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"Are you acquainted with Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief? At its time, this book virtually kept me alive. . . . If you are not acquainted with it, then you cannot imagine what an effect it can have upon a person."-Ludwig Wittgenstein, in a letter to Ludwig von Ficker. The Gospel in Brief is Leo Tolstoy's integration of the four biblical Gospels into a single account of the life of Jesus. Inspired in large measure by Tolstoy's meticulous study of the original Greek versions of the Bible, The Gospel in Brief is a highly original fusion of biblical texts and Tolstoy's own influential religious views. Tolstoy explains that his goal is a solution to "the problem of life," not an answer to theological or historical questions. As a result, he sets aside such issues as Jesus' genealogy and divinity, or whether Jesus in fact walked on water. Instead, he focuses on the words and teachings of Jesus, stripped of what Tolstoy regarded as the Church's distortions and focus on dogma and ritual. The result is a work that emphasizes the individual's spiritual condition in a chaotic and indifferent world. Like Tolstoy's celebrated literary achievements, The Gospel in Brief has the distinct bearing of a classic: in its urgency and directness it is remarkably current, as if it were written only yesterday rather than a century ago.
Isabel Hapgood (1850-1928), author of A Survey of Russian Literature, also translated works by Gogol, Turgenev, and Gorky. Her translation of this classic work has been edited and introduced by F. A. Flowers III, an appellate lawyer from Birmingham, Alabama.