Sunday, 9 January 2011
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
The key difference between Pullman's story and the one you will find in the Bible is that he has split Jesus into two twin brothers - Jesus and Christ. Jesus is passionate, friendly, loving, inspirational and firmly rooted in the Jewish traditions. Christ is more detached, logical, cynical and philosophical. As children, Jesus is the free-spirited one and it's often down to Christ to get him out of various fixes. As adults Jesus starts to preach and gather followers whilst Christ is left trying to understand and interpret his message.
My own personal feeling was that if this book was anti- anything, it was anti- the organisation and structure of the Christian church rather than anti-God or anti-Jesus. The character of Jesus could be seen as the "historical Jesus"; he tells his followers to follow all of the Jewish laws, he isn't interested in appealing to Gentiles and he wants the Kingdom of God to come rather than to found a church. He doesn't perform miracles either - in the story of the multipling fish and loaves, Jesus simply encourages and inspires people to share what they had but were keeping for themselves. His message is simply of love and respect. Jesus preaches about the dangers of men taking power in the name of religion and the corruption that would grow in any Church that bore his name - the punishments for disbelief, the exploitation of the poor and the wars.
In contrast, Christ stands for the church and it's interpretation of Jesus. Whilst supposedly 'recording for history' what Jesus has said, Christ is always embellishing it, making it more appealing for the "simple minded" who he thinks need miracles to believe in something. When a solitary person waves a palm leaf as Jesus enters Jerusalem, Christ turns this into Palm Sunday. He sees his brother's life as a story, something he can change and make more appealing to converts. He is willing to commit immoral acts for the sake of this good story being the foundation of his new Church and has no concern that he is misreporting what actually happened and changing what his brother said;
"Sometimes there is a danger that people might misinterpret the words of a popular speaker. The statements need to be edited, the meanings clarified, the complexities unravelled for the simple-of-understanding.....we shall begin the work of interpretation." p74.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this book was the writing. Pullman writes simply and leaves the reader to interpret events however she/he wishes. There was one or two 'cheap shots' against religion, especially concerning the conception of Jesus but to a non-Christian like me it appeared as though Jesus' message of love was respected. I think this book would only be offensive for Christians who view the gospel as literal fact rather than a message. It's not intended to be a serious biography of Jesus or in anyway historical, it's just a literary version of it designed to make people think about the development and roots of Christianity.
Score: 5 out of 5
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This is such an interesting review. I have been wondering about this book for ages. Firstly because I love His Dark Materials. Secondly because anything that explores religion is fascinating to me (I don't have a religion). I am still undecided if I want to read it but I am intrigued so maybe I will borrow it from the library. Thank you so much for your intrepretation.ReplyDelete
I was unaware of this book. I'm intrigues. Very interesting review. Thanks. Just noticed that the previous commenter used the same adjective. You've got us all interested ... (a credit to your writing!)ReplyDelete
I am adding this to my 'must read' list. I'm not a huge Pullman fan (although I loved The Broken Bridge when I was younger).ReplyDelete
Brilliant review, hopefully I'll get round to it myself soon!
It has always been obvious to me that Jesus and Christ/church are two different things. I thought this was a worthy topic for Pullman to take on when I first heard about it-- there were some interviews with Pullman about this book and freedom of speech-- here is a link to a bit of it-- it is very good-- I love his first statement: no has the right to live without being shocked or offended.ReplyDelete
I like listening to debates/interviews or watching documentaries on religious topics more than reading the books-- so I doubt I will read the book but I loved reading your perspective of it-- thanks for sharing.
I am a big His Dark Materials fan, btw.
I must read this, I know. I really want to but at the same time I (as a Christian) hate it when I feel Jesus is under attack, so have shied away for a long time. However, your review made me think that I should proaby give this one a chance sooner rather than later.ReplyDelete
This is a stonking great idea for a novel, I have to admit. I'll also add that you read at a frightening rhythmn. Hats off!ReplyDelete
I absolutely loved this book, hands down the best book I read last year. I think PP has an amazing mind and clarity of thought. I saw him interviewed on The Book Show and he was saying that he is not anti-spirituality, he is more focused on how organisations have taken ideas and messages and twisted them for political purposes. Very interesting stuff. And I really liked your review, very succinctly captured the message of the book :-) Ps thanks for following :-)ReplyDelete
I rushed out and brought this when it first came out but I still haven't read it. Its sounds interesting I think.ReplyDelete
As a Roman Catholic, I find this book particularly interesting--especially the division between Jesus and Christ. Also, His Dark Materials trilogy is in my to-be-read pile, and I never knew it was so controversial. :)ReplyDelete
I can see why it would be a sensitive topic for Christians. There are a few points in the book where Pullman does attack Christian beliefs but I don't think he attacks Jesus. If you do get around to reading it, I'd be interested to hear your views on it.
Read it! And then let me know what you think :)
Just come across your blog and having flicked through it, you seem to be reviewing lots of things that are on my 'to read' list!! Had actually managed to completely miss this book, but after reading your review, I will definately be reading it!ReplyDelete
What a wonderful book. I've been meaning to read this for awhile. I liked His Dark Materials when I was a kid, so I'll be interested to see what his adult writing is like. I plan to read all of the Cannongate Myth Series books, so I'm sure I'll get around to this one eventually.ReplyDelete