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The Gospel According to Jesus Christ Paperback – September 28, 1994

4.5 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like other earthy fictionalized accounts of the life of Jesus, this loose interpretation of the Gospel provoked an outcry: published in the author's native Portugal, it was subsequently withdrawn from consideration for the 1992 European Literature Prize. Saramago ( The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis ) explores the psychological motivations that led Jesus to become a prophet. Joseph overhears a conversation that allows him to save his fledgling family from the slaughter of the innocents. Because he lacks the courage to warn others in Bethlehem, God turns him into a spiritual pariah and, as part of God's justice, he is mistakenly crucified. Tormented by his earthly father's guilt, Jesus leaves his family, wanders around in the wilderness with a freethinking Devil, is told of his destiny by God, performs some miracles and, in a fast summing up, ends up dead. Saramago, who takes some pointed digs at both the Catholic church and monotheism generally, seems too uneasy with his material to enjoy his tongue-in-cheek portrait. The work is frequently static and halfhearted, a far cry from the riveting passages of the New Testament, and though often amusing (his conversations between Jesus, God and the Devil may remind Anatole France aficionados of Revolt of the Angels ), the work never achieves the irony the author seems to have intended.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This thoughtful, provocative study of Jesus' self-understanding as both son of God and an all-too-human family member caused debate in the Portuguese parliament and is likely to generate discussion here. Saramago reveals a deep knowledge of scripture, theology, and Christian history, but his true gift may lie in evoking the physical world. Christian writers have often downplayed the earthier aspects of the Incarnation, but here Jesus is "identified as a shepherd by the smell of goat." God says that it is "dissatisfaction, one of the qualities which make man in My image and likeness," which led him to desire a son on Earth. "There will be a church," God tells Jesus, giving a lengthy martyrology as evidence. Jesus dies as do many of us, lamenting "a life planned for death from the very beginning." For serious religious collections.
- Kathleen Norris, Lemmon P.L., S.D.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Harvest in Translation
  • Paperback: 396 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (September 28, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156001411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156001410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
Let's get this warning written upfront first...if you are a born again Christian or in any other way easily offended by an unorthodox and even blasphemous portrait of one of the most revered and worshiped figures in human history, skip this book entirely. Saramago is not exactly an atheist, but he is a skeptic, and this is a skeptic's look at the Gospels. Saramago plays fast and loose with the canonical Gospel accounts of the life of Christ to create something very different than the comfortable picture of Christ most of us have grown up with. And to my mind, the questions that Saramago raises in his book are good ones, ones that every sincere person of faith should ask. They are not questions that can break a strong faith, but they are ones that hone it and refine it.
From the first glowing chapter of this book, I was hooked. Saramago begins the work with a poetic description of the traditional icon of Christ's crucifixion. But from that moment, he wanders far from the Gospel accounts. The first half of the book concerns the events of Christ's birth and boyhood. Joseph, by not warning the citizens of Bethlehem of the murder of the innocents, incurs a bloodguilt that he cannot absolve except by his own mistaken death on the cross years later. This death of his earthly father along with the accompanying sense of bloodguilt haunts the young Jesus and sends him off on a journey to find his own true purpose in life. He spends years as a shepherd apprentice with a man named Pastor who ultimately is the Devil. He meets and falls in love with Mary Magdelene, with whom he lives without the benefit of marriage. He discovers his amazing powers healing and miracle working long before he has any idea of how he is to use them.
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Format: Paperback
"The Gospel According to Jesus Christ" is going to offend a lot of people and one can understand on reading it why it sent the Vatican into a terminal fit. Taken on its merits, it's an awesome work of scholarship by a writer with a deep knowledge of the life of Christ, Christian and Jewish theology and biblical literature. Saramago gives us a Christ that is all too fallible; he's human, after all, as well as divine; a Joseph whose sin of omission in saving his own child from Herod's assassins while failing to warn other parents of the imminent slaughter of the innocents was expiated by his own death on a cross that foreshadowed the death of his son; a Mary who doubted her son's divinity, and a Mary Magdalene who relieved Jesus of his virginity and remained totally faithful to him afterwards, bodily and spiritually, up to the end. Even more disturbing for some readers will be Saramago's depiction of God as a master manipulator, pulling the strings behind the scenes, needing the devil as a foil for his own glory because he knows that without the devil, his glory is diminished. What kind of God is this?

One can't help but wonder, while reading this book, what was Saramago trying to say to us? Is the book a testimony to his own cynicism and atheism, or does Saramago believe in God and Jesus Christ in spite of himself? Because his subject, Jesus as Man/God, comes out as eminently sympathetic, likeable, sometimes irritating, always fascinating; unlike the remote, other-worldly Jesus of Sunday school, Saramago's Jesus is someone we can relate to. And Saramago's God echoes the question all of us have asked from time to time -- how can a benevolent God create a world in which the innocent are allowed to suffer?
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Format: Paperback
I read Saramago's "Gospel" more than a month ago, and it continues to haunt my imagination. Pick it up. Scan the pages. You'll probably think this is a forbidding work, written in dense, often pages-long, paragraphs, with lengthy stretches of run-together dialogue uninterrupted by paragraph indentations or white space. But begin reading, and all hesitation melts away. The writing is stately, scriptural in diction, careful of every nuance. Saramago's original Portuguese, movingly translated into English by Giovanni Pontiero, creates a convincing "gospel voice"--rendered from an ambiguous, perhaps "omniscient," perspective-to portray Jesus of Nazareth in a startlingly new, and believable, way. And into this narrative Saramago adds credible, plausibly motivated, portraits of Joseph, Mary, James "the Brother of Jesus," as well as of both the Deity and the Demon. And, of course, Mary of Magdala.
What could a Portuguese atheist (and, perhaps less relevantly, Communist) have to say about the life of Jesus? Don't presume a thing. Simply read, slowly. What will first be apparent is that Saramago respects your intelligence and the sources, and he has done his homework in speculating on how the historical gaps might be filled in: he knows the New Testament, has studied the "Gnostic Gospels" of NT apocrypha, has read his Josephus and other near-contemporary accounts of the "Jewish Wars" and first-century Palestine, and seems familiar with the scholarly Jesus Seminar findings. You will then note the expected traces of irony--sometimes fired from unexpected directions--but here deployed surprisingly to draw out the humanity of Jesus's nature and, in my view, to lure the reader into an early misreading of the author's intent.
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