The novel “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock was published for the first time in 1969. In 1966 it had already been published in a shorter version which won the Nebula Award as the best novella of the year.
Karl Glogauer travels in a time machine to arrive in Palestine in 28 AD searching for Jesus. His machine falls apart in a quite violent arrival and Karl is rescued by a group of Essenes. Thus he finds John the Baptist, who is their leader, but nobody seems to know Jesus.
Karl goes in search for Jesus but when he finds him he realizes that he’s not the person he expected. Many people however started mistaking Karl for Jesus so he can only organize his preaching and his own death.
“Behold the Man” is a novel with a very strong theme and if you’re a devout Christian it’s probably better if you don’t read it because you’ll feel offended.
“Behold the Man” begins with the arrival of Karl Glogauer in Palestine but during the novel the tale of his adventures in the past alternates with the story of his previous life. Thus we see Karl’s tough family situation, the many bad things that happen to him in the years of his growth and the difficulty in the relationships with his girlfriends.
For Karl it’s also a problem to do something with his life so the chance to participate in a time travel experiment is a kind of rebirth. Not accidentally the time machine is made more or less like a womb because this isn’t a hard science fiction novel so we don’t know how time travel works. Michael Moorcock is interested in telling a certain kind of story so he just gives us a certain symbolism.
“Behold the Man” is a science fiction story but the central theme is the myth and in particular its creation. Michael Moorcock made some research because he speaks of the Essenes, the Jewish sect Jesus belonged to according to some scholars, but also reminds us that in those years in Palestine there were many aspiring messiah.
Karl Glogauer arrives in Palestine and slowly realizes that things don’t match the stories of the Gospels. When he finally finds Jesus he realizes that he and his parents are very different from those described in Christian iconography. Thus Karl focus around himself the creation of the Christian myth with his preaching and some pseudo-miracles.
Considering the fact that many elements of Christianity were already present in earlier religions we can wonder whether Karl’s intervention turned legends into facts or from the beginning Karl has taken the identity of Jesus. To Michael Moorcock it’s not an important question because what matters isn’t who’s behind the birth of Christianity but rather certain needs of the people of the time who followed prophets such as Karl. It’s from them that the impulse to the creation of a certain myth came so they’re the important ones according to Moorcock.
Today we’re more accustomed to seeing the deconstruction of people once untouchable so maybe an iconoclastic novel such as “Behold the Man” no longer has the same impact as when it was published. The theme remains strong and considering how it’s dealt with in my opinion it’s still worth reading it.