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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Thought Provoking Look at the Life of Jesus
Some topics always provoke controversy even though they shouldn't. Religion and religious convictions are one. If one has faith, then that faith, by its very definition, should be able to withstand a work of fiction even though that work of fiction is very well written. Jose Saramago's THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST has, I think, provoked much more...
Published on April 1 2004 by Totally Anonymous

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1.0 out of 5 stars 2000 years short of being original
Saramago probably masters his native language amazingly well, but he has the mindframe of a marxist professor of the 50ies, and as much as he can try, he just can't think out of it. He is disturbingly pompous and predictable while pretending to be original and provocative. He pretends to tell the life of Jesus "as if Jesus had been a real man". If this book had...
Published on Sept. 5 2002 by Voltaire


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Thought Provoking Look at the Life of Jesus, April 1 2004
This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
Some topics always provoke controversy even though they shouldn't. Religion and religious convictions are one. If one has faith, then that faith, by its very definition, should be able to withstand a work of fiction even though that work of fiction is very well written. Jose Saramago's THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST has, I think, provoked much more controversy-and condemnation-than it ever should have. But the very fact that it has, I think, is testament to its greatness and its ability to provoke thought.
I think there is much to admire in this beautiful book...and it is quite beautiful. The prose is lyrical and poetic and, at times, magical and heartbreaking. People who say Saramago is "difficult reading" may just not like his style of writing. The only punctuation he uses are commas and periods and his sentences and paragraphs go on for pages and pages and pages. Saramago tells his stories in torrents of words...wonderful words...and if a reader lets himself get caught up in those words, they carry him along, effortlessly, through the book. Saramago is far too good a writer to be "difficult." He's so good-a definite master-that his writing appears to be effortless.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST tells the story of Christ from Christ's own point of view. This causes him to be supremely human, something that is missing from most other accounts of Christ's life. Jesus, in this book, is a fully realized human being, one who has desires and temptations, one who sometimes fails and one who, above all, questions his life and its meaning and even comes to doubt Judaism and its intense focus on sacrifice and suffering.
Saramago, himself, has said that he writes to understand and to question and so, it makes sense, at least to me, that he would question the institution of organized religion and the gospels in this book. I'm Catholic and the book only deepened my faith; I wasn't in the slightest bit offended by it. I do think, however, that some more fundamentalist Christians might be offended and perhaps they should simply skip this book and read something else, instead.
In THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST, Saramago lavishes much empathy on Jesus as a fellow human being who is filled with doubts and suffering. The author's view of Jesus and his contemporaries is quite compassionate and almost tender. I don't know how people can object to Jesus' love for Mary Magdalene; Saramago portrays this love as very sincere and very deep. One can see that, above all, Saramago was trying to understand how Christ felt, not as God or as the son of God, but as a man, a man who lived as a human being and interacted with his fellow human beings.
Saramago is not, however, so generous and compassionate in his portrayal of God. Saramago's God is a vengeful one, one who causes the men He created to sin and then punishes that sin without mercy. In fact, in this book, Jesus doesn't choose to become a martyr and the salvation of all mankind; he is tricked into it by God, Himself. There are two lovely set pieces in which we can see just how much Saramago questions God's mercy: one in the desert and another that occurs years later in a boat surrounded by fog. In those set pieces, God goes to any length to trick Jesus into becoming a martyr so that He, God, can widen His realm and become, not only the God of the Jews, but the God of all mankind.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST is the most compassionate, human and profound look at the life of Jesus I have ever encountered, surpassing even Nikos Kazantzakis's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. I found this book very human and very compassionate and both heartbreaking and healing as well.
I would definitely recommend THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST to anyone who would not be offended by a look at Christ that questions, but not necessarily contradicts, that found in the gospels of the bible.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revisionist life of Christ, Oct. 17 2003
By 
Frank J. Konopka (Shamokin, PA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
This book is probably not for the intensely religious, true believer type, for it paints a very radical view of the life of Christ. From negating the Virgin birth to the real reason for the crucifixion, this book tells us the tale of a very confused individual pushed and pulled by a God with His own selfish agenda for the future. It shows a conflicted man whose entire life is an enigma leading to an ending preordained by a higher power. That being said, it is tremendously well written, with moments of high drama and low comedy. The characters are exceedingly well drawn and the story moves along very well to its tragic conclusion. It turns much of the New Testament on its ear, but does show the power and the future glory of Jesus. There may be a sceptic behind the writing, but there is religion also, and a belief in the ineffable power of God. I'm sure the author may disagree quite violently with me, but he has more faith than he is willing to admit. This book did not shake my own faith or belief, for I recognize that it is fiction, and the author's idea of what happened all that long ago in Israel. He is entitled to his opinion, and I to mine, and that's how intellectual debate lives on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Healthy Skepticism, Sept. 1 2003
By 
Christopher Forbes "weirdears" (Brooklyn,, NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (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. All through this section, familiar passages from the Gospels such as the calling of the disciples, the walking on the water, and the feeding of the five thousand are presented in unfamiliar guises. Finally, in the last chapter, all of the events of the canonical gospels are condensed into a searing climax.
Saramago has a talent for grasping the logical contradictions in Christian faith, though he seems blind to the spiritual depth that lies behind these contradictions. Saramago senses the great paradox between the "all good" God and the need for the atonement of His Son. Saramago's portrait of God is almost a caricature. God is bombastic, greedy for worship and power, and ultimately vain. In many ways, Saramago's version of God resembles the Demiurge of the Gnostics or the Urizen of William Blake....a petty creator god who wants the whole deal for himself. And in Pastor, Saramago creates a devil who's biggest motivator is compassion for the plight of humanity. At times, these characters approach broad comedy. And yet, Saramago is skillful in his handling of language, so that even the most satirical moments have a bittersweet undertone.
Throughout the novel, Saramago's prose is brilliant, approaching poetry. Yet it is simple and once you get past the idiosyncratic punctuation, the lines flow beautifully. For language alone, this novel is a wonderful read. Add to that the wealth of historical detail, vivid characterizations and searching questions and this is a novel that challenges the reader to think hard and respond deeply. Saramago's questions challenge Christians, but to my mind they don't break the faith. In fact, a faith that can't stand up to a little blasphemy is not much of a faith at all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another view of a life we all wonder about..., Sept. 16 2003
By 
Rachel Andrews "hexmedia2" (Bellingham, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book because it tells the life of Jesus with an emphasis on the fact that he was a human being, like all of us. like the blatantly sacraligious scenes of Joseph and Mary having sex, or Jesus becoming aroused when he sees a naked woman for the first time. It reveals his human emotions, his fears and doubts. He questions God and his reasons every step of the journey - a message that told me that it is in our nature to doubt, and God or whatever there is wants us to constantly question our existence - or else there is no reason to live.
Saramago's sense of humor and creativity come out in the conversations between Jesus, God, and the Devil. The dialouge seems just perfect, and I wouldn't be surprised if that is exactly what was said.
Full of great twists and drama ... even though we all know the ending, I couldn't put it down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh air, May 7 2004
By 
T W Gulliver (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
Your other reviewers don't get it.
Saramago is an atheist lefty who enjoys lambasting the preposterousness of the Jesus story but makes of his reworking of it a love story, fable of tyranny, exploration of the forces bringing a religion into being, and commentary on the barely human existence of the poor around 0 BCE, as well as (and much more so than) a bit of Christianity-knocking. The miracles are of the same stuff as Portugal drifting off to take a tour of the Atlantic in "The Stone Raft" or the whole world going blind in "Blindness", they are lightly-weighted metaphor, candid tricks (I the author can do this, and you can enjoy or hate it, as you please, if you enter this lengthy sentence I promise I will break many other rules but thoroughly entertain you with novel conflations of the great and the small, the dire and the hilarious, so as to challenge your perceptions of great, small, dire, etc).
To find this treatment of Jesus "blasphemous" is funny, we may be thankful that most of civilization finds blasphemy as quaint as Baal and other vicious antique gods, but it is also scary, America the secular state is still very much under attack, and freedom of-and from- religion are hardly assured. The Inquisition and the awful Hibernian royalty of Saramago's "Baltasar and Blimunda" are mocked by the author so that we laugh at the horrendous and ridiculous antics of tyrants and villainous monks that so appall us. In his Gospel "liberated" from Matthew, Mark and the other incriminants, Saramago loves his very fallible Jesus and all the Mary's, mocks and mourns everything from our credulity and slavery to religion to even our notion of what is funny, and has a heck of a good time doing it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An alternate perspective that magnifies irreverence, Feb. 4 2004
By 
Matthew M. Yau "Voracious reader" (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
Saramago deftly embraces historical facts, myth and reality and juggles them in this extraordinarily fictitious account of Jesus Christ. The novel is an in-depth psychological portrait of a savior who possesses a touch of humanity so much more substantial than the Bible claims. Jesus who is at once the Son of God, the beginning and the end, men's destiny, and a young man of the earth is an interweaving of letters, irony, spirituality, irreverence, humanity, and foible.
The novel hinges on the fact that Jesus' father, Joseph of Nazareth, out of cowardice and selfishness of the heart, failed to alert the parents that King Herod had issued a decree to kill boys under the age of 3. He could have spared the lives of 27 children had he spoken up. Joseph felt the scruple of running off to save his own son but had forfeited the lives of others. The guilt he felt was exactly guilt a man may feel without having sinned or committed the actual crime himself. It was the sin of omission.
To assuage his remorse that incessantly plagued him, Joseph, as he truly believed he was acting out of his own accord and obeying God's will, made strenuous effort to beget more and more children to compensate for the 27 lives. When Jesus learned about Joseph's crime, Jesus felt poignant for his father but asserted that his father was to blame for the deaths of innocent children. Joseph's sin was illustrated to full actuality as Jesus envisaged infants dying in perfect innocence and parents who had done nothing wrong. Jesus was embittered and broken at the fact that never was a man more guilty than his own father, who had sinned to save his life.
Joseph's death, which was rather dramatic and undeserving, bore the scruple of his own conscience and arose the question of what awaited him after death. Would it be possible than everything ended with death? What would happen to the life's sorrow and sufferings, especially the sufferings right before the last breath? What about the memory if time is such an undulating surface than can only be accessed by memory, would memory of such suffering linger at least for a short period of time? Saramago has repeatedly made claims to explore the notion of after-death and its correlation to human existence throughout the novel.
Jesus under Saramago's pen is not as perfect, impure, and righteous as the Bible portraits him to be. One sees that the savior succumbs to temptation, to not receiving the cup of death, to choose to remain on earth and not to be crowned with glory. The most provocative and controversial aspect of the book is when Jesus intervened the stoning of an adulteress, which brought him to awareness that he was living in sin with Mary Magdalene, and thus living in defiance to God's will. The sin of adultery (sexual immorality as the Bible claims) brought Jesus into open conflict with the observed law.
The book is not deprived of interesting dialogues in spite of the serious overtones of theology. My favorite is the conversation in which the Devil pleaded with God to admit him into the kingdom. God curtly denied the request asserting than the good God represented would cease to exist without the evil Devil represented. In regard to the meaning of human existence and the pursuit of holiness, Saramago does leave us with an enlightening thought (with such sober dignity) that the soul, in order to be able to boast of a clean and blameless body, has burdened itself with sadness, envy and impurity.
2004 (8)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent view of Jesus life according to Saramago..., June 13 2003
By 
Denisse Comarazamy "Francine" (Sto. Dgo., Republica Dominicana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
I love Saramago´¿s writing, it was my first book from this author. ´¿The gospel according to Jesus Christ´¿ is just wonderful, I am catholic and think that anyone no matter what´¿s their religion should buy it, in no way this book could change my point of view, but definitely got me thinking and wondering the Jesus that we all know. Many won´¿t read it and that would be a shame; you just have to take it for what it is, a novel.
The famous conversation between Jesus, God and the Devil was very good, but highly overrated, I liked the way Jesus questions his ´¿father´¿ and demanded answers about his life, most importantly the fact that he was destined to die crucified like his father Joseph ´¿The carpenter´¿. The way Jos├ę Saramago portrayed Jesus as a human being just like us, worried about earthly things but equally sensitive of life´¿s issues, was pretty amazing. I personally found weird reading a Jesus in love.
The end of the book was perfect, simple but at the same time shocking. ´¿The gospel according to Jesus Christ´¿ is so good that you would read it again and again and every time you can be sure you´¿ll find something new and great.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A mind-blowing work of genius, June 6 2003
This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (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 and caused Saramago's excommunication by the Church. 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 son; a Mary who doubted her son's divinity, and a Mary Magdalene who relieved Jesus of his virginity and remained totally faithfully 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? It's Saramago's suggestion that perhaps God himself can't answer that one, that may disturb so many readers of this book.
Saramago's writing style has been called convoluted, but it wasn't difficult at all for this reader; his paragraphs may go on for pages, but he writes with a sweep and flow that wraps the reader up and carries him or her right along with the narrative. "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ" is totally enveloping; one turns the final page and emerges slightly dazed at having been through a reading experience that blows both the mind and the senses.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant, Provocative & Thought Provoking, Feb. 4 2003
By 
debra crosby (Austin, TX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (Paperback)
This re-telling of the life of Christ is a multi-layered masterpiece in the guise of a simple tale, that of the life of Christ on earth. A story told by a bemused skeptic, it is clever and tragic at the same time. Jesus is portrayed from his humble birth until his pre-ordained death and is seen as a simple man who wished only to live his life and who sought to free himself of the mantle of the martyr but who ultimately realized that his destiny was set by God and that he had no choice in the matter. God and the Devil are the puppeteers who pull the strings in Jesus' life and they both know, even in their constant competing with one another, that they cannot exist without the other. Thus, one of the many questions this fascinating novel ponders is the nature of Good vs. that of Evil and how in many respects they parallel one another. God is capricious and selfish, sometimes seeming to ignore blithely the pain and suffering He can inflict on mankind and seeking to have his son be a martyr so that He himself can rule the entire earth. The Devil is the one who teaches Jesus a great deal of what he must learn in order to live his life. The other lessons he is taught by Mary of Magdala, a prostitute who nonetheless understands the true nature of love. The narrator constantly asks taunting questions about God's motives, as well as those of man. As a skeptic myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its exploration of the many philosophical "gray areas" and basic, straightforward questions about the nature of God and of faith. Fascinating reading, classic Saramago. I loved it from start to finish and underlined passage after passage. An amazing and provocative work about a simple man whose philosophy became the basis for a religion, but who was often misunderstood when he was alive and is often still misunderstood today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory. Transcendent. Challenging. Unforgettable., Sept. 23 2002
By 
Paul Frandano (Reston, Va. USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (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. Indeed, the spell Saramago creates throughout the novel's first half issues from what seems a predictably humanistic, psychological point of view. That changes. But I don't feel I can say any more about the direction Saramago takes his story without spoiling for others what was for me a surprising and thrilling narrative transformation, with a string of unexpected, powerful payoffs.
Nor can I pretend to say with any confidence that I know which readers Saramago's novel will appeal to most. Each will find Saramago's telling of the Jesus story challenging in his or her own way. What I can do, though, is encourage you-if Saramago's stature as a Nobel laureate is insufficiently encouraging-to keep an open mind, read the book, and ponder the philosophical and theological questions raised in an unforgettable work of literary art.
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The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago (Paperback - Feb. 1 2001)
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