Friday, April 30, 2010

No. 21 - Reading Jesus

by Mary Gordon

Reading Jesus: A Writer's Encounter with the GospelsStarted: April 30
Finished: May 5

Notes: I've been reading War and Peace for a couple of weeks now, though I haven't gotten very far because of my recent surgery and just the denseness and sometimes heaviness of the novel. I've got a feeling War and Peace is going to be one of those rare books that I'm going to have to read in spurts over the next year instead of in one big gulp, which is usually how I read. To that end, I wanted something a little easier to read for a while, but something that felt like it had some substance to it. Walking through the library this morning, I stumbled upon "Reading Jesus." Mary Gordon, the author, is a novelist and was raised Catholic. She got to wondering a while back why so many people seemed to have different ideas about Jesus, and then it dawned on her she had never read the Gospels. She proceeded to do so. This book is her reflections on the Gospels, to some extent, but is really a semi-secular literary study of Jesus as a literary character (though not, to not be misunderstood, as a fictional character). This idea sounded interesting to me, a novelist studying Christ as a literary figure. I flipped through the book, it's short, seems easy to read. I decided it was just the thing.

Mini review: Reflecting upon the Gospels from an author's point of view is an interesting one, but Gordon cannot do so without her own Catholic/Christian background getting in the way to some extent. But she freely admits this. While looking at Jesus as a character, she finds much to like about him but also some things not to like. For example, in the book of John, anti-Semitism is quite strong, at one poing Jesus declaring Jews have become the children of the devil. However, Gordon does come around to believing there is a moment of transition and possibly transformation in the final words of Christ. Seemingly, not only does he redeem all of mankind with his death, but in Gordon's eyes he also redeems himself to a large extent, mainly because Gordon finds strength in her own beliefs in Jesus' final words. I'm oversimplifying here for brevity, but that's the basics to a certain extent. It was quite interesting to read this book so soon after finishing John Gardner's On Moral Fiction because Gordon seems to come to some of the same conclusions as Gardner, chiefly that, for a writer, there might not be true answers to be found but it is the asking of questions that is key.

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