The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Saramago
What if Jesus were one of us?
If you are looking for a light book to lead you to a good night’s sleep, take this novel off your list.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a book that digs into your soul and takes away all certainty, then sit in your favorite armchair, look for a comfortable position, and browse with me The Gospel according to Jesus Christ by Josè Saramago.
Let’s start from the beginning. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is a tale as old as time and the plot of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ does not differ too much from the version we are used to hearing. Josè Saramago, however, takes it to a very human level. There are few miracles or supernatural elements. Jesus is a man like everyone else.
If you want to delve into the plot of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ continue reading here, otherwise, scroll down to find out my opinion on this book.
The conception of Jesus
One night the carpenter Joseph lives a restless sleep. To go back to sleep he looks out the door of the house and witnesses a strange astral phenomenon. Back in bed, he couples with his wife Mary who becomes pregnant.
Nine months later, on the way to the census, in a cave near Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus, a dirty and weeping child born in pain like everyone else. Nothing, at that moment, suggests his divine lineage.
Not even the infanticide orchestrated by King Herod to which Jesus escapes thanks to the selfishness of his father Joseph, who, instead of warning everyone of the imminent danger, only saves him.
The father's fault
Here is a peculiarity of the plot of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ. The first part of the novel focuses on Joseph, more than on Jesus. Joseph is a father who does not shine for intelligence and who lives perennially afflicted by a sense of guilt and tormented by nightmares. A fault that upon his death, at 33 and on the cross, will fall on Jesus.
The teenager Jesus, horrified by his father’s behavior and wounded by Mary’s silence, runs away from home in search of redemption. He will thus spend four years in the desert with a shepherd, during which he will test his morality and his beliefs.
The encounters with God
In the desert, he will meet God for the first time who will reveal his lineage to him and who will promise him eternal glory after death.
The life of Jesus will follow marked by the love for Mary Magdalene and by increasingly frequent miracles. Deeds that will culminate in a second encounter with God (and the devil) during which God will reveal his “devilish” plan to him.
Who was Josè Saramago?
To understand the plot of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ, we need to take a look at the life of the author Josè Saramago. Born in 1922 and raised in Portugal, after several jobs he worked as production manager of a publishing house.
A convinced opponent of the Salazar regime, a member of the Communist Party, and an atheist, Saramago was always active in the causes of his time.
He published his first novel in 1947 but it took another 20 years for him to establish as an author. After the success in Portugal, in the 90s it reached international fame.
The Gospel according to Jesus Christ came out in 1991 and immediately attracted criticism from the church, which would escalate on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in 1998.
Precisely because of the criticism, Saramago moves “into exile” in Lanzarote. He died in Tias in 2010.
This book is recommended if
This Saramago novel leaves no room for half measures. Either you love it or you hate it depending largely on the relationship you have with religion. Atheists find support for their beliefs, believers a blasphemous book.
Put Saramago’s The Gospel according to Jesus Christ among the books to read if you are ready to question everything that has been said to you about the figure of Jesus and above of God.
What I think of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ
The necessary premise is that I am an atheist. I became one after years of singing in the church choir and attending catechism classes.
Something broke when I read “The Da Vinci Code” and, while the church was shouting scandal, I found myself thinking that I liked the idea of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene more than the one proposed in the parish.
In The Gospel according to Jesus Christ, I found the same normality taken to the extreme.
I found a human Jesus, who gets angry, who has a conflictual relationship with his parents, who runs away, rebels, who has defects but who is, despite everything, a great man.
God or Zeus?
Saramago not only humanizes Jesus but also God himself. This God looks more like Zeus from Greek mythology rather than the merciful God we have always been proposed.
If God exists and is good why does he allow evil? Why is he cruel to the wrong people? Why does he allow wars, crimes, injustices? The answer found in the novel is simple.
God is governed by emotions as much as humans are. He is a power-hungry figure who, in order to increase it, does not hesitate to sacrifice the creatures he himself created. God needs there to be an evil against which to be a refuge.
Why Jesus had to die
During their second meeting, God explains to Jesus why he has been given the power to perform miracles and why he will inevitably have to die. Killed in due time, Jesus must become a symbol for people who will then colonize the world with their beliefs.
This got me thinking about two things:
- It is only with death that one can live forever. I am not referring to a hypothetical resurrection, but to the reality of the facts. To give a musical example, would we still talk about the singers of Club 27 if instead of seeing them die at the peak of their careers, we had witnessed their decline?
- J.K. Rowling took a lot of inspiration from this book to write Harry Potter. Harry like Jesus is the chosen one. Dumbledore as God keeps him alive as long as it takes to defeat Voldemort. Voldemort is the fallen angel who chose to vote his intelligence to evil.