Dostoevsky and His New Testament
Geir Kjetsaa, University of Oslo
"I came from a pious Russian
family. From my earliest childhood I remember the love of my
parents. In our family we knew
the Gospel almost from the
cradle. " (1)
Scholars wishing to study the influence of other writers
upon Dostoevsky are immediately confronted with numerous difficulties. Most of the books in his library were
lost while he was abroad from 1867 to 1871. He had to
build up his book collection from scratch. Thanks to
the writer's wife, Anna Grigor'evna, we nevertheless
have information about his collection of books from later
years. (2) However, these lists contain fewer than a
thousand volumes, which means that they represent only
a fraction of the books the writer must have read. Furthermore, over the years the major part of his later
book collection has been lost. A Dostoevsky scholar is
therefore not in the same fortunate position as a scholar working on Tolstoj or Gor'kij, since the latter has
the opportunity to study his authors' underlining and
comments in preserved collections of books. (3) Besides
The Insulted and Injured and The Brothers Karamazov we
know today in fact of only one book which is furnished
with comments and remarks in Dostoevsky's own handwriting. (4) On the other hand it is by far the most
important book with which he was concerned, namely the
Dostoevsky is known to have received this book as a
gift from the Decembrists' wives in Tobol'sk in the
middle of January 1850, when he was on his way to Siberia to serve his sentence for crimes against the state
(XXI: 12). As "spiritual works" were the only books allowed
in the ostrog (IV: 3O3), and as the writer had his own
copy of the Bible stolen on the very first day, this
gift came to have particularly great importance.
"During the entire four years of his imprisonment Fedor
Michajlovich never allowed himself to be parted from
this holy book, " says Anna Grigor'evna in her memoirs. (5)
"Twenty years later when he recalled his sorrow and mental anguish, " she told one of her husband's biographers,
"he used to say that the Gospel was the only thing that
kept hope alive in his heart. Only in that book did he
find support; whenever he resorted to it, he was filled
with new energy and strength. " (6) "For four years it
lay under ray pillow in the gaol, " the writer himself confirms. "From time to time I read from it and read aloud
to others" (XXI: 12).
It is also indeed with strange feelings that one sits
today in the Manuscripts Collection of the Lenin Library
leafing through Dostoevsky's dirty copy of the New Testament. (7) Countless fleas and lice have crawled over the
dark covers of the book. From the writer's bunk it witnessed din and uproar, the rattling and jangling of
shackles, cursing and coarse laughter, shaven heads and
branded faces, degradation and misery. But it was precisely in this earthly inferno that the book was to have
such importance for the writer's spiritual rebirth.
This was the first time the New Testament had been
available in Russian translation. Earlier there had only
been the Old Church Slavonic text, which was still to
be the only version used in church. The translation had
been carried out by the most distinguished theologians
in Russia; the master for the Gospel according to St.
John was no less a person than the metropolitan Filaret. (8) The price was 2 roubles and 25 copecks, so it
is not exactly a cheap paperback we can hold in our
hands. This solid book (620 pp., 18. 7 x 11. 4 cm) is
bound in pure leather and obviously intended for daily
use over many decades. Typically, this is the copy of
the New Testament with which the author provides Sonja
in Crime and Punishment', "It was the New Testament in
Russian translation, " states Raskol'nikov. "The book
was old, well used, bound in leather"(VI: 242).
Well used, not to say badly worn, can also be said of
Dostoevsky's copy. For example, the leather binding is
damaged. Here the Decembrists' wives are known to have
poked in a ten-rouble note, another gift that was good
to have in the ostrog. Anna Grigor'evna says that the
book was later always to be found on the writer's desk.
"Often when he was deep in thought or in doubt about
something, he would open the New Testament at random
and read whatever was on the first page to his left, "
she says in her memoirs. (9)
The New Testament was also used in this way on 28 January
(9 February) 1881 when Dostoevsky felt that death was
fast approaching. At random the book was opened at page
6 where Anna Grigor'evna read the account of Jesus coming to John to be baptised. "Do you hear? 'Let it now
happen' - ne zaderzhivaj (don't hold me back) - of course
I am about to die, " said the writer. Six hours later he
had passed away. In his copy of the New Testament his
wife also underlined this passage (Matt., III, 13-15) and
added in the margin: "These lines were opened and read
aloud by me at the request of Fedor Michajlovich on the
day of his death at 3 o'clock. "
In addition to this underlining by Anna Grigor'evna we
find almost two hundred other markings which must be
supposed to have been made by Dostoevsky. More than half
of these take the form of pencil marks in the margin.
Sometimes, however, the writer felt the need for greater
emphasis, for instance by adding one or more nota bene
signs, or by underlining one or more words in the text,
usually in ink. Finally we find one instance where
Dostoevsky corrected the language of the text (the addition of "by" after "ljubil" in 1 Joh., IV, 21) and
three cases where he commented on it with words in the
When studying the individual marks we are perhaps struck
by a certain surprise, not least at what Dostoevsky
omitted to mark. Thus he has not marked the important
words about atonement in the Epistle to the Romans nor
the important words about the purpose of suffering in
Peter's first epistle. The same also applies to the words
in the Gospel according to St. Luke concerning the forgiveness of Jesus, and the central theme in St. Matthew
concerning the forgiveness of sins, grace and mercy.
Particularly striking is the absence of any marking of
the Sermon on the Mount, except that is for the commandment that we shall not commit adultery, a commandment
that the author stressed elsewhere as having the greatest importance.
Nevertheless we should not place too much emphasis on
what Dostoevsky omitted to mark. The fact that he often
read his New Testament at random suggests that for him
all the verses in the book had great significance. In
his works he often used numerous quotations from the
Bible which are not marked in his copy of the New Testament. Examples which may be mentioned are the commandment
that we shall love our neighbour as we love ourselves
(Matt., XXII, 39) at the end of The Dream of a Ridiculous Man and the saying that he who lives by the sword
shall die by the sword (Matt., XXVI, 52) in The Brothers
It is of course more important to study those places
which are marked. Although as a Bible commentator Dostoevsky is a man of extremely few words, it is obvious
that his markings can provide us with a pointer to which
passages in the New Testament he considered to be particularly worthy of attention. Above all his underlining
give us an opportunity to investigate how passages from
the Bible influenced the author, how he so to speak made
the words of the Gospel his own through his art as a
If we study the marked passages, we quickly notice that
there were particular topics which must have captivated
the author. Thus a striking feature is his underlining
of Biblical passages which stress that the just are
persecuted, that the day of judgment shall really come,
that we shall obey the authorities, work diligently and
pay our taxes, that we must beware of carnal pleasures
and fight against our greed and avarice. Dostoevsky had
altogether a clear liking for the chastening and admonishing passages in the Gospel. His markings give no
support to the view that Dostoevsky is supposed to have
represented a kind of moral relativism, a view which
has for example gained ground among Western scholars
who have read too much of Bakhtin. On the other hand
the markings provide ample support for Rene Wellek, who
in this connection gives the following character description of the writer: "He was a man of deep commitment, profound seriousness, spirituality, and strict
ethics whatever his lapses were in his own life. " (1O)
True enough, some of Dostoevsky's markings should perhaps be accounted for in terms of an autobiographical
rather than an ideological explanation. When Paul asks
Philemon to take care of his son whom he has begotten
in his bonds (the Epistle of Paul to Philemon, 10-12),
it is natural to explain the author's underlining in
terms of his own anxiety for his stepson, Pasha, whom
he had acquired in Siberia. Furthermore we note Paul's
words of "self-praise" in the Second Epistle to the
Corinthians (XI: 18-31) which Dostoevsky half humourously
used when he praised his own writings himself in private
letters (Pis'ma, II: 151} IV: 46). No doubt Timothy is
not totally devoid of humour either: "Be no longer a
drinker of water; but use a little wine for the stomach's
sake and thine often infirmities" (V: 23). Or as it says
in the Russian text: "for your stomach and your frequent
fits" (dlja zheludka tvoego i chastykh tvoikh pripadkov).
His epilepsy meant that he had to be careful with alcohol, but a little drop was all right with Paul's blessing!
Of course greater interest is attached to the large
number of marked passages in the Bible which can be related to the writer's novels. Among these is the account
of the way in which Jesus drove the evil spirits into
the swine (Luke VIII: 32-36), namely the epigraph to The
Possessed. Further we note in the Gospel according to
St. John (XI) the account of the way in which Jesus
brought Lazarus back to life, the account that Sonja
reads aloud to Raskol'nikov and which foretells the
hero's rebirth in Crime and Punishment. Here we also
find St. John's words about the grain of wheat that must
fall into the earth and die in order to bear much fruit
(XII, 24), the epigraph of The Brothers Karamazov and
the epitaph on the writer's grave.
Altogether it is obvious that in spite of the fact that
the marked passages distributed over 21 of the 27 books
of the New Testament, Dostoevsky had a clear preference
for the writings of St. John. In the Gospel according
to St. Mark he only marked 2 places. The Gospel according to St. Luke is also poorly represented with 7 markings. For the sake of comparison it may be mentioned
that he marked 6 places in the short First Epistle of
John, 16 passages in The Revelation of St. John the
Divine, and as many as 58 places in the Gospel according to St. John.
It is of course well known that the writings of St. John
have always played a particularly important part in the
Orthodox Church. It is not without reason that Vladimir
Solov'ev in his Brief Account of Antichrist lets the
three different forms of Christian belief each refer
back to a particular apostle: Catholicism to Peter,
Protestantism to Paul and Orthodoxy to John. In addition,
Dostoevsky probably had more specific reasons for his
interest in the Gospel according to St. John. The fact
that his Gospel knows only one commandment, namely the
commandment to love thy neighbour, and that it defines
sin as the rejection of Jesus is all in full accordance
with the view of Christianity reflected in the works of
Dostoevsky. Of even greater importance is the emphasising in the Gospel according to St. John of the fact that
Jesus is the one in whom the final revelation of God meets
The full understanding of Jesus as God must have come
relatively late to Dostoevsky. As a member of the Petrashevskij circle he had considered Jesus as an ethical
ideal and noble reformer, but hardly as God. The metaphysical dimension in his picture of Christ was practically non-existent. Probably it was not until his period of
imprisonment that the writer understood the significance
of acknowledging this metaphysical dimension. Later he
realized that the Arian heresy, that is to say the denial
of the divinity of Christ, was the first step in the
European process of secularization which process he saw
as his calling to oppose. In his New Testament he characteristically underlined the words "I and the Father are
one" (John., I: 30). "It is not Christ's moral code, it
is not Christ's teaching which will save the world, " he
wrote in his notes for The Possessed, "no, it is precisely the belief that the Word became flesh" (XI: 187-188).
It is also this idea which lies at the base of the famous Dostoevsky words that beauty will save the world.
In what follows I shall give a few examples of how the
author's reading and understanding of the writings of
St. John are reflected in two of his novels, The Idiot
and The Possessed.
The significance of the Gospel according to St. John as
the basis for The Idiot was already made quite clear in
the author's much quoted letter to Sonja Ivanova:
"The main idea of the novel is to present the absolutely
good human being. Nothing in the world could be more
difficult than this, particularly in our time. All authors,
not only our own but all European writers too, who have
attempted to portray the absolutely good individual,
have always given up. This is because the task is infinitely difficult. The good is an ideal, but neither
among us nor in European culture has the ideal so far
been permanently embodied. In the entire world there is
but one absolutely perfect individuals Christ, and consequently the very existence of this infinitely good
individual is in itself an incomprehensible miracle. The
whole of the Gospel according to St. John came into being with this thoughts It finds the whole miracle in
the incarnation of the good alone, in the perfect incarnation in flesh and blood alone (Pis'ma, II: 71}".
Like no other of the Evangelists John sees the miracle
embodied in the Christ who preached love in an evil
world. We particularly note Dostoevsky's marking of the
34. Заповедь новую даю вам: любите друг друга.
Как Я возлюбил вас, так и бы любите друг друга. (S. John, XIII)
12. Сия есть заповедь Моя, да любите друг друга, так как я
возлюбил вас. (S. John, XV)
10. Кто любит брата своего: тот во свете пребывает, и нет в
нем преткновения. (I. John, II)
7. Возлювленные! станем любить друг друга; ибо любовь
от Бога, и всякой, кто любит, рожден от Бога, и знает Бога. (I. John, IV)
12. Бога не видал никто нигогда. Естьли мы любим друг
друга; то Бог в нас пребывает, и любовь Его совершилась в нас. (I. John, IV)
19. Станем и мы любить Его, потому что Он еще прежде возлюбил
нас. 20. Кто говорит: я лоблю Бога; а брата своего ненавидит; тот
лжец: ибо не любящий брата своего, кототого видит, как может любить Бога,
Которого не видит? 21. И заповедь мы имеем от Него таковую, чтобы
всякой, любящий Бога, любил и брата своего. (I. John, IV).
Above all Dostoevsky interpreted the message of love
conveyed in the writings of St. John as a commandment
to show sympathy (sostradanie), "Compassion—that is
the whole of Christianity, " he wrote aphoristically in
his notes for The Idiot (IX: 395). In the final editing
of the novel this thought was even more strongly emphasized: "Compassion is the most important and perhaps the
only law for the whole of human life" (VIII: 192).
The Christ-inspired Prince Myshkin may be considered to
be an incarnation of this law of compassion. Just like
Christ in St. John's Gospel he has come "from above, "
from mountainous Switherland to Russia, the land of
steppes, where he immediately becomes an outsider, a
confessor "not of this world. " He belongs to "the pure
in heart, " feels compassion without hate and love without cruelty. Like Christ in John's Gospel he is a representative of a world with a different temperament.
In him we meet virtue that is passive and which can
only be achieved through humility and suffering. In
contrast to Western emphasis on good deeds Dostoevsky
places the main stress on man's compassionate attitude,
or to put it in words from the Epistle to the Romans
which the writer marked in in his New Testament: "In
love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to
another; in honour preferring one another!" (XII: 1O).
The fact that action is accorded less importance than
attitude obviously has consequences for the notion of
sin. The formalistic view—that sin is the breaking of
a commandment—must give way to the view that sin is
the absence of compassion. The consequence is that sinful actions are more forgivable than sinful attitudes
of mind, as actions are simply a necessary consequence
The Idiot provides a good illustration of Dostoevsky's
view. The writer lets his anger loose on militant
nihilists and hidebound atheists, people who have not
accepted the commandment in the Gospel according to St.
John to show love towards God and fellow human beings.
Dostoevsky's underlining in his New Testament leave
little doubt that for him this "sin of omission" is in
fact the real deadly sin. Evidence of the writer's
condemnatory attitude to such people is provided by his
marking of the following passages: Peter's Second Epistle,
II: 21-22? 1. Cor., XIII: 1; 2. Thess., II: 9-1O; and it
is put most briefly in 1. Cor., XVI: 22: "If any man
loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema. Maran atha. "
On the other hand Dostoevsky is extremely tolerant of
thieves, roughians and drunkards, that is to say people
whom we normally define as riffraff but who actually
do nothing worse than commit wrongful actions. As long
as one is content to use fists and axes there is always
the possibility of continued life in Dostoevsky's world.
Like his ideal, Prince Myshkin is the friend of publicans
and sinners. He feels more at home with the uncouth
clown Lebedev and the drunken thief Ivolgin than he
does with the grand pillar of society General Epanchin.
His attitude to Nastas'ja Filippovna is obviously in-
spired by Christ's attitude to the woman sinner in the
Pharisee's house, yet another passage which the writer
underlined in his New Testament: "Wherefore I say unto
thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she
loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same
loveth little" (Luke, VII: 47).
This brings us to another important concept in this
deeply religious novel, namely forgiveness. Not surprisingly we find among Dostoevsky's marked passages in the
Bible Christ's words in Matt., XVIII: 22 that we shall
forgive one another not seven times, "but until seventy
times seven. " Thus Myshkin forgives everything - cuffs
on the ear, scorn, and slander—for him there is hardly
any sin which is unforgivable. However, the distinctiveness of Dostoevsky also finds expression in the
problem of forgiveness. While we strive to forgive one
another, his characters struggle with a much more difficult task, namely to forgive themselves.
This is the problem that faces Nastas'ja Filippovna.
She has had a deep mental wound inflicted upon her by
her surroundings and especially by her seducer but in
return for this wound all she wants is to be hurt again.
First she punishes herself for the first humiliation
through her feeling of guilt, then death is the final
wound she inflicts upon herself as punishment for feeling guilty. She loves her shame and her guilt more than
the forgiveness Prince Myshkin can give her, and she
seeks Rogozhin's knife as the final justification of
her contempt for others and herself.
The finale, where the prince tries to comfort Rogozhin
by the bed of the murdered Nastas'ja Filippovna, is
one of the most powerful in world literature. At the
same time, however, practically all critics have taken
it to be proof of the total defeat of the princely ideals
in the world of earthly passions. Indeed, what has he
really achieved by preaching and living up to his ideals
of love, humility and forgiveness? Nastas'ja Filippovna
has been murdered, Aglaja has had her happiness destroyed. If only he had stayed in the hospital in Switzerland, things would certainly have gone well for both
This line of argument stems from people who, in contrast to Dostoevsky, put action before attitude. "It
is results that count!" such people claim, shaking
their heads when the writer lets the poor peasant woman
come to Zosima with a gift of 60 copecks for one who
is poorer than she is. There is no item on the social welfare budget than can be
covered by the sum of 60 copecks!
On the basis of purely rational considerations the critics are no doubt right. Naturally it can be argued
that Prince Myshkin was a fiasco, just as Christ was a
fiasco if we simply measure his activities according
to pragmatic criteria. Neither Christ nor "Prince Christ"
managed to prevent the injuries that human beings inflict on one another. The only thing they could do was
to give people a picture of the best within themselves.
However, once we stress the power of example, this too
becomes of great value. True enough, the prince was unable to change the world, but through his attitudes he
pointed to the vertical dimension, the making of the
divine. The ideal itself is unattainable, but to strive
for something less is not worth the effort.
Prince Myshkin's main virtue has been described by the
Russian word smirenie. The word means the curbing of all
passions, humility and spiritual peace, and therefore
designates the opposite of the Greek hybris, which
stands for pride, self-assertion and spiritual revolt. (12)
From preaching the Russian smirenie in The Idiot,
Dostoevsky goes, in The Possessed, to attacking hybris,
a Western disease which had also penetrated into Russia
and which showed itself in the revolt of mankind against
God. As a consequence of the changed purpose, the source
of inspiration is different. The message of love in St.
John's Gospel gives way to the exposure of the beast
and the promise of salvation in The Revelation of St.
John the Divine.
Dostoevsky's exegesis of the book's epigraph (Pis'ma,
II: 291) shows that for him the murder of Ivanov was
something more than a crime. In reality here was an
exact parallel to the Gospel's account of Christ exorcising the evil spirits. Nechaev's crime was in his
eyes yet another sign that Russia had entered the apocalyptic age of socialism. The arson and terror of the
Paris Commune only served to strengthen him in his conviction that the day of reckoning was at hand, and he
found the model for this reckoning in his New Testament.
From the mid 1860's one can observe in Dostoevsky an
increasingly strong urge to see human beings and their
actions in the divine perspective of the Bible. Every
single "natural" thought seems to have its special spiritual and divine counterpart. It is a silhouette of a
spiritual thing, and this is again a portrayal of the
original divine picture. (13) The markings in Dostoevsky's New Testament give a clear indication of the
writer's tendency to give the Biblical stories "present-
day relevance". Above all this applies to the underlining in the book where parallels between the original
divine picture and the terrifying present seemed particularly striking, namely the Revelation of St. John
the Divine. For Dostoevsky the Revelation wa3 something
more than a letter of comfort to the first Christian
congregations. It was first and foremost an eschatological prophesy which was in the process of being fulfilled
in his own time. "Antichrist has already been born...
and he is on the way!" he said to Varvara Timofeeva in
1873. "He is coming! And the end of the world is
approaching, faster than people think!" (14) In the
grip of such apocalyptic images the writer also found in
the Revelation the original portrait of the false prophet in The Possessed:
11. И видел я дургого зверя, выходящего из земил; он имел два
рога подобные агнчим, и говорил как дракон.
Dostoevsky's laconic comment in the margin goes: "Social. "
Obviously an abbreviation of "Socialism".
Indeed, that is precisely what he was like, that socialist Petr Verkhovenskij, the second beast in the Revelation! With his two horns he is powerful, even though
he is not so mighty as the first beast of the Apocalypse,
Antichrist, with as many as ten horns. At the same time
he wears the clothing of the meekest lamb, he clearly
tries to copy Christ and indeed he is known to be a
brilliant peace negotiator. However, beneath this appearance of similarity of mind with Christ is hidden the
mind of the dragon, the devil's mind. He is a child of
the dragon, a son of Satan. Typically he crops up for
the first time in the chapter entitled "The Wise Serpent". His snake-like appearance should not deceive
anybody either. His face seems sharp, he has small,
waspish eyes and long, thin lips. His movements are
rapid and energetic, his tongue gives the impression
of being "unusually long and thin" with "a constantly
flickering tip" (X: 144). Thus he speaks with the tongue
of a serpent and betrays himself through the language
Nevertheless this little Satan is not a major character.
On the contrary, he is wholly and solely in the service
of another: "Your are handsome, Stavrogin! (... ) You
are the leader, the sun, and I am simply your worm... "
(X: 323, 324). Just as the second beast in the Revelation
is in the service of the first beast and paves the way
for its power, so Petr Verkhovenskij also acts as a
busybody and "minister of propaganda" (15) for Nikolaj
Stavrogin, who in his turn is clearly modelled on the
first beast. Of this first beast we are told that it
has "ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns ten
diadems", it is like "a leopard, and his feet were as
the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion".
Finally we read that "the whole earth wondered after the
These words accord well with the picture we are given
of Stavrogin. Even his name contains the Russian word
for "horn" (rog), and it is Petr Verkhovenskij's dream
to adorn Stavrogin's head with a diadem. Several times
we hear of Stavrogin's power and strength. He has killed
a man in a duel and crippled another with a gun; he
could well have taken on a bear with just a knife, and
he would not have been afraid to travel among robbers
of the forests. When the writer describes his "savage
recklessness" (X: 36) and "unnatural strength", (X: 43)
he does so precisely by using verbs connected with beasts
of prey. He "seizes" (X: 39) the nose of the highly respected Gaganov, he "gets his teeth" into the governor's
ear (X: 43) and "tears" the grill from the prison window
(X: 43). Another typical feature is the narrator's repeated
remark: "Suddenly the beast showed its claws!" (X: 37, 38).
In Dostoevsky's notes for the novel Stavrogin is also
called a "beast of prey" (khishchnyj zver') (XI: 150).
His bodily strength however stands in sharp contrast to
his inner weakness. Tortured by loathing and emptiness
he has joined the revolutionaries, but he despises them
most of all. Not even in this evil cause has this disbeliever any belief any longer. "When Stavrogin believes,
then he does not believe he believes. And when he does
not believe, he does not believe that he does not"
(X: 469). Nothing new can ever come from this "lukewarm"
man who has completely lost contact with his native earth
and the people.
Judgment on this gloomy candidate for suicide is passed
by the author when he quotes from Revelation (X: 497;
XI: 11), which verses are also marked in his New Testament, obviously for use in the novel:
14. И Ангелу Лаодикийской церкви напиши: сие глаголет
Аминъ, свидетель верный, начало создания Божия: 15. знаю твои дела;
ты ни холоден, ни горяч: о естьлиб ты был холоден, или горяч! 16. Но
поелику ты тепл, а не горяч и не холоден, то изблюю тебя из уст Моих. 17.
Ибо ты говоришь: я богат, разбогател, и ни в чем не имею нужды; а не
знаешь, что ты жалок, и беден, и нищ, и слеп, и наг. (Revelation, III)
In his worldly indifference he is not open either to
faith ("hot") or to atheism ("cold"). What then is the
reason for this gifted man's tragic fall? His downward
progress from being the servant of God to being the
servant of Satan appears in the book as a result of the
One of the passages that Dostoevsky underlined from
Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (II: 3-12)
speaks of the phases in what is to come in connection
with the second coming of Christ: first the falling
away, then the rule of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist), and finally Christ's battle and victory.
In The Possessed the great apostasy is displayed in the
person of Stepan Trofimovich, Stavrogin's teacher and
Petr Verkhovenskij's father. He is portrayed as a typical representative of the generation of the 1840's —
a liberal idealist with charming but dangerous thoughts
of utopian socialism.
With his high-flying ideas he can indeed arouse "the
eternal holy longing" (X: 35) in his pupil Stavrogin.
But these semi-atheistic ideas cannot form any bulwark
against the demonic forces of the human mind. On the
contrary they simply create the right conditions for
the growth of nihilism. What were still dreams during
"the falling away" become under "the rule of the man of
lawlessness" terrifying reality.
Stepan Trofimovich is himself the first to admit his
fatherly responsibility for this. "I admit that Chernyshevskij's fundamental idea is right, " he says when
reading What is to be Done?, "but that only makes it
more horrible! It is our own idea—we were the first to
plant it, to nurture it" (X: 238). Probably it is his
acknowledgement of his own guilt which later causes his
fear of being swallowed by the beast he himself has
helped to create. When at the end of the novel he is
transformed into a bearer of the author's belief that
Russia will one day be cured of its ills, we hear that
he "kept seeing in his dreams a mighty open mouth with
huge fangs, and that this troubled him greatly" (X: 492).
This open mouth with the huge fangs gives the true
picture of the rule of the man of lawlessness. True
enough, on the surface it may have something paradoxical about it. The revolutionaries want to organize the
world, but cannot even manage to organize a meeting;
they want to preach universal love, but hate one another like the plague; they want to attack religion,
but content themselves with letting a mouse appear in
a picture of a saint and sticking pornographic pictures
into the stock of a woman travelling around selling
Bibles. In other words, mere vandalism! But it is precisely this apparent harmlessness which brings the movement proselytes among "ordinary people". After all,
one must show tolerance, stretch out a helping hand
to the young, and stop them on the edge of the precipice!
It is not only against this naive flirtation with the
dregs of Western civilization that Dostoevsky directs
his satire in The Possessed. In their boundless naivete
these unreflecting people are unable to see through
nihilism—they are unable to see the contempt for human
beings which lies hidden beneath the outer shell of
"harmless" scandals. But it is precisely by their tolerant attitude that "ordinary people" contribute to promoting the false civilization's designs on the holy
Dostoevsky's comment on Chapter XVII in the Revelation
seems to give support to this interpretation. In this
Chapter the meaning of the beast's seven heads is explained. "Here is the mind which hath wisdom, " we
read in verse 9. "The seven heads are seven mountains,
on which the woman sitteth. " By the word "mountains"
Dostoevsky put a little cross, and in the margin there
is the comment: "civilization's" (civilizacii). The
great whore thus sits on "civilization's mountains".
Rome, urbs septicollis, in theological commentaries
usually interpreted as the seventh, antichristian kingdom, becomes in the eyes of the author civilization's
"seat" for the great whore, the symbol of apostasy and
infidelity. The view of Western civilization as a hotbed of sinful depravity is also clear in Dostoevsky's
statements to Varvara Timofeeva, in which he specifically mentions Rome (16). The writer wanted to fight
against any transplanting of this civilization onto
Russian soil because it was a source of infection that
threatened Russian faith. "Is it possible to have faith
when one has become civilized, i. e., has become a European?" is the question posed in his notes for the novel (XI: 178).
The fact that there are already many people who have
been infected by this contagious civilization simply
creates the basis for the further spread of nihilism.
"And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also
an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition. " To this enigmatic statement in verse 11 the
author added: "man in general" (obshchechelovek). In
this way "ordinary people" are associated in the writer's
conscious mind with Antichrist: they are held responsible
for his evil deeds because they do not actively try to
fight against them.
What about the third phase in the Apocalypse - Christ's
battle and victory? Naturally Dostoevsky can only give
In his New Testament Dostoevsky marked the following
words in the Revelation:
4. И увидел я престолы, и сидящих на них, и дано было им
судить; и души обезглавленных за свидетельство Иисуса, и за слово Божие, которые
не поклонились зверю, ни образу его, и не приняли начертания на чело свое, и на
руку свою: они ожили, и царствовали со Христом тысячу лет. (Revelation, XX)
The only one who refuses to worship "the beast or his
image" in The Possessed is Shatov. It is not enough that
he refuses to worship Stavrogin, he challenges him,
rises up against him in open war. It is Shatov who inflicts upon the beast the wound that is mentioned in
the Revelation (XIII: 3), and which the author dwells
upon several times in his notes for the novel. True
enough, the beast's "death-stroke was healed, " and for
challenging Stavrogin, Shatov must also lose his earthly life. On the other hand he clearly belongs to those
who on the day of judgment shall be living and be admitted to the kingdom of Christ for a thousand years.
A more thorough analysis of the marked passages in the
Bible and their impact in the works of Dostoevsky
should be left to Dostoevsky scholars with training in
theology. My aim here has been to give some concrete
examples of the significance of the Gospel for the
author. Right at the end of his New Testament, Dostoevsky marked the following words from the Revelation
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last,
the beginning and the end" (XXII: 13). The same could
be said of this "eternal book" that followed the writer
from the cradle to the grave, and which became a constituent force in his writing.