|C'mon guys, you try it. (Image source)|
Yet there is not a single fact about Jesus of which we can be certain, other than that, if he actually existed, his name would not have been Jesus, since no such name was known to the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine of that day.
There is not a single reference to Jesus in the historical record. The day and month of his birth are unknown. The year of his birth is uncertain, the place of his birth, Bethlehem or Nazareth, is a matter of debate. And the circumstances of his birth and life as recorded in the gospels so closely reflect those of the Persian god, Mithra, and the founders of other religious cults that the literal veracity of the gospel story seems impossible to accept.
If, then, the story about Jesus is largely if not entirely myth, what possible interest can it have for people of the present day? To many, the answer is "none." On that view, Jesus, if any real person existed who inspired the gospel stories, must have been a mere mortal, born not of a virgin, unable to raise the dead or turn water into wine, who died as any crucified man dies, and whose death was as final as will be yours or mine.
|Lev Tolstoy by Ilya Repin (Image source)|
Because the teachings of Jesus remain a fact undeniable on the basis of any historical evidence. The teachings of Jesus have a validity and significance totally independent of their authorship, and even of how they may have been edited or re-written. One can accept or reject them, but one cannot deny their reality or their force in the world.
For that reason Tolstoy made his own translation of the gospels from the Greek bible. In it he combined the teachings from the four gospels in a single narrative, which omits reference to the supposedly miraculous nature of Jesus' birth, the miracles Jesus is supposed to have performed and the miracle of his resurrection.This work is available in English translation as The Gospels in Brief.
Tolstoy's rejection of the magic and mystery of Christianity naturally enough alienated him from the Orthodox Church, which excommunicated and anathematized him. His rejection of violence as a means to political ends alienated him also from the dictatorship of the Tsar, which though fearing to take action against Tolstoy himself, persecuted his followers.
His ideas were equally repugnant to the Communists who claimed Tolstoy as a great patriotic artist while suppressing his religious and political beliefs and punishing those who attempted to put into practice his ethical principles. The Soviets shot more than 100 Tolstoyans, while consigning many more to slave labor camps and mental hospitals.
An account of the evolution of Tolstoy's religious beliefs is provided in Rosamund Bartlett's fine biography: Tolstoy, a Russian Life.