A new translation of Tolstoy’s rewriting of the Christian Gospels, first completed in 1881.
Most English translations of this work are now over a century old and of questionable quality. Translator Condren has gone back to the original text in an attempt to reintroduce this important but largely forgotten work to English-speaking readers. The result is an admirably clear and lucid translation of Tolstoy’s short but complex book. Reflecting the intense spiritual journey he underwent in his later life, the narrative is an attempt to synthesize the author’s findings regarding a close examination of the Christian faith. It also represents his desire to reach the common Russian believer with his own heterodox beliefs. Tolstoy broke the Gospels into 12 short chapters, each one committed to a specific lesson of Jesus’ teachings. Each chapter begins with an introduction by Tolstoy, marked by italics in this text. Tolstoy rejects the miraculous and divine aspects of the Gospels in an obvious response to 19th-century criticisms of the Bible, which deeply influenced his own study of the book. Instead, the author focuses entirely on Jesus’ social teachings. Of special interest is “False Life,” which reflects Tolstoy’s growing belief in asceticism. In the story of the rich young ruler, for instance, Tolstoy’s retelling is much harsher than that in the original Gospels. Whereas the Gospel of Mark, for instance, has Jesus simply saying, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Tolstoy elaborates with, “there is no way to be rich and to fulfill your father’s will…It is impossible for him who holds his own property to be within the father’s will.” In Tolstoy’s theology, understanding and living out the ethical and moral commands of the Gospels are of primary importance; belief in Christ’s divinity and other points of traditional Christian dogma are merely a matter of personal preference.
Fresh translation destined to introduce a new generation to a fuller understanding of Tolstoy’s mind.