The Little Gospel

Overview

This book is not just a story told by one of the world's greatest storytellers. The real story here is Leo Tolstoy's stubborn insistence on uncovering what was said and what happened. It wasn't the first time that Tolstoy stood alone. In writing this book he attacks Christ-centered churches for their one big lie-the claim that the Bible, the whole Bible, is sacred. This claim has led Christians ever since in the wrong direction, and he describes why. The Russian Orthodox Church ...
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Overview

This book is not just a story told by one of the world's greatest storytellers. The real story here is Leo Tolstoy's stubborn insistence on uncovering what was said and what happened. It wasn't the first time that Tolstoy stood alone. In writing this book he attacks Christ-centered churches for their one big lie-the claim that the Bible, the whole Bible, is sacred. This claim has led Christians ever since in the wrong direction, and he describes why. The Russian Orthodox Church responded by excommunicating Tolstoy.
A hundred years have passed since Tolstoy produced this little book. Christian churches still abound, each basing itself on a truth that denies truth to other churches and sects. Tolstoy did not limit his accusation to the Russian Orthodox Church, though, as a Russian, he naturally focuses on its peculiarities in his preface.
Tolstoy's synoptic Gospel was a bombshell when it was written. The book was banned in Russia even before publication; consequently its first edition was printed in Switzerland by an exile Russian press, in an incomplete version. Translations aplenty followed-but in Russia itself, this book was not officially available. Tolstoy himself was not surprised at the book banning. In his study of the Christian tradition, Tolstoy had found that religion was indeed alive, but not in the churches. It was alive in the fields, in the faith of the common people, the serfs and peasants of Russia. And it was for them that Count Leo Tolstoy abandoned writing his great novels to uncover the truth of Jesus' teaching, as much as may now be known of it from the generally accepted gospel accounts. His method was simple: Throw out the garbage.
That meant specifically the parts that have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus' teaching-all the miracle stories that had been added to win over the doubtful, all the interpretations of one point of view or another that were added later-especially those of Paul-and any suggestion of a resurrection.
One churchly principle that Tolstoy demolished was the idea that most of the books of ''the Bible" had anything to do with Jesus, other than to justify after the fact an old Jewish prophetic tradition namely, Messiahship- that Jesus himself did not consider important. Especially noxious to Tolstoy was the notion that the Bible was sacred, the Word of God. In the course of history, great wrongs have been committed in the name of Christianity, based on one or another passage found in the Bible, a book which, after all, tells the stories of a thousand years of the ethical development of a barbarous people. In Tolstoy's view this Bible-holiness is simply a perversion. Tolstoy's uncompromising mind brought him to conclusions not shared by the great majority of his fellows; this in no way distracted him, but rather deepened his commitment toward humanity. Struggling in the same social ferment of injustice in Russia that gave rise to Nihilism, Anarchism, and Communism, Tolstoy and Tolstoyan Christians worked to solve social problems with a religious answer. History took a different turn, but the influence of Tolstoy in the last years of his life was enormous and worldwide.

In this translation I have relied throughout on the Soviet Complete Written Works of Tolstoy, Volume 24, published in Moscow during Khrushchev's Thaw period in 1957 under the auspices of the State Editorial Commission. This book of Tolstoy's is a great humanist document, in which an uncompromising mind brings freshness to a great human teaching.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780942208023
  • Publisher: Bandanna Books
  • Publication date: 1/1/1987
  • Series: Humanist Classics Series
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Count Leo Tolstoy was one of the world's greatest novelists (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and others), yet in the late middle of his life, he gave up novel-writing to pursue a personal journey toward his own spirituality. He was not satisfied with the Russian Orthodox traditions, nor with the attacks by Renan and others from the rationalist camp, on the merits or defects of Christianity. Tolstoy produced four books in his search for the true meaning of Jesus' teachings. Here's how he describes it:

"I found myself in the position of a person who has been given a sack of stinking filth, and after a long hard struggle has found that there really are precious pearls in this sack of filth; he realizes that he is not himself to blame for his aversion to the stinking mud, and not only is he blameless, but also those people who had gathered and saved these pearls along with the mud are worthy of love and respect. But all the same, he doesn't know what he should do with these jewels mixed in with the mud. Up to this time, I found myself in an agonizing position until I became convinced that the pearls hadn't fused with the mud and could be cleaned up....
I sought the answer to the question of life-not of theology or history-and so for me it was utterly unimportant whether Jesus Christ was god or human, and where the holy ghost comes from, and so forth, and that's why it wasn't important or necessary to know when and by whom each Gospel was written and which parable can or can't be linked to Christ. ... At the beginning of my work I still had doubts, and tried unnatural explanations, but the longer I went on, the work and unquestionable truth stood out firmer and clearer. I was like a person gathering broken bits of a statue-at the beginning there still can be doubt about whether this piece is part of a foot or hand, but when the feet come together, then already one knows that the piece isn't likely to belong to the feet-but when, against this, the piece fits with another side piece and all lines of fracture coincide with those of the lower pieces, then indeed there can't be any doubt."

This present publication is a distillation of his research: biblical texts, with Tolstoy's own elegant reconstruction of Jesus' teaching, tied specifically to the lines of the "Lord's Prayer." His conclusion is startling, with five specific commandments to replace the traditional ten commandments. Here is the source of the modern doctrine of non-violence.

Biography

Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.

He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before traveling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879–82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home "leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude;" he died some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books LTD.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 9, 1828
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tula Province, Russia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 20, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Astapovo, Russia

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