Charumati Ramdas



Charumati Ramdas


Evangelical Legend In Literary Works

Evangelical Legend In Literary Works

10 mins

Use of allegorical devices in the works of literature is not a new phenomenon. Writers have been using myths, legends, etc. in their works with various intentions in their minds. Whenever the free expression finds itself imprisoned by the censors, the masters of words resort to some other means of depicting reality. Many Russian and Soviet writers have used different myths and legends not only for the depiction of reality but have even expressed their own views about the same through them.

Sometimes the same legend may be used in various pieces of literature for different interpretations, with different aims – as has been the case with the evangelical legend inserted in the structure of M.Bulgakov's "The Master & Margarita"(1928-1940) and Chingiz Aitmatov's "Plakha"(The Execution Block) (1986). Both these writers have used the Jerusalem episode – the questioning of the Christ by the procurator of Rome – Pontius Pilate – as the background for narration. Each of them has described the incident in his own way: the description of Pontius Pilate and that of the Christ; nature of questions asked by Pontius Pilate; the length and arrangement of episodes related to the execution of the Christ; the link is drawn between the historical and contemporary; message conveyed through these episodes etc. have been dealt by Mikhail Bulgakov and Chingiz Aitmatov in their peculiar ways. The only similarity observed between the two lies in the depiction of the Christ, who is shown not as a supernatural, mythical figure; but a common, real, bound to earth person.

Mikhail Bulgakov calls him Yeshua-Ha-Notsri, while Ch. Aitmatov refers to him as Jesus of Nazareth. Caiphas considers Yeshua as an enemy of the Jews; he thinks that Yeshua, through his preaching, was taking people away from their religion ("The Master & Margarita"). But in "Plakha" Pontius Pilate addresses Jesus as 'The King of the Jews'.

But, first a little about the two novels.

M.Bulgakov's 'The Master & Margarita' which he completed during 1928-1940, was published only in 1967. It was an event that took the world literature by storm. 'The Master & Margarita' is the finest novel of the XX century not only by virtue of its structure, neither only by virtue of the blend of the real and the fantastic which makes it unusual, but also by virtue of the eternal problems it raises. It has not lost its significance even today and has been a constant source of inspiration to many works of literature. It consists of two plots closely connected with each other. The first one is the story of the Master and his beloved Margarita. Master writes a novel about Pontius Pilate which is never published in full. Only a small part of it, after publication, causes a storm in the society. The Master is subjected to tremendous mental harassment through the articles of the so-called critics in the number of newspapers and finally lands into a mental hospital. The novel about Pontius Pilate, so strikingly close to the Master is narrated by the devil, Woland, who along with his team of assistants visits Moscow for four days. During these four days, many unbelievable miracles take place in Moscow; the guilty are punished, justice is given to those who were earlier deprived of it and the Master and Margarita are united and they proceed to their eternal abode.

The novel by the Master about the incidents in the holy city of Jerusalem is not only a pure narration; it is based on many parallels not only from the life of the Master but also from the Moscow of the '30s. Yeshua-Ha-Notsri can easily be considered as a prototype of the Master and also that of the author himself.

Yeshua is subjected to physical death and the Master – to the psychological.

A similar fate links the Jesus of Nazareth with Avdii Kallistratov in Ch. Aitmatov's 'Plakha'. Structure wise 'Plakha' too is a complicated novel. Three plots, apparently unconnected with each other are linked together firmly by the story about the wolves – Akbara and her mate Tashchainar. Akbara and Tashchainar are the cause of Boston's miseries; they are also the mute witness of the tragic end of Avdii's life, who, a runaway from a seminary identifies himself as the disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.

Thrown out of a running train by collectors of opium seeds, Avdii, in a state of delirium, recollects the scene of his Teacher (Jesus) being sentenced to death. By virtue of phenomenon which Ch. Aitmatov terms as 'Historical Synchronism', Avdii relives the moment that slipped into history about 2000 years ago and tries to save his Teacher from calamity. Chingiz Aitmatov uses the Evangelical motif not only to pronounce a few of his philosophical thoughts but also tries to show that Avdii – the prototype of Jesus, meets the same end even today at the hands of not only one Pontius Pilate viz. Ober Kondalov, Grishan, the present church, and the coordinator. The scene of Avdii's execution on a tree instead of that on a cross at the hands of Ober Kondalov is a repetition of the whole drama, which was enacted about 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. It also implies that in a span of 2000 years the evil has got quadrapulated, while the one on the side of truth and justice stands all alone even today and he meets his end only at Golgotha.

Through Yeshua-Ha-Notsri, M. Bulgakov tries to convey that "Cowardice is one of the most terrible vices". Yes, cowardice is Pontius Pilate's major curse. He, who was so brave and fearless on the battlefield, finds himself completely helpless in saving Yeshua from the gallows. He is pitiful and weak, he is scared of the informer, and that is why in spite of his wish not to cause any harm to Yeshua, he had to resort to cruelty and treachery. This cowardice, according to Bulgakov, "easily subjugates a man to evil, which makes him a spineless tool in the hands of others…..It can turn a clever, brave, well-intentioned man into a pitiful wretch, it can weaken and debase him." (Lakshin V.1975). Doesn't this one statement of Yeshua–Ha-Notsri before death speak volumes about the Moscow of the 1930s?

M.Bulgakov spreads the story about Pontius Pilate and Ha-Notsri in four chapters – 2nd, 16th, 25th, and 26th in "The Master and Margarita." The 2nd chapter describes the interrogation of Yeshua; 16th – execution of Yeshua; 25th – how Pilate kills Judas and the 26th chapter describes the burial of Yeshua and confession by Pilate to Mathew the Levite that he too is a disciple of Yeshua.

The questions asked by Pontius Pilate to Yeshua are of the following type: What is truth? Whether everyone is basically good? Whether Yeshua rejects the rule of Caesar and believes that there will be a time when the Caesars will no longer rule over man, but mankind will be ruled by truth?

The description of the large terrace of the Palace of Herod, the spacious colonnade, the singing of water in the fountain; the heavy, oppressive odor of roses; the Procurator in an armchair on the mosaic floor, tortured by hemicranias; the secretary taking down the interrogation on the parchment…everything is so real, as if the reader is not reading but is witnessing the whole scene. The Procurator – his internal desire to save Yeshua, his fear of the Caesar and also that of informers; the feeling of guilt in his heart after having sentenced Yeshua to death, his hemicranias, his killing of Judas, offering a post to Mathew the Levite in Caesarea….all this looks so vivid and life-like. The reader feels that he is present in Jerusalem on the 14th day of Nissan. The language used in these chapters is so lofty, so majestic and so beautifully does the author link the ancient with the modern – the swing is not at all felt, and so easily does he switch over from Jerusalem to Moscow. Pontius Pilate with his white red-lined cloak in the armchair, with his hemicranias, with his stone-like posture, with his measured, strict speech – sometimes hinting, winking, prompting Yeshua to get an answer to his questions which could have saved Ha-Notsri seems quite different from the Procurator in Ch. Aitmatov's "Plakha". Here the procurator is more like a modern bureaucrat.

"Plakha" has the Jerusalem episode in its second part – which still describes Avdii's mission of collecting opium seeds in order to reform Grishan and his friends through his preaching about the New God, about the God of Tomorrow. Irritated by Avdii's preaching, Grishan and his boys hurl Avdii Kallistratov out from the running train and there he – Avdii – the new Christ, as the author calls him – recollects THAT hot Friday in Jerusalem. Expanded in two chapters, chapter No. 2 of the second part of "Plakha" describes how the Jesus of Nazareth is being interrogated and sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate; and in the third chapter Avdii Kallistratov, all the same unconscious but finding himself separated from his Teacher through a span of 2000 years, struggles hard to save the Jesus from the gallows. He – being in distant future for the inhabitants of Jerusalem – sees the past so vividly and knows in advance what is going to happen and thinks of taking Jesus away from Jerusalem. His agony knows no limits when he finds that in spite of being fully aware of the future course of events, he could not stop the inevitable since no one in Jerusalem noticed him or heard his words as he was destined to be born almost at the end of the twentieth century – he simply didn't exist for Jerusalem at the beginning of the millennium.

Pontius Pilate, since the beginning of the interrogation, addresses the prisoner in a language that is so familiar to us and so unfamiliar with the Roman era. The moment Jesus looks at the bird flying over the terrace, Pilate exclaims, "Where are you turning your eyes, the King of Jews? It's your death circling over your head." As if Pilate is teasing Jesus. The dialogue between the two is stretched for a sufficiently long time. It loses its grip over the readers due to long, complex, clumsy sentences, falling of both the Jesus and Pilate into their own thoughts. Pilate, while addressing Jesus, uses many such words as 'you unfortunate', 'you, tramp' etc.

The Jesus in "Plakha", from the very beginning of the interrogation, tells Pilate that he knows that there is only death in store for him in the court of Roman Procurator. He refuses to denounce the message, which he was trying to spread among the masses. His father, he says, had entrusted this task to him. Pilate then asks Jesus whether he considers Caesar to be superior to God, to which Jesus answers that Caesar is mortal and that a day will approach when the truth will triumph over mankind. Jesus then tells Pilate about the essence of life – which is an aspiration towards self-perfection. He stresses the need for a human being to be a Man.

Aitmatov's Jesus tells Pilate that it is not HE who will resurrect on the third day of his execution, but people of different, unknown future generations will come to live in Him. That will be His real resurrection; or in other words, He will return to people in the form of people through his sufferings – He will be one of them. Jesus equals Man with God. Man for him is the Future God. He wants people to bother about the future, as each of them is a particle of the Future God. He propagates Rule of Justice, Rule of Truth. He predicts that in future people will die due to their lust for power, money, and land.

So, it's obvious that through the dialogue between Christ and Pontius Pilate both the authors have tried to project the problems which were so peculiar of their times. M.Bulgakov stresses the need to be brave emphasizes personal freedom; while Ch. Aitmatov gives the message of truth, justice, and humanity.

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