The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

By Jose Saramago


The reviews of 1998 Noble Prize winner Jose Saramago’s brilliant book on Amazon and elsewhere
have generally been quite comprehensive, very well written, and informative.
Therefore I will not delve again into the aspects of the novel that they
discussed, such as the book’s plot; whether it is irreverent or blasphemous, as
his native Portugal government claimed; the portrayal of Joseph, Jesus’ natural
father, as an unintelligent, non-expert carpenter who committed an enormous
crime for which he was crucified and whose sin was passed on to his son Jesus;
his frequent exaggerated and satirical depictions of ancient Jews as
primitives; and the author’s unique writing style. I will address two points:
Saramago’s deep understanding of Jewish history, customs, laws, and
sensitivities, and his mocking humor. I know something about Jewish life,
having written some dozen commentaries on the Bible that refer to ancient


Saramago knows the Jewish culture well. He refers to different aspects of it often,
although not always correctly, for Nazarites, for example, are not
non-Levitical priests, as he writes. This is the second novel of his that I
read, the first being “Cain,” and I found that he displayed his knowledge about
ancient Judaism, the Bible, talmudic, midrashic, and legal  literature in both books. However, readers
need to know that he mentions these matters briefly and subtly. He knows that
most people don’t know what he knows; so if he dwells on esoteric subjects over
much, he will bewilder, bore, and even anger his readers. In most incidences,
he distorts and thereby mocks these Jewish references in both books. I’ll give
one example from this book.


Some ancient Jews developed a prayer that male Jews should say in the morning:
“Blessed are you Lord, the God who is king of the universe, who did not make me
a woman.” The prayer apparently intended to say, thank you God who gave me as a
male more of your commands to observe than you gave to women to observe.
Despite good intentions, this prayer outraged women and men who sensitively
realized that the prayer insults women; for it is as if the man is saying,
thank you God for not making me into this subhuman creature. Another problem is
that women who want to pray are unable to say this prayer. After some years,
rabbis invented a substitute prayer for women: “Blessed are you Lord, the God
who is king of the universe, who created me as you wanted.”


Saramago mocks this unfortunate history and the two prayers. He describes the terrible
condition of women during the beginning of the Common Era. Then he portrays
Joseph having intercourse with a passive Mary. Joseph does so with
insensitivity, without consideration for her feelings, almost like rape. He finishes,
roles off his wife in ecstasy, says nothing to Mary, and almost howls like a
rooster as he thanks God for what he has just experienced by reciting, “Blessed
are you Lord, the God of the universe, who did not make me a woman.” Submissive
Mary accepts her role as a passive participant by saying,  “Blessed are you God who is king of the
universe, who created me as you wanted.”


This portrayal will insult, horrify, and appall many, but not all Christians, Jews,
and Muslims, but this is how the Portuguese Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago
thinks and writes.