Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

In a very handsome (hard cover), well-priced ($32.95) volume, Text Publishing (for a few years now Australia's best publisher in my view), has FINALLY published in Australia (within 40 not 30 days of its original British release) Philip Pullman's intriguing, provocative and highly controversial The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Fervent, believing Christians will dislike this fictional retelling of the Jesus story intensely. There is no doubt it is heretical in the accepted, ecclesial sense. It denies miracles and most importantly Jesus' bodily resurrection. Jesus is a man, nothing more, nothing less, in possession of no supernatural or otherworldly powers, and to whom nothing that conflicts with the normal laws of physics happens. He is a powerful preacher however, whose simple message offers hope to the poor, the sick and the oppressed.

But he has a twin brother called Christ, who has an eye to history and politics, and the need to 'interpret' his brother's message of radical love and poverty so as to make it more palatable, worldly and enduring. He is, clearly, the emerging institutional Church. He is not a saint, this Christ, although well meaning. He is a sinner who sleeps with prostitutes and eventually betrays Jesus with a Judas kiss.

'Christ wrote down every word, but he resolved to improve the story later....For the Kingdom to flourish, it needs a body of men, and women too, both Jews and Gentiles, faithful followers under the guidance of men of authority and wisdom. And this Church - we can call it a church - will need men of formidable organisational powers and deep intellectual penetration, both to conceive and develop the structure of the body and to formulate the doctrines that will hold it together. There are such men, and they are ready and waiting. The church will not lack organisation and doctrine.' 

Pullman's seemingly simple story of a good man and his clever, conniving brother is anything but. This novel is situated in a rich, theological tradition in its quest for the truth of the historical Jesus, the beginnings of the 'official' gospel story, the canon, and the critical first 100 years of the Christian offshoot of Judaism.

It is beautifully written, in graceful, simple and elegant prose, and it brings to vivid life the people and pivotal events of 2000 years ago.

An astonishing achievement really. I urge you to read it.

1 comment:

  1. I really want to read this, thanks for your review it sounds fantastic! As soon as I finish reading the Miles shortlist it will be top of my reading pile!