Behold the Man
Overlook Press, 1999, originally published in 1966, expanded in 1969.
Nothing like a little blasphemy to round out Christmas week.
Michael Moorcock’s Nebula award-winning novella follows a time-traveler seeking to prove the truth behind the story of Christ, discovering it is not as it seems and seeking to make it right. Originally published in New Worlds magazine in 1966, Moorcock expanded the story and republished it as a standalone novella in 1969.
For Moorcock fans, Behold the Man does sneak into his overarching pantheon of the Eternal Champion. Glogauer, who returns in another time-traveling novel Breakfast in the Ruins, is yet another incarnation of the fantastic hero as exemplified by Elric, Corum, Dorian Hawkmoon and Jerry Cornelius.
I’m not sure this story can be dissected without spoilers, and frankly, the plot is pretty closely laid out in every blurb you will read about the novel. So proceed with caution if you are so inclined. You’ve been warned.
Karl Glogauer is a Jewish devotee of Jung, a neurotic, failed psychiatrist who is obsessed with Jesus. The story cuts between scenes of his life in 20th Century London, leading up to his using a time-machine to travel from 1970 to 28 AD. We then see how Glogauer’s experiences parallel the gospel accounts of Christ.
Upon arrival in the Galilean desert, Glogauer is injured and trapped in the past as his time machine is hopelessly damaged. The description of the machine, a fluid-filled sphere from which Glogauer emerges, reminded me of the famous Dali painting “Geopolitical Child Watching the Birth of the New Man.” While I’m not sure that Moorcock infused this birth with Dali’s meaning, the imagery felt apt.
He is found by John the Baptist and mistaken for a magus come to lead the Jews in revolt against the Romans. John takes him to his community of Essenes, implied to be the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, where he is treated.
After John asks Glogauer to baptize him, Karl flees into the desert where he experiences a hallucinogenic fever dream. He emerges determined to find Jesus. Finding his way to Nazareth, he tracks down Joseph and Mary, who decidedly do not fit the Biblical model. Jesus is an even more radical departure — a deformed imbecile who can barely speak.
At this point Glogauer determines that he must preserve the historical view of Christ — gathering followers, repeating parables and eventually dying on the cross. His last words on the cross are “It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie.”
Controversial stuff that surely would spark protests if it were released nowadays. In an obscure sci-fi mag in the mid-60s, however, Moorcock was somewhat ensconced. It still prompts some polarizing reactions on sites like Goodreads.
Personally I have no problem with it. I’m fascinated by the idea of the historical Jesus versus the Divine. And if your faith can’t stand up to a little blasphemy, that says more about your faith than about the person who blasphemed.
And writing like this prompts plenty of questions from the reader. Glogauer is not a religious person, instead he struggles to find existential meaning in Jung and balance that with the diverse faiths he was exposed to as a child. He also struggles with homosexuality and a bit of a masochistic messiah complex — in short, he’s a psychologist’s dream.
There is also a question of what is truth within Behold the Man. Glogauer is determined to recreate the truth behind the gospels, yet the events described never happen in his world. Where do the stories come from? Is Glogauer the true messiah, or is this another archetype he is simply reenacting? If it is believed as the truth by millions throughout the ages, is it really a lie?
An intriguing and thought-provoking examination of faith, myth and Truth.