Behold the Man (novella)

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The Nebula award winning novella by Michael Moorcock - later expanded into a novel.

Publishing History

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  • The World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967, ed. Donald A. Wollheim & Terry Carr, Ace 1967
  • Nebula Award Stories No. 3, ed. Roger Zelazny, Doubleday 1968
  • The New Awareness, ed. Patricia S. Warrick & Martin H. Greenberg, Delacorte 1975
  • The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume Four, ed. Arthur C. Clarke, Gollancz 1981
  • The Best of the Nebulas, ed. Ben Bova, Tor, 1989


A time machine lands in a wilderness area far to the southeast of Jerusalem in 28 AD. Sick from the travel and injured from the landing, Karl Glogauer blacks out after he exits the vessel. He is carried to a cave and washed by strangers who witnessed his landing; he reads Aramaic well and has a limited knowledge of the spoken form of the language, so he is able to communicate with the men who found him. In response to his fumbling questions, however, the local men initially believe that Karl has told them that he is Jesus of Nazareth rather than that he is seeking Jesus of Nazareth. After correcting his rescuers on that point, Karl then lies to John the Baptist—who is described as the “virtual leader” of the Essenes in their cave-system township (p. 88 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978) — by trying to use a cover story that he is a traveler from Syria who has passed into Judea by way of Egypt, and saying that his name is Emmanuel (which is truly the first name of Karl’s father). John accepts Karl into the Essenes’ companionship initially because he appears to believe that Karl is a magician from Egypt.

Citing a need to pray for guidance concerning Karl’s disposition, John disappears for a month and orders the Essenes to keep Karl within the settlement during his absence. During the month, Karl begins to participate in both the work and religious practices of the sect, which maintains a record of the visions and miracles its members witness on a set of vellum scrolls. He comes to believe that though he is afflicted by a different type of insanity than the Essenes, his sanity is no stronger than theirs.

When John returns, it is immediately obvious to Karl that the Baptist had been checking social contacts to determine if Karl was a Roman spy. Conversing with John, Karl ascertains that it is 28 A.D., and that the crucifixion of Christ should take place within the year. He also ascertains that John is fomenting armed rebellion in Jerusalem as against Roman rule, with the rebellion being planned to occur during the next Passover. John asks Karl to baptize him — in a staged ceremony — to restore the then-flagging morale of the Essenes because the Essenes already regard Karl as an otherworldly prophet sent by Adonai.

As the staged baptism begins, Karl suffers a migraine and collapses into John, and then spontaneously asks John to baptize him instead, reversing the roles that they had planned to play. Largely unconscious of the remainder of whatever ritual was being played out at the riverside, Karl runs off into the desert under the influence of the headache. Wandering dazed through the blazing, barren hills — and shredding his clothes and skin against the brambles—he hallucinates recollections of arguments with Monica, his lover, shouting his ripostes aloud to the desert. In this damaged and altered state, he stumbles from town to town in the region, seeking — and eventually finding — Nazareth.

When he arrives at the town, Karl’s reputation is as a madman. Identifying himself as a prophet, he is introduced to Joseph, Mary and Jesus, who are, respectively, a poor carpenter, his wife, and their blind, hunchbacked idiot son. Karl flees and finds refuge in a synagogue where he spends the next several weeks researching information about the Christ; during his time there, the rabbis come to believe he is a holy prophet and eventually permit him to begin to read scripture during worship services. At this point, Karl assumes for himself the role of the historic Christ and begins to attract followers from among the Jewish community of Nazareth who believe he is the Messiah. “It was in his power to make Jesus a physical reality rather than the creation of a process of mythogenesis…his sense of identity grew increasingly more tenuous…It was an archetypical role…to appeal to a disciple of Jung…that he must now play out to the very last grand detail” (pp. 115-16 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978).

Wearing a white robe, Karl travels throughout the Dead Sea region, preaching and claiming to have performed miracles, with his followers in his wake; from among these, he selects an elect group of twelve men with whom he speaks his mind frequently and freely. When he is asked by an Essene to help John, who has been imprisoned by Herod and faces death, Karl refuses to help the Baptist, stating that it is God’s will that John cannot be saved. Following John’s beheading, Karl — whose personality is now almost completely sublimated to that of the Christ of his memory — repairs with his followers to the home of Simon — who Karl prefers to call “Peter” — in Capernaum, pronouncing prophesies about the fates of his followers and himself. In the spring, Karl/Christ begins traveling toward Jerusalem on a schedule and route that will allow him to reach the city by the Feast of the Passover. Two days before Passover, he makes arrangements to enter the city on the back of a donkey and to have Judas Iscariot deliver a message to the Romans after his — Karl’s — entry therein.

When he arrives in the city, he dismays John’s followers by refusing to aid them in an armed rebellion against the Romans. Judas, meanwhile, delivers his message to Pilate; the message is that Karl/Christ is claiming to be King of the Jews and fomenting insurrection and that the Pharisees, who distrust him, want him arrested. While Karl remains in a state of madness, the events of The Passion of Christ then begin to unfold in earnest under the time-traveler’s instigation and cultivation: Judas identifies him to the Romans with a kiss; he is tried under “an arbitrary mixture of Roman and Jewish law” (p. 129 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978); it is decided that he will be crucified so that he may be humiliated; he is dragged toward Golgotha wearing a crown of thorns and falls twice en route; at the crest, he is crucified while begging for mercy. As he dies, he hears Monica’s voice in his head telling him, “Martyrdom is a conceit” (p. 132 - Dying for Tomorrow, 1st DAW printing, 1978); his last phrase, repeated thrice, is, “It’s a lie” (ibid.). His body is then stolen by doctors for dissection while rumors spread among the general populace of Jerusalem that he has not died.

Thematic notes

  • This is the second story in the Dying for Tomorrow collection that features dialogued debates between a character with a romantic personality who believes (or who wants to believe) that a human has a spiritual/supernatural aspect to its being and a character with a skeptical personality who rejects (or who wants to reject) such theories (or theologies) in favor of a more rational/realist conception of human nature. In Behold the Man, Karl is the romantic and Monica is the realist (there is also an animus/anima aspect to their relationship). In The Greater Conqueror, Abaris the Magi is the romantic and Simon (when not under the influence of TEC) is the realist. (In A Dead Singer, most of this kind of debate occurs “intratemporally” (to use one of MM’s idiosyncratic adjectives) within Mo’s mind, as described via second-person narration, other than the brief conversation between Mo and Chris.)
  • The relationship between Karl and Monica, as particularly exhibited by the dialogue between them (and the color of Monica’s hair, if I recall my Jung correctly) is a symbolic tool of reference to Jung’s archetypical animus-anima relationship.