Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass trilogy, has a new work out dealing with the story of Jesus, the myth of Christ and the way these and other stories are used and interpreted. Titled The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, the book presents a story where Mother Mary has twins: one named Jesus and the other named Christ. As the two grow up, they become polar opposites, and when Jesus becomes a Prophet, Christ follows after recording and reinterpreting his words.
Judging from the reviews, Good Man Jesus is not as heavy handed as some might have feared, though it does have its moments. From Boyd Tonkin’s review:
When this Jesus prays, prior to his betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane, he delivers a Dawkins-esque soliloquy. Not only does the anarchic prophet predict a future priesthood of hypocrites and persecutors who will “torture and kill” heretics and infidels. He even spots child-abuse scandals to come: “No one will even think of questioning the rightness of what this holy man does in private; and his little victims will cry to heaven for pity”.
But Tonkin is quick to point out how faithful this really is to one of the themes of the Christian thought, “Yet this pure Jesus, who incarnates love against power, is a wholly traditional creation. Doctrine, law and culture (both “Catholic” and “Protestant”) have made him as surely as they made Ratzinger in his robes into Pope Benedict XVI.”
I’m going to be interested in following the reactions to this work, but so far the reviews seem cautiously positive. For example, here’s Diarmaid McCullough, author of the excellent The Reformation and A History of Christianity:
Pullman knows his biblical scholarship. Virtually everything in his novella, except for the storyteller’s brilliant restructuring of the tale as of two brothers, is foreshadowed in what Protestant professors have been saying in Tübingen and Berlin over the last two centuries.
An extract is available at the Guardian. The book has a website (thegoodmanjesusandthescoundrelchrist.co.uk), but what looks to be a Christian squatter site has taken over the .com version, so get the address right.
Obviously, while the book isn’t an atheist’s dream, it’s going to be controversial. Here’s Philip Pullman’s response to comment that his title was “an awful thing to say.”