On my commute home from work this evening I listened to a NPR interview with the writer Yann Martel, who is best known for his 2001 book Life of Pi. He read an excerpt from his new novel called The High Mountains of Portugal. While the character below is mistaken about the historicity of the Gospels, I am intrigued by the claim about why Jesus prefers story-telling over history-making:
“Our knowledge of the flesh-and-blood Jesus all comes down to four allegorists. Even more astonishing, these word minstrels never met Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, whoever they were, weren’t eyewitnesses. Like the Romans and Jews, they wrote about Jesus years after his passage on earth. They were inspired scribes who recorded and arranged oral tales that had been circulating for decades. Jesus has come to us, then, through old stories that survived mostly by word of mouth. What a casual, risky way of making one’s mark on history.
“Stranger still, it’s as if Jesus wanted it that way. Jews are obsessively literate. A Jew’s every finger is a pen. God merely speaks to the rest of us, while Jews get handed inscribed stone tablets. Yet here was an important Jew who preferred the wind to the written word. Who chose the eddying of oral tales over the recorded facts. Why this approach? Why not impose himself like the great military Messiah Jews were hoping for? Why storytelling over history-making?
His wife had led him down one grand corridor after another. Now, Eusebio senses, they are about to enter the ballroom, with its vast dancing floor and glittering chandeliers and high windows.
“I think it’s because once more, Jesus seeks to benefit us. A story is a wedding in which we listeners are the groom watching the bride coming up the aisle. It is together, in an act of imaginary consummation, that the story is born. This act wholly involves us as any marriage would, so each of us interprets a story differently, feels for it differently. A story calls upon us as God calls upon us, as individuals – and we like that. Stories benefit the human mind. Jesus trod the earth with the calm assurance that he would stay with us and we would stay with him so long as he touched us through stories, so long as he left a fingerprint upon our startled imagination. And so he came not charging on a horse but quietly riding a story.