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Fictional versions of the myth of Jesus in the modern period Perry, Sylvia Margaret

Abstract

For a brief period in the history of Western literature, liberated, yet disturbed, by the decline in faith, some important writers sought to "improve" upon the myth of Jesus by re-constructing his historical life in imaginative presentations of various types. This paper is concerned with such works of fiction and prose drama, not poetry, poetic drama, or conventional biography. Ernest Renan's "Life of Jesus", published in 1863, provided the impetus for fictional versions of the life by such writers of the early modern period as George Moore and Bernard Shaw; Moore's "The Brook Kerith" was a major influence on the writers of the next generation, including D.H. Lawrence and Robert Graves. The writers tend to create Jesus in their own image, thus many and varied are the portraits they present. The result is an exclusively human hero, what Schweitzer calls "the half-historical, half-modern Jesus," interesting as a stage in the evolution of a new hero-figure, but lacking the supernatural quality necessary for a great religious symbol. However, in this process of "de-mythologization," as Tillich calls it, many works of literary merit were produced; some of the most original attempt.to introduce the feminine principle into this most masculine of myths, in common with modern patterns of thought. The last work examined, Kazantzakis' "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1948), is also one of the best fictional versions of the life ever written.

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