The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

This is an old, but relevant, post.


If you’ve heard the name Philip Pullman, you’ve probably heard it uttered in the same sentence as the name of his fantastic trilogy His Dark Materials, or the cinematic flop based on the first book in that trilogy. If you’ve read that trilogy you’d know that he has very strong opinions about Christianity, and naturally you’d be curious to see his take on the life of Jesus Christ.

Or should I say, Jesus and Christ?

The big twist with this book is that Jesus has an identical twin brother, and that twin is called Christ. Jesus is the familiar weirdo from the New Testament; a stubborn, grandiose itinerant preacher contemptuous of hypocrites with money. Christ is a more subdued figure, egged on by an enigmatic stranger into stalking his brother and recording his activities. With a few embellishments, of course, the stranger is very clear that people are attracted to spectacle.

The way that Pullman arranges the gospel stories into this new framework is very interesting. I’d argue that for someone familiar with the Jesus story, seeing how things fit in the wrinkle is the main appeal of the book. For example, Jesus plays the role of the prodigal son, and Christ is resentful when Joseph celebrates his return. Christ also assumes the devil’s role when Jesus is tempted in the desert. As you’ve probably already guessed, Christ also plays a pivotal part towards the pointy end of the narrative.

Pullman’s prose is perfect. I can’t give you specific reasons why I think this is so, but I have certain inklings. The sentences aren’t bloated with unneeded clauses, each adjective is perfectly placed, and the man knows how to deploy a semicolon. I’ve done more than my fair share of creative writing courses at a university level, and this is the sort of writing that ends up in readers for those subjects. Top notch stuff.

In conclusion, I give this book twelve out of twelve disciples. Go check it out sometime.


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