Dan Sandman

25: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

In Books, Fiction on 21/06/2013 at 12:00 pm

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip PullmanAs the old story goes, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem about two thousand years ago. Following his immaculate conception, Jesus went on to perform miracles and preach his religious teachings to increasing numbers of followers. Eventually, Jesus’ popularity begun to spark controversy amongst fellow religious leaders who decided to take action against him. This disapproval lead to Jesus being crucified by the Roman government. Following Jesus’ death, a religion called Christianity was founded based around the idea that Jesus Christ was the son of god. Christianity remains popular today, and so does the Jesus story.

Speaking of popular stories, Philip Pullman is an award winning storyteller famous for his acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials. As part of the The Myths series, where several well known authors were asked to rewrite several legendary stories, Pullman undertook the project of re-writing the Jesus story. In the new version, it is revealed that Jesus had a twin brother called Christ. The two brothers develop a number of contrary approaches regarding how to the teach people their religious beliefs. Jesus decides to abandon his family and engage in a life of miracle working and teaching; whereas, Christ is asked to chronicle his brother’s actions by a mysterious figure who wants to form an organised church.

This book, which skilfully changes the New Testament story, could come across as blasphemous to those who regard the Jesus story as sacred territory not to be played with. As seen in an interview at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford March 2010, Philip Pullman admitted that the title of his book was shocking, but that “no one has the right not to be shocked.” Pullman then went on to give a rousing speech, answering his critics to thunderous applause. Furthermore, it has been argued by a journalist writing for The Telegraph newspaper that although the book is not Christian, the book is pro-Jesus.

Personally, I think that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ should be viewed as work of fiction based around an old mythical story. I understand why it might offend people’s religious beliefs to call the New Testament a mythical story, but I don’t see how else to interpret such a text that has always been re-tolled – think of how many different versions of The Bible there are – ever since its conception. All the elements are there for a good story – a tragic hero, an exciting plot, an emotional learning curve – and the story will go on being tolled and re-tolled. Like the legendary story of Beowulf, the myths of the Ancient Greeks, and the works of Shakespeare; the Jesus story will continue to be changed, turned into films and presented in new ways. These new stories should not have to strictly hold true to the original, and especially should not have to cater to the needs of those who might take offence. What matters, above all else, is that it is a good story, well tolled, that says something about us as human beings.

And I’d say amen to that.

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