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
(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.