The Gospel according to Frank Kermode
'The Bible is a familiar model of history,' Frank Kermode wrote in The Sense of an Ending:
It begins at the beginning ('In the beginning…') and ends with a vision of the end ('Even so, come, Lord Jesus'); the first book is Genesis, the last Apocalypse. Ideally, it is a wholly concordant structure, the end is in harmony with the beginning, the middle with beginning and end. The end, Apocalypse, is traditionally held to resume the whole structure, which it can do only by figures predictive of that part of it which has not been historically revealed. The Book of Revelation made its way only slowly into the canon – it is still unacceptable to Greek Orthodoxy – perhaps because of learned mistrust of over-literal interpretation of the figures. But once established it showed, and continues to show, a vitality and resource that suggest its consonance with our more naive requirements of fiction.
Reviewing The Literary Guide to the Bible, which Kermode edited with Robert Alter, John Barton described them as 'two critics who have given a new rigour and seriousness to the "Bible as literature" movement'. Kermode's first piece for the LRB, in the first issue of the paper, was on popular millenarianism. His last, in 2010, was a review of Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. In the middle (among two hundred other pieces) he wrote on Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate and Doubting Thomas:
Telling a story, John invented or developed a sceptical person rather than talk abstractly about an atmosphere of scepticism. He did something similar with Judas Iscariot, working in a tradition of Jewish writing in which narrative could be supplemented by more narrative to make particular points, to explain difficulties or to update the story. Since there was obviously a betrayal there needed to be a betrayer; Judas filled the role, and earlier mentions of him were made to fit the character that had developed. It is a complex and rather beautiful process, and once the power of fiction is let loose on such a character there is no knowing how he will end up.
These pieces and others, by Kermode and others, have been collated here. Happy Easter.