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The Kingdom by Emmanuel Carrère

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

2014, Editions P.O.L (Le Royaume, original, French)


My son-in-law Thomas and I read The Kingdom, about the early Christians, and then had a chat.

Thanks for getting me this book, Thomas. Why did you decide to read it in the first place?


I started reading it on a whim; it was sitting on a table at my mom’s house.

That's as good a reason as any. What did you think?


It's a cool book and an easy read. I enjoyed the way the author mixed the story of the first Christians with his own life; that was quite original.


I was struck by the author's assertion that the message of Jesus was and is totally unique: Love your neighbor as yourself. The first shall be last, the last shall be first, it's better to be small than big, poor than rich, sick than healthy. This went totally against the Greek spirit of the time, and was completely new and incomprehensible. p 202


I learned a lot about how the Bible was written and the history of the first Christians.


Yes, he questions who authored various parts of the New Testament, imagining, for example, that Luke wrote the letters attributed to James (p. 445) due to similar writing style and content. According to scholars, Mark wrote his account of the life of Jesus before Matthew and Luke, who used Mark's work as source material, reflected in the passages common to all three books (Matthew, Luke and Mark). Another source document containing those passages present in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark most likely existed. (p 403) This source document is referred to as Q for Quelle, which means "source" in German. Did you think the history in the book was accurate?


The book was well researched but it’s definitely biased and I wouldn’t use it to teach history. The author was good at differentiating the parts that were accurate and the parts that were speculation.


I saw Paul in a different light than I'd grown up imagining. More intellectual, and even more determined, and persecuted, than I thought. Luke intrigued me, and if I had a chance to meet either person, I'd rather meet Luke. He was portrayed by the author as objective and philosophical, and a pretty good journalist.


I liked the story of Paul the most.

Did you relate to him as a person?


Well, I'm an atheist. But I found his story the most interesting.


Is it true you borrowed a Bible while you were reading The Kingdom?


Yes, I wanted to double check some of the author’s claims about the content. And he didn’t lie. I verified the quote about how the rich will die with their flesh burning for exploiting the workers in particular… if you want the exact quote I can find it again.


I googled it and found James 5:1-5.

"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence..."


Yes, that sounds right!


Pretty intense. Was there anything you didn't like?


Well, the book was a little bit too author-centric sometimes...


...I got bogged down in Part I where he goes on about his own life and religious experience, so I skipped to Part II, about Paul, and could barely put the book down until the end.


... and there were some weird passages.


Yes, I must say that a short passage on the author's favorite porn video left me in what some might call puritanical shock mixed with just plain confusion. However, instead of going back and trying to understand what this section was doing in the middle of the book, I just carried on reading and forgot about it.


Read:

The Adversary, Emmanuel Carrere (EC)

Limonov, EC

The Way of the Pilgrim, Anonymous (Russian, late 19th century)


Watch:

The Returned, Netflix (based on idea of EC, might be creepy, but I'm curious)

 

Original French Paperback Edition

To think about:


The author contrasts Paul with Odysseus. Whereas Odysseus prefers life on earth, or reality, to paradise, Paul prefers paradise which to him, is reality.


He also points out that Jesus' words are not moral laws, but what could be called karmic laws. He doesn't say: you must do this or that. He says, if you do x, this is what will happen.


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