The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

the good man jesus and the scoundrel christI actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would.

In this retelling of gospel stories, Mary gives birth to twins; one a healthy, popular boy called Jesus, and the other a sickly, scholarly boy called Christ. At first, Christ is the one who’s interested in religion and the scriptures, but, after hearing John the Baptist, Jesus becomes more spiritual and begins to preach. A mysterious figure approaches Christ and encourages him to document Jesus’ teachings, but in way that tells what ‘should’ have happened rather than what actually did. He convinces Christ that Jesus expects too much of people, that they can’t be good all of the time, and that what they need is a church to lead them (something Jesus is opposed to, unless it is poor and without power). It is Christ who ends up playing the part of the tempter in the desert, the mean-spirited brother who stayed at home in the story of the prodigal son, and, ultimately, Judas who betrays him. He also pretends to be his brother, resurrected after the crucifixion, to ensure his legacy lasts.

I’m not religious at all, but I don’t think it’s an anti-Jesus, anti-spirituality book (though I suspect some Christians may disagree with me). It is, much like his Northern Lights trilogy, more of an anti-church and organised religion story.

Mainly, this is a book about how stories shape truth, particularly when those stories are written down. How a story is written/told, which aspects are highlighted, changed or exaggerated, can change the meaning the reader/listener finds. The ‘truth’ becomes the story, no matter how far removed from the original event/experience. It’s one of those things I’ve always found fascinating, especially when you consider not just the stories within our culture, but those personal stories that we tell about ourselves and our families – how much we are shaped simply by our narrative.

This is a quick read with very short chapters and simple language, but it is this simplicity which leaves the gaps for the reader to fill. A good read for anyone interested in the power and importance of stories (and I’d be interested to find out how it was received by members of the Christian community).

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