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Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

Posted on Facebook on June 24, 2013

Just finished reading Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.

What an amazing imagination!! What radical rereading of every single detail of this most powerful of stories!! What subversive thinking of some of the most fundamental ideas of this cataclysmic event in human history!! Above all, what prose!!

Among the many fascinating, gripping accounts and character portrayals I was amazed by Joseph the carpenter’s character and his deep feeling of guilt; the wise, motherly, earthly figure of Mary Magdalene and her true love for and belief in Jesus; the tense jealous rivalry between Mary Magdalene and Martha (that Saramago sets in only one paragraph that can make a play or a novel in its own right); the amazing encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist (the Saramago narrates from behind a hidden veil, so to speak); and the most dramatic encounter of them all: that between God and Jesus in which God tells Jesus that he is His son and unfolds in front of his eye the long litany of suffering and the streams of blood that will flow by his crucifixion (three pages of an alphabetical list of the martyrs of the church, each with the gory details of his/her martyrdom). 

Next to the closing paragraph, which is one of the most powerful I have ever read, I love this one about Jesus, Martha, Mary Magdalen and Lazarus:

Jesus stood, an infinite strength took possession of him, in that moment he knew he could do anything, banish death from this body, restore it to life, give it speech, movement, laughter, even tears, but not of sorrow, and truly say, I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and he asked Martha, Do you believe this, and she said, Yes, I believe you are the son of God who has come to this world. This being so, and with everything necessary in place, the power and the will to use that power, all Jesus has to to is stretch out his arms to that body abandoned by its soul, and say, Lazarus, arise, and Lazarus will rise from the dead, because it is the will of God, but at the very last moment Mary Magdalene placed a hand on Jesus’ shoulder and said, No one has committed to much sin in his life that he deserves to die twice, and dropping his arms, Jesus went outside to weep.

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