In 1966 Shsaku End published Chinmoku (Silence, 1969), a novel depicting the conflict between Catholic missionaries in Japan and the samurai government, which was determined to eliminate Christianity from the country. Captured missionaries were required to trample on an image of Christ called a fumie; End employs this image of a much-trampled-on Christ to create an image of a helpless, suffering, and loving Jesus very different from traditional European images of a triumphant, perfect Christ. After finishing this novel, End set himself the task of drawing a picture of Christ that other Japanese could understand, an actual Jesus rather than the ideal one of theologians and philosophers.
The first fruits of his biblical research were serialized between 1970 and 1973 in the magazine Shinch; these working notes were compiled and published in June of 1973 as Shikai no hotori (near the Dead Sea). End polished and reorganized these notes and published his A Life of Jesus three months later, in September of 1973.
The title of the book is the first clue to End’s aim in writing the work; unlike the many volumes of nineteenth century piety entitled The Life of Christ, End’s work is simply A Life of Jesus. Christ is the anointed one, the king, the Messiah; Jesus is the human person, the concrete man, the actual living creature untouched by centuries of idealizing art and philosophy. End begins by trying to summon up for other Japanese the face of Jesus, the ordinary face of a man whose name was one of the most common names for men at that time.
If End finds anything at all unusual about the person of Jesus, it is a premature understanding reflected in his face, an understanding of people’s suffering and need for love. The Japanese writer draws a picture of Nazareth that is very realistic, emphasizing the misery and poverty of daily life. Against this background, Jesus moves as the Compassionate One, demonstrating and developing a love that will be his undoing as his followers come to misunderstand his powers of...
(The entire section is 864 words.)