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