The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
First edition Cover (Portuguese)
|Original title||O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|Pages||396 pages (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||978-0-15-600141-0 (paperback edition)|
|LC Class||PQ9281.A66 E913 1994b|
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (original title: O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo, 1991) is a novel by the Portuguese author José Saramago. Like the New Testament gospels, this is a fictional re-telling of Jesus Christ's life, depicting him as a flawed, humanised character with passions and doubts. The novel proved controversial, especially among the Roman Catholic Church, accusing Saramago of having a "substantially anti-religious vision". It was praised by other critics as a "deeply philosophical, provocative and compelling work".
This book re-imagines the life of Jesus Christ, using the events depicted in the canonical gospels as a scaffold on which to construct its story. It does not truly follow the chronology of the life of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. It placed far greater emphasis on the earlier part of Jesus' life than the canonical gospels do.
The book describes an alternate history to the life of Jesus Christ as depicted in the Bible. It begins with Jesus's conception, in the spiritual presence of God. Jesus' birth is heralded by a mysterious character, who claims to be an angel. Later, at Bethlehem, Jesus is born in a cave, and three shepherds – including the "angel" – arrive to bring him presents.
As described in the Gospel of Matthew, Herod the Great receives a premonition of the birth of the "King of the Jews" (in the biblical account of Matthew, he is informed by the Magi; in the book, however, he is visited in his dreams by the prophet Micah). He orders the Massacre of the Innocents. Jesus survives, but his father, Joseph, who has learned of the plan, neglects to warn the other families in the village, ensuring that his son is safe first, and is plagued by nightmares for the rest of his life.
Later, when Jesus turns thirteen, Joseph is crucified by the Romans who mistakenly think him to be a Zealot fighter. From the night of his father's death, Jesus inherits his nightmare. He learns about the massacre from his mother, and grows aloof from his family, amongst whom he can no longer live peacefully. He leaves the family and Nazareth and makes his way to Jerusalem, where he visits the Temple, thence to Bethlehem.
He works as an apprentice to a shepherd (called The Shepherd who is understood to be the devil and the mysterious "angel" mentioned earlier). The Shepherd instructs Jesus in the ways of hedonism, and at one point tries to convince Jesus to use the sheep for sexual release. Eventually, he meets God in the desert. God forces Jesus to sacrifice his favourite sheep, and says he has a design for him. Upon hearing of this, the Shepherd tells him to leave immediately. Jesus makes his way back home through the Sea of Galilee where he discovers an amazing talent to catch myriads of fish, and Magdala where he meets and falls in love with Mary Magdalene, then continues back home to Nazareth.
Jesus is not believed by his family, and so he leaves them once again, meets Mary Magdalene, and goes to work helping the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. One day out on the Sea by himself, he is visited by God and the devil. God tells Jesus of his plan for Jesus to institute Christianity, because God is annoyed at being only the God of one race, and that other gods seem to get all the glory. Jesus is initially against what he sees as a selfish plan bound to lead to great suffering of many, but is made to see that he actually has no choice in the matter.
Jesus becomes a prophet of God, continuing to work miracles but also preaching. He gets himself arrested, repeatedly calling himself King of the Jews. Having heard news of John the Baptist, who was put to death not for preaching the coming of the Messiah but allegedly for disapproving of King Herod's incestuous marriage, Jesus decides that his own death could likewise obscure his divine nature and thus thwart God's plan.
The novel ends with Jesus' realisation that God's plan, and the ensuing centuries of torture, slaughter, and misery that Christianity will bring, will proceed despite his efforts. His last words from the cross, in referring to God, are "Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done."
- Hardback, 1994: ISBN 978-0-15-136700-9
- Paperback, 1994: ISBN 978-0-15-600141-0
- Paperback, 1999: ISBN 978-1-86046-684-7
- "The militant magician". The Guardian. 28 December 2002. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "In praise of Portuguese". CNN. 1998. Archived from the original on 20 March 2005. Retrieved 28 March 2008.
- Corbett, Bob (May 2001). "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ". Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 17 March 2007.