The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

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By the title of this book, you can see where the story is going. It is a retelling of the Christian faith and a part of a series of books (Canongate Myth Series) that retell ancient myths. In this version of the Gospel story, Jesus is a simple, honest man who finds himself a prophet after being baptized by his cousin John. Jesus has a twin brother, Christ, who is not as charismatic but believes in Jesus’ message. It is Christ who ultimately betrays his brother to the authorities, not Judas, and Christ who makes a written record of the events surrounding Jesus’ life and ministry. He takes liberty in re-writing parts of the history he did not like or agree with.

The devices that are used to make this story work are typical. There is the obligatory ‘angel’ who persuades Christ to take the actions he does and you are not sure at the end of the story who this person is. Was he really an angel or merely a man with a political agenda? The same applies to Mary’s interaction with an angel that leaves her pregnant. Jesus is portrayed as a simple man of simple, straight forward faith. It is at the end of the book that you see his uncertainty, his questions about God.

This was an easy read and I finished the book in a day. Though it is predictable in the artifices used to tell the story, I still liked that it made me think. As a young person, I left the church and explored other faiths besides the one I grew up in. I believe that has made my faith stronger. A faith not questioned is one you know nothing about. You have no idea how strong or weak it is, nor is there a real understanding of what you believe and why you believe what you do.

(On a side note, while still in high school, I was invited to watch my Muslim friend pray with her family. It was an honor and though I was aware of this fact at the time, I still found myself uncomfortable. The presence of M., the exchange student from Sweden who was living with me at the time, did nothing to ease my discomfort. In fact, as the praying began, I noticed M. was stifling laughter. And so it went through the entire, agonizing 15 minutes. I did not want to laugh because it was not funny, but being sixteen, not understanding the language they spoke and being completely unfamiliar with the way they worshiped, all combined to create a surreal environment wherein I was forced to control the only release I had available to me and suppress giggle after giggle. It was a joyful moment for me when they finished. It’s not surprising that M. was so irreverent, though. At Pentecost our church asked her to read the scripture passage in Swedish. Since the only other person there who spoke Swedish was another exchange student, M. took the opportunity to embellish and said things like the apostles were smoking weed and had hallucinations. I think there may be some nonbelievers out there who would agree with her interpretation.)

This book grabbed my attention because I was intrigued by the version of the story about Jesus and His resurrection. I have read many before, including some of Joseph Campbell’s work on myth. Part of the Education for Ministry class I am taking included a look at the plausible explanations for the resurrection and why it was important that the story was told as it is.

At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, the disciples are scared. They think they will be crucified next since their leader has been murdered on trumped up charges. His rising from the dead gave his followers a much needed boost of confidence that the message he had given them was, indeed, credible. The resurrection plays a vital role in the Christian faith. It is not just about the moral questions, it involves the eternal soul.

There is a schism between the more conservative and liberal churches today. The conservative churches appear to focus more on the soul and afterlife, at times ignoring the message from the Sermon on the Mount that, boiled down, says we are to look after each other. (And that includes people we might consider lazy or undeserving.) The more liberal churches have a tendency to focus on the moral and ethical issues, ignoring the soul and afterlife all together. (I have even heard people say if we focus on being good in this life, then we wouldn’t need to worry so much about the next. True to some extent, but…)

Both the story of salvation as told in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as well as the moral admonition to love your neighbors as yourself are equally important in the Christian life. One is the promise (life everlasting thanks to the sacrifice and love of God, also known as grace) and one is the response to that promise (I have been blessed, I will therefore honor that blessing by passing it along to others in the form of love and respect of their person). This is the Christian perspective. There are other perspectives and it is my personal belief, as well as experience, that you do not have to be Christian to be moral, religious or spiritual. But this is the religion I believe in. This is what informs me.

I recommend this book to others who are interested in a different perspective. It is well researched and has an interesting twist on the characters. I may be checking out the rest of the Myth Series, though I think familiarity with the original story first would be helpful.


About Abstract Emoting

Mommy, what is it you do to make your tummy jiggly? That about sums up my life. Welcome to my blog. Enjoy your stay.
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2 Responses to The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

  1. Mom says:

    I read Philip Pullman’s series for children: The Amber Spyglass, etc. It was blatantly anti Christian, so I won’t recommend it to anyone without the negative caveat. That was enough Pullman for me. And I certainly agree about questioning your faith to have a firmer standing when you choose a side on the topic. I did as well. Otherwise people become blind sheep following what feeds them.

    • lois72 says:

      It’s interesting that they chose him to write the story if he is, as you say, blatantly anti-Christian. Then again, a non-believer is the best one to look objectively at a story.

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