The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel ChristBook - 2010
In Pullman's own words, "The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories."
Written with unstinting authority, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a pithy, erudite, subtle, and powerful book by a controversial and beloved author. It is a text to be read and reread, studied and unpacked, much like the Good Book itself.
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THIS IS A STORY. That is what is emblazoned on the back jacket of Philip Pullman’s new novel. In other words, it is a work of fiction, not to be mistaken, like the Da Vinci Code has been, as a new revelation on the life of Jesus Christ. It was conceived as part of the Myths series that are re-workings of legendary epics by well-known contemporary authors (Margaret Atwood, Michael Faber, Ali Smith have all contributed novels). The author chose the life of Jesus after re-reading the Acts and Epistles, and noting how the apostle Paul was focused on Christ, rather than the man Jesus. He decided to write his novel with the tantalizing notion that Jesus had a twin, named Christ. Jesus grows up to be a straight-talking preacher who does most of the things one might remember from the New Testament – gets baptized by John, wanders the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, performs miracles, prays in the garden of Gethsemane and is crucified by the Romans. But the novel prods at the idea that the way those stories were recorded is not accurate to how they may have happened. A recorder of history may be more concerned with making that history readable for posterity, than with accuracy. So perhaps enhancements are made to make truly stark events appear more poetic. And if the recorder is Jesus’ own brother, someone who is more rational with a wider vision of the world, but forever in his brother’s shadow, how might Jesus’ story be altered? And if a mysterious stranger is able to manipulate Christ as Christ is manipulating recorded history, how might that affect the entire Christian religion? Provocative thought, is it not? Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (for young adults) generated much heated discussion for its criticism of Catholicism; this beautifully written and thoughtful novel is sure to spark further theological, political and philosophical debates in book clubs around the globe.
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