By Jose Saramago. Translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero from the 1991 O EVANGELHO SEGUNDO JESUS CRISTO.
New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1994
Comments of Bob Corbett on the novel
LJ Lindhurst is a former Webster University student and while doing some on-line research on Jose Saramago came across my comments on some of his books. J.L. had done a couple of courses with me while at Webster and she wrote. We've had some delightful discussions of Saramago and literature in general. I've excerpted from our correspondence some comments on THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST and posted them below.
From LJ Lindhurstljl@w-rabbit.com
I have been DEVOURING the books of Jose Saramago. In fact, I have been so obsessed with this writer that I have planned a trip to Portugal next month so I can see Mafra, Lisbon, etc. (I am particularly looking forward to seeing that statue of Adamastor) I feel the same way that you do about him; it's not necessarily the plot of the books, it's his prose. It just grabs me in the inexplicable way. It just flows on and on, and it's like music playing in my head. I have rarely been so stunned and inspired by a writer or artist.
I see that you have recently finished reading "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ". STRANGE SMALL WORLD...We were both reading it at the same time!
That book was utterly amazing. It completely changed the way I view the Bible and the traditional views of the life of Christ. It was beautiful and funny and scary and just outright strange. And pardon my enthusiasm here--I know you likely have better things to do than chew the fat with a former student--but I have never met anyone else who's read this book!
[Corbett comments: My reply to her first e-mail overlapped with the one below:
I read your essay about "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ," and I really liked what you said. I agree, Saramago is *furious* with God. In fact, I found it quite amusing and provocative that the Devil is a somewhat more sympathetic character than God. You have no real reason to dislike him, whereas God is simply merciless and brutal. I especially liked how Jesus spends four years tending sheep with him, and the Devil is very compassionate, refusing to kill a single sheep. Only God is brutal enough to ask the "ambitious" Jesus to sacrifice his favorite lamb, and when he does that, the Devil casts him out with one of my favorite lines from the book, "You have learned nothing. Begone with you." It's almost like the Devil wants to teach Jesus to be contrary to God, which by conventional thinking would be EVIL, but he's not, he's simply the opposite. Very interesting.
"Jesus was at a loss for an answer, and God, who had been silent, remained silent, but a voice came down from the mist and said, Perhaps this God and the one to come are the same god. Jesus, God, and the devil pretended not to hear, but could not help looking at one another in alarm, mutual fear is like that, it readily unites enemies."
What do you make of that? I believe this voice comes up again later as well. Is it the God of GOD?
[Corbett comments: I wrote back:]
>That voice in the boat was an odd thing. I chose not to speculate
>about it. I stopped reading, said, what the hell was that all about?
>And then figured: okay, he can try to trap me into taking that
>all seriously, but if that's all I get, then no way Jose am I'm
>going to let you get away with that. Thus I just ignored him!!
Heh, this cracked me up-- "No way Jose!" But damnit, Bob, I was counting on your Professor Emeritus Brain to EXPLAIN THIS TO ME!!! :)
I also really liked what he did with the character of Judas. Judas didn't WANT to betray Jesus, but he had to... it was fascinating how Jesus tries one last time to rebel, but only ends up falling right into the scheme of things that God had set up for him. And the bowl, at the end, that was just a beautiful touch.
I do love the things you say in your note, especially about the decency of the devil. I did like him very much. But God -- well, I haven't liked him for the past 40 years anyway, so Saramago's God is so close to mine that he held no surprises.
Having not been raised in a religious household AT ALL (in fact, my parents were incredibly cynical and disparaging when it came to religion, they were bitter ex-Catholics), I knew very little about the original Bible stories and had to do a good bit of research on a number of things (I even cornered a neighborhood priest who was pruning his rose garden and made him answer a bunch of questions!). It's like you said about "the spaces" in the story; Saramago sheds light on the fact that we, as a Christian society, fully accept the Gospel story despite the fact that the Bible is a wholly ludicrous and unbelievable piece of magical realism (and then we have the gall to get all bent out of shape by films like "The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ" that DARE to speculate on this kind of thing to a further extent!). He really didn't need to pump it up any more, but simply fill in those spaces, fleshing it out, adding an all-too human element that only served to make it an even MORE magical tale. It's brilliant.Bob Corbett email@example.com
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org