Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

The impetus behind this project emerged from conversations I had with a former Catholic priest about the relationship between the quest for the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, which I was teaching for the first time in my Soviet literature class. Though the historical critical method of biblical scholarship and aspects of Western and Eastern Christology occupied many of our conversations, our dialogue began with one of the first questions Woland asks his two atheist...

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INTRODUCTION: The Image of Christ and Russian Literature

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pp. 3-15

If you were to read only the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky after his Siberian exile or Leo Tolstoy in his final thirty years, you might easily believe that Jesus Christ and Russian literature are two subjects that cannot be separated from each other, so central does Christ or his teachings seem to be in their lives and creativity. The reality, of course, is quite different. Russian literature of the past two hundred plus years is as secular as any of the literatures of its European neighbors. And yet, at the same time, like European literature, Russian literature...

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1 THE CENTURY OF UNBELIEF: Christ in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature

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pp. 16-39

In calling the nineteenth century in Russia “the century of unbelief,” I do not wish to argue that a great secularism descended upon the country between 1800 and 1900 due to which no one believed in God any longer. On the contrary, Orthodoxy was alive and well in Russia, which, by 1914, boasted some 55,173 churches and 29,593 chapels,1 along with hundreds of monasteries and tens of thousands of priests and monks. Russia was truly a Christian nation, united by a single faith whose calendar of feast days and fasts regulated the daily lives of millions of peasants, merchants, and members of the nobility. Icons occupied...

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2 CHRIST OUTSIDE THE TRUTH: Negative Christology in Demons and Brothers Karamazov

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pp. 40-58

Paradox is at the center of Dostoevsky’s engagement not only with Christ but also with matters of faith throughout his career. In his famous March 1854 letter to the Decembrist wife Natal’ia Fonvizina he declares, “I am a child of this century, a child of doubt and disbelief, I have been and shall ever be (that I know), until they close the lid of my coffin.” At the same time, he nevertheless singles out a potent “symbol of faith” in his life “in which all is clear and sacred.” He writes: “This symbol is very simple and here is what it is: to believe that there is nothing...

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3 A NARROW ESCAPE INTO FAITH: Dostoevsky’s Idiot and the Christology of Comedy

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pp. 59-82

The Idiot (1869) is often singled out as one of Dostoevsky’s most tragic novels. In this respect it rivals Demons, which followed it two years later. What makes The Idiot so grim is not the number of murders or suicides it contains, for there is only one: the murder-suicide of Nastasia Filippovna at the end of the novel. The source of the novel’s pall of gloom is, as Sarah Young argues, that “The Idiot ends with fewer hints of spiritual regeneration or the possibility of new life than Dostoevsky’s other novels,” with “no truly redemptive figure to offset its many...

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4 LOVING THOSE WHO HATE YOU: Toward a Tolstoyan Christology

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pp. 83-101

The negative theology charted up to this point in Dostoevsky is even more pronounced in the life and works of Leo Tolstoy. Unlike Dostoevsky, Tolstoy was not fascinated by the person of Christ as the incarnation of God, but rather by Christ’s teachings and what they reveal about God. In particular, he was taken with Christ’s commandment to love your enemies. What began in his two great novels as a fascination with the idea of divine love understood as loving those who hate you became in his later writings the expression of an apophatic...

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5 “CAN THIS BE FAITH?”: Tolstoy’s Resurrection

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pp. 102-123

The theme of love of enemies as the measure of divine love in his two great novels marks an important moment for Tolstoy, who made of this and four other equally paradoxical commandments from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount the centerpiece of his new faith. Like love of enemies, each of these moral precepts sets standards of behavior that are seemingly impossible to meet. In his sermon, Christ equates lust with adultery, anger with murder, oath-taking with lying, and resisting evil with abetting it, all in an attempt to teach human beings about the nature of divine...

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6 THE CENTURY OF BELIEF: Christ in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature

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pp. 124-148

The growth of secularism in Russia had its dramatic crowning moment in the 1917 revolution, the ultimate confirmation of the triumph of unbelief in Russia. The fascinating thing about this outcome is that it happened in a nation with a unified national Orthodox creed and a nearly thousand-year history of belief—the confirmation, perhaps, of Dostoevsky’s premise that the line between fervent faith and militant atheism is very fine indeed, that the conditions that foster belief can just as easily give rise to a virulent atheism in sometimes sudden and unexpected ways. Looking at the Soviet century, however, it is tempting to make...

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7 “KEEP IN MIND THAT JESUS DID EXIST”: Mikhail Bulgakov’s Image of Christ

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pp. 149-176

Unlike Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, for whom the figure of Jesus Christ became a central concern of their creative lives, Mikhail Bulgakov grappled seriously with the idea of Jesus as a historical or theological entity only in his last novel, The Master and Margarita, completed shortly before his death, at the age of 48, from nephrosclerosis, the same disease that killed his father. He labored over the novel between 1928 and 1940, partially destroying one version of the manuscript in 1930 and reading drafts to select friends as he revised and modified his...

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8 “EMPHATICALLY HUMAN, DELIBERATELY PROVINCIAL”: The Christ of Boris Pasternak

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pp. 177-204

If the “gospel” of Bulgakov’s Yeshua is driven by a distinct personalism—there are no evil people; we must love our enemies, even our executioners; divine, agapic love is the means by which everything will be made right in the world—then Boris Pasternak makes the centrality of human personhood and the human personality the fundamental discovery and essence of Christianity itself and the core concept of his own literary Christology in his novel, Doctor Zhivago. Of all of the Christ novels examined in this book, Doctor Zhivago is by far the one...

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CONCLUSION: Post-Stalin and Postmodern Christs

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pp. 205-220

Neither Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita nor Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago were published in their homeland during their author’s lifetime, appearing only decades after each author’s death: the Master and Margarita in censored form in 1966–1967 and Doctor Zhivago in 1988, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost and perestroika. However, the centrality of the Passion narrative to their images of Christ both established Jesus’s final days as the fundamental faith narrative of the Soviet century and anticipated other post-Stalin literary imagings of Christ in Russian literature, most prominently Venedikt Erofeev’s...

Notes

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pp. 221-252

Bibliography

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pp. 253-268

Index

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pp. 269-272