Hearing the traditional Easter Gospel reading (John 20) always reminds me of Graham Greene’s reaction to it – that it is reportage, a factual account of something that was presumably experienced by the writer.
“I remember again in St John’s Gospel,” Greene wrote to his friend, the Spanish priest Fr Leopold Duran, author of the best book about him, Graham Greene: Friend and Brother, “the run between Peter and John towards the tomb, Peter leading the way until he lost breath and then the younger man arriving first and seeing the linen clothes but afraid to go in – it’s like reportage.”
The interesting thing is that Greene was making his observation not as a Catholic convert but as a writer – and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and therefore someone especially well qualified to tell the difference between them. The man who spoke of reportage was himself a reporter.
Was it the case that writers like Greene had a different take on the Gospels from that of scholars and theologians? It was this thought that inspired me some years ago to compile an anthology of writers’ reactions to the New Testament and Jesus Christ, eventually published under the title Jesus: Authors Take Sides (1999).
To someone like me, brought up by Christian parents and educated at Christian schools with a daily act of worship, the Bible story was very familiar. So familiar that I know many of the best-known passages by heart. I therefore tried to focus on writers, not necessarily believers, who came to the story as adults, reacting to it without the influence of parents or teachers.
It was GK Chesterton, converted to Christianity in his twenties, who asked his readers to imagine they were reading the Gospels as newspaper stories. “We would find them puzzling and terrifying,” he says, “just as the Christ of the Gospels might seem actually more strange and terrible than the Christ of the Church”. “In some ways it is a very strange story,” he concluded.
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