail of legends and rich insights into the character of the ‘good thief’—many of which I used to tell my version of his story,” Arroyo wrote in the book’s afterword.
For example, the Arabic “Gospel of the Infancy”— which is not accepted as part of the Bible— nevertheless records Joseph, Mary, and Jesus encountering Dismas during their flight from Bethlehem to Egypt.
Several saints, such as St. John Chrysostom, spoke of Dismas as a brutal robber and murderer. In Arroyo’s book, Dismas is given a tragic backstory that leads him to a life of crime, robbing and murdering travelers on the road.
But when Dismas encounters Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus, he is moved to show the family mercy.
“The line Dismas speaks to the Child Jesus in my story is taken from St. Augustine,” Arroyo noted.
(Story continues below)
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“The saint wrote that the thief told the Infant, ‘O most blessed of children, if ever a time should come when I should crave Thy mercy, remember me and forget not what has passed this day.’”
Jesus later shows Dismas mercy as they hang on their crosses and Dismas realizes Jesus is the same baby he encountered years ago.
“The arc of this story is what first drew my attention: how the long shadow of grace can unexpectedly ambush even the greatest of sinners,” Arroyo wrote.