Master+Margarita-Judaism - Ryan Devine Paradise Not Lost...

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Ryan Devine Paradise Not Lost Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita is not a novel about Christianity. Satan, Pontius Pilate, and indeed Jesus Christ himself may all be characters, but no matter how you slice it, the story of Satan, his retinue of demons and witches, and the way they help Margarita with her relationship with her true love, the Master, does not depict the Prince of Darkness in a way that aligns with Christian dogma. In fact, Bulgakov’s portrayal of Satan, Woland, bears a much closer resemblance to Judaism’s theological interpretation of “The Adversary.” Judaism holds that humans are the only beings in the universe (apart from God himself) which possess free will. This has the important ramification that angels cannot act independently of God’s will, and therefore, that Satan would never have been able to “rebel” against God as described in Milton’s Paradise Lost (book 1, lines 27 to 49). Within Judaism, one must infer that if Satan exists, he is actually doing the work of the Almighty, and is not an adversary of God himself, but of humanity. Bulgakov’s most prominent work portrays this aspect of Jewish theology both prominently and subtly. The first thing a reader notices about Woland at the beginning of the novel is that he is not a “bad guy,” so to speak. In fact, he approaches Berlioz and Bezdomny at Patriarch’s Ponds quite cordially (page 6), and if it weren’t for his strange, almost literally “two-faced” appearance (page 5), that same reader would have no idea whatsoever about the true identity of the well-dressed foreigner. This is inconsistent with popular Christianity’s conception of Satan as a being of pure evil. 1
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The important thing to realize here is that Satan, as depicted in Judaism, is not actually an enemy of goodness. Jews hold that Satan, as a being who lacks free will, actually does the work of God in testing humans’ devotion to their creator by trying to tempt them into sin. We see the first instances of Satan’s more serious tempting rather early in the novel. When Nikanor Ivanovich, the house manager of Berlioz’ apartment building, comes up to investigate Woland’s presence in Berlioz’ deserted apartment, Ivanovich initially asks for far more rent money from Woland than he deserves (page 81). The demon Korovyov, who identifies himself as Woland’s interpreter, repeatedly urges him to ask for even more, and Ivanovich is only too happy to go along with his suggestions (page 82), and even goes so far as to request free passes to the magic show (page 82), displaying prominently the deadly sin of greed. On page 83, Woland, completely justified, calls Ivanovich “a skinflint and a swindler,” and asks Korovyov to “make sure he doesn’t come round here again.” In popular Christian conception, Satan is evil to the core, and wants to take all humans down to Hell with him, but in The Master and Margarita , he punishes only those who deserve punishment, and indeed, the justice
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Master+Margarita-Judaism - Ryan Devine Paradise Not Lost...

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