Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Tolstoy and Loving Thy Enemy

Had an interesting conversation with Mrs V last night.  She enjoys studying Leo Tolstoy and wondered why at one stage he was in such a hurry to learn Ancient Greek.

The reason was to understand the Gospels better.  There was always confusion about certain texts of the New Testament and Tolstoy felt the need to go back to the original language.

In the example given, Matthew 5:44, it says this:

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” 

Tolstoy asked the question How can one love thy enemy?  How can Jesus ask us to love those that do us ill?  Not hating our enemy is one thing, but to love?  In church, the passage was often explained in different terms.  Tolstoy did not trust the explanations given and thus felt the need to return to the original text.

This was what was found.  In the Ten Commandments passed on by Moses, we are told to "Love thy neighbour."  Now these commandments were for Jews only.  Other people, non-Jews, were effectively enemies, or at least that is how "others" is translated into modern languages.

Therefore the Word of Jesus invites us to love all people (enemies) rather than just neighbours (Jews).

I am no Biblical scholar so cannot confirm this interpretation, but the story does show the diligence that Tolstoy took, both in the understanding of others and of himself.

The BBC adaptation of War and Peace got off to a good start on Sunday evening.  It remains to be seen whether, in a six-and-a-half hour adaptation, one of the central themes of the book, that of Pierre's spiritual journey via various religious organisations, remains intact.  We shall see.

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