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The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ

A Novel by Philip Pullman telling the story of Jesus as if he were two people "Jesus" and "Christ".

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"Jesus, in his purity, is asking too much of people"

  • Jul 11, 2010
"Jesus, in his purity, is asking too much of people" (p. 167, "The Stranger Tells Christ What Part He Must Play").

Says who? Says Christ.

Who is Christ? In the novel by Philip Pullman Christ (meaning Messiah) is the younger almost identical twin brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is healthy, vigorous, has learned the carpenter's trade from his father Joseph, talks straight talk, pulls no punches and expects the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven at any moment. Christ (a pet name given by his mother Mary, we are told that he has an official name but we don't know what it is) is sickly, a mama's boy, very bookish and religious. Whenever the boy Jesus finds himself in hot water with parents or religious leaders, Christ's quick thinking gets Jesus out of trouble.

Jesus is heavily influenced by the preaching and baptizing of John. Both men talk straight and believe that God's Kingdom can come at any minute. Better be prepared! Christ thinks that Jesus's image of God is too arbitrary and impetuous. What God loves is ritual, law and order. The greatest virtue to Christ is the thoroughly adult virtue of caution.

A mysterious Stranger, later identified by Christ as an angel, persuades Christ to deliver up his brother Jesus to the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas for judgment. Jesus, argues the Stranger, is mere history; Christ, by contrast, is truth. Christ's task from God is to write up the doings and sayings of Jesus. He is not simply to record what he sees and hears, however. Rather Christ is to spin Jesus, to give him meaning. Especially, Christ is to help create a Scripture and a powerful Church to protect that Scripture. Without Church and Scripture, neither Jesus nor Christ -- the Stranger says -- would be remembered 50 years from now. 

Jesus dislikes almost everything Christ stands for: especially a powerful Church. Jesus despairingly prays to a God who never answers him:  "I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. ... That it should not condemn, but only forgive" ("Jesus in The Garden at Gethsamane," p. 199f).  

After Jesus's crucifixion by Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, Christ goes to his tomb. In the presence of the Stranger, Jesus's body is secretly removed. If people believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, there is no limit to the energy that will be unleashed. Historically, the Stranger says: "Jesus wanted a state of things that no human being could have borne for long. People are capable of great things, but only when great circumstances call on them. They can't live at that pitch all the time, and most circumstances are not great. ... In daily life people ... are not good for much, but we have to deal with them as they are" ("The Stranger in the Garden," p. 225).

This is a novel, not scholarship, not history. There is some simple philosophizing. Scriptural texts are often re-expressed in colloquial language. Jesus comes across as no-nonsense, even crude. To his brother Christ, Jesus was wrong on just about everything, starting with the Kingdom of God being only for children and child-like adults. No way! The Kingdom of Heaven needs prudence, law, ritual, dogmas and powerful rulers. An imaginative, easily read, often thought-provocative novel.   


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More The Good Man Jesus And The Sco... reviews
review by . May 10, 2010
A Remarkable Read
Having not read any of Philip Pullman's previous works, I didn't go into this with any particular expectations, but I have to say that my mind was blown by how much I enjoyed it. The news surrounding this has drawn criticism from many Christians claiming this book is blasphemous and even some fundamentalists sending the author hate mail. In fact I got quite the opposite impression from this book and although this hasn't been the first attack against Christianity that Pullman has waged in his writing, …
review by . August 13, 2010
The story
   Philip Pullman has opened the proverbial can of worms with his version of the life of Jesus. In his retelling, Mary gave birth to twins. Jesus is outgoing, charismatic, and humanist (and in this book somewhat annoying), while Christ is more reserved and analytical, devoting himself to picking up the pieces when his brother makes mistakes, and to chronicling his words and actions. There is little narrative tension or suspense, as the outcome is preordained. Well versed in the New Testament, …
About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #94
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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