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.
About the Author
"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.
Date of Birth:September 9, 1828
Date of Death:November 20, 1910
Place of Birth:Tula Province, Russia
Place of Death:Astapovo, Russia
Education:Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47