The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My knowledge of The Bible is limited. In fact when it comes to religion I am more of a Homer Simpson than a Ned Flanders. I do occasionally attend church, but like Homer, I am normally sitting there wishing I was at home watching football instead. So, it came as a surprise to myself, not to mention my missus when I found myself purchasing a book about Jesus. In fact if it was by any other author than Philip Pullman I am sure I never would have picked this book up. Pullman however, is the author who gave the world the fantasy/science-fiction trilogy His Dark Materials, which still ranks amongst one of the best series of books I have read… And the fact that I picked the book up for ¬£0.99 in the Kindle Spring Sale didn’t hurt my decision either.

Cover of
Cover via Amazon

This is a story. In this ingenious and spell-binding retelling of the life of Jesus, Philip Pullman revisits the most influential story ever told. Charged with mystery, compassion and enormous power, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws fresh light on who Jesus was and asks the reader questions that will continue to resonate long after the final page is turned. For, above all, this book is about how stories become stories.

Before you begin to read The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ¬†it is adviseable that you clear your mind and remind yourself that this is a work of fiction, it isn’t the Gospels according to Philip Pullman, and it isn’t a re-telling of the New Testament. In fact if it possible, clear your mind of everything you know about Jesus and his life because if you are like me once you read the first sentence of this book you will be confused; the novel begins with the line, “This is the story of Jesus and his brother Christ, of how they were born, of how they lived and how one of them died.”. And if the fact that Jesus had a twin brother wasn’t enough to send you into a daze, then perhaps the knowledge that his name is Christ might just scramble your mind a little.

The confusion from that opening didn’t really leave me, for about the first half of the novel as I worked my way through the retelling of the story of Jesus. A Jesus who now has a brother who is also, on the command of a mysterious stranger (or an Angel) from Greece, the biographer of the son of God. And not only is his brother Christ his ‘biographer’, he is also twisting and exaggerating Jesus’ teachings and deeds to heighten Jesus’ status for future generations. In other words, he is writing the gospels for the Church.

Yet, despite the confusion The Good Man Jesus… presented to me, and Pullman’s blatant use of this novel to present the world with his Agnostic views, I found myself intrigued by this novel. It was extremely well written, and the last half of the novel leading up to the crucifixion reminded me just how good the story of the Messiah is. I just wish that the beginning was so shockingly confusing because it distracted me from the story on the page.

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