The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
Philip PullmanAdvance publicity for this little book suggested that it might turn out to be a Christian version of The Satanic Verses; a catalyst for a Christian fundamentalist fatwa against the author; well-known atheist Philip Pullman. In fact, Christians are unlikely to be troubled by this book. It is unlikely to cause major crises of faith for many who don’t already have them.
In this reworking of the New Testament story, Mary had two little boys; Jesus and Christ. It’s Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus and Jekyll and Hyde all over again. Jesus as a boy was just a normal mischievous child whereas Christ was a bit of a suck-up to his parents and the adults around him. Jesus became the itinerant preacher who took no thought for tomorrow. Christ hung around the fringes taking notes of Jesus’ sayings and occasionally ‘improving’ and embroidering them for posterity.
This works well until the Christ character is taken under the wing of an angel – though whether good or the fallen variety remains open to question. This angel persuades Christ use his notes to bring into being a great institution of authority based on a notion of received truth.
While Jesus himself is a revolutionary who believes that the Kingdom of God will shortly be revealed, the angel asks whether it is better on Earth “to aim for absolute purity and fail altogether, or to compromise and succeed a little?” Opting for the latter choice, Christ is encouraged to soften a point here, exaggerate another issue there while creating a series of newly coherent stories attractive to future worshippers.
Christ betrays his brother and then takes his place after the crucifixion in order to spread the story of the resurrection among Jesus’ bereft disciples.
This is a lovely book. Its black Cover with gold lettering, short chapters, pleasant typeface and rubric-styled headings makes it look like a prayer book or a modern version of the New Testament like The Message. In effect it’s a rewrite of the Gospels with one or two clever and interesting twists in the storyline.
The title seems to have been designed to be deliberately provocative. The Christ character does not seem to have been a scoundrel in the true sense. He isn’t Jesus’ evil twin. He did take a genuine interest in his brother’s ministry and teaching but though compromises and a misplaced sense of posterity, betrayed him and took a more calculating path that would lead to the establishment – not of the Kingdom of Heaven but of a hugely powerful Church on Earth.
Canongate Books, Edinburgh ISBN-10 1847678262