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Behold the Man

[Behold the Man] Behold the Man
by Michael Moorcock
Published by Avon Science Fiction, 1968
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Reviewed by: Greg Slade

This book has been in my "to-be-read" list for years, just one of the titles which has been suggested to me as having something to do with both science fiction and Christianity. Normally, I try to avoid giving away too much of the plot, but since Moorcock himself gives the whole game away on the first page, there's not much suspense to keep you in. The protagonist goes back in time to find the historical Jesus, and ends up going to the cross himself, and becoming the historical basis upon which all kinds of legends build up over time. In that way, this work is sort of the 60s equivalent of The Da Vinci Code: a fictional work without a shred of credibility for anyone who has any sort of familiarity with the historical and cultural setting, but a work which provides people with an excuse for believing that the Biblical accounts of the life and ministry of Christ are inaccurate. (And, consequently, that His moral teachings can thus safely be ignored.)

The problems begin with the protagonist himself. Karl Glogauer is a miserable excuse of a man, with an overwhelming death wish, and a fetish for crosses. His girlfriend treats him like dirt, he can't be left alone with another man for five minutes without being propositioned, and he babbles bad pop psychology. For some reason, he teaches himself ancient languages like Latin and Aramaic, but not so well that he can even make himself understood. He manages to crash the time machine and barely survives the trip. And yet this is supposed to be the man who so impresses everyone he meets that they decide that he is the Son of God, the Lord of Life, and the Saviour of Israel, instead of the village idiot.

Then, there is the setting of first-century Judea. Moorcock portrays the Jews as looking for new gods under every rock, when the reality is that post-exilic Judaism was finally, at long last, soundly monotheistic, and the Jews were not prepared to accept theological innovation of any kind, as witness the treatment which was given to the real historical Jesus. The sheer will to self-delusion which Moorcock portrays is comforting to those who wish to deny the accuracy of the Biblical record, but simply doesn't accord with the historical or cultural reality.

I won't even go into how Moorcock deals with the Holy Family. Suffice it to say that those who accuse Moorcock of blasphemy have solid grounds for doing so. However, the big disappointment for me was not the Moorcock strays from orthodox Christianity. (After all, the majority of SF authors reject Christian teaching anyway.) What disappointed me was that such slop is hailed as being bold, or daring, or groundbreaking, or significant. Simply going against Christian teaching might be "daring" if the literary establishment were Christian (not that being "daring" is the same as being good), but the literati haven't cared about Christian doctrine for generations now. In short, there are no redeeming values in this work, whether as a study in character, psychology, sociology, history, or even religion, which make up for the mean-spirited portrayal of Christianity as a completely false and pointless belief system.

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