Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman. Canongate £10.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I finally bought a copy of this book – it’s been on my wants list for a while. Although I’ve not read Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights series, I'm aware of the criticism he’s gathered due to their apparent anti-religious nature. The Good Man Jesus… is Pullman’s attempts to answer his critics – and to understand just how the Jesus myth could begin.

In this version, Jesus is born a twin – his brother is Christ. Jesus is the good, homely one, Christ the less comely son (but I think he's treated unfairly). As they grow older, Jesus finds himself at the forefront of the new religion. He gathers disciples and the crowds inevitably follow. But who documents all this?

It's Christ, of course. He's commissioned – he believes – by an angel to write the story, rather to write the truth of the story of Jesus’s teachings, not just the facts. Yet he – Christ – is duped. He thinks he's doing good but in the end it is he who betrays his brother and thus helps create the legacy of Jesus. I think that Christ is miscast as a villain; he isn't a scoundrel. He's a misguided, easily lead fool, lead by those with ulterior motives. I’ll let you extend the metaphor.

Overall, as much as I enjoyed the book, I was eager to finish it quickly rather because I got fed up with it and I began skipping chapters. It's not a bad book -- it's simply a reworking of the New Testament. Was there a need to seemingly revisit every incident and miracle?

I was, of course, reminded of that other famous and fantastical reworking of the Jesus legend: Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man. If you want to read only one of these books, go for the Moorcock.

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