Gospel goodies: Philip Pullman’s novel approach.

About a few months my public library started a new program called “Lucky Day !” in which the library prominently displays a dozen or so in demand titles for people to easily find and check out. To help keep things equitable, patrons are limited to just two such items at any time and unlike other library materials these special books cannot be renewed. To me this looks like a great way to not just promote reading but to make it easier for individuals to access popular and quality titles. Thanks to this program I was recently introduced to Deborah Blum’s terrific book The Poisoner’s Handbook. The latest book I’ve discovered thanks to this helpful promotional program is Philip Pullman’s 2010 novel The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. After burning through it in only a few days I’m very pleased to say that just like with The Poisoner’s Handbook, I’m quite indebted to my public library for giving me the opportunity to read a terrific book. I thoroughly enjoyed Pullman’s novel.

Pullman, the author the popular His Dark Materials trilogy as well as a prominent atheist, has taken the traditional story of Jesus and turned it on its head. Just as Nikos Kazantzakis did with his classic novel The Last Temptation of Christ, and writer/director Denys Arcand did with his 1989 French-Canadian film Jesus of Montreal, Pullman retells the biblical story of Jesus in a more materialist and less supernatural light. In addressing the paradoxical nature of Christ’s human and divine beings, Pullman literally splits Jesus Christ into two separate characters by having a pair of fraternal twins born to a young Mary. Christ, spiritually minded, scholarly and obedient contrasts heavily with his rough and tumble, earthy and somewhat rebellious brother Jesus. After the brothers are baptised by John the Baptist, Jesus soon embarks on his ministry of proclaiming love, righteousness and the coming of the Kingdom of God while his brother Christ is content to just hang in the background and record his brother’s words and deeds. Of course, eventually this grabs the attention of not only the religious authorities but more importantly that of a shadowy and mysterious stranger who secretly approaches Christ and with smooth and skillful manipulation enlists his help to turn brother’s ministry from a local Jewish renewal movement into the birth of an entirely new faith based on previously non-existent supernatural overtones that will produce an all-consuming and dominant religion we know today as Christianity.

Not surprisingly, coming from an atheist like Pullman the story is devoid of a loving God or any theistic elements. But, despite what many religious conservatives would deem its somewhat blasphemous tone, I could nevertheless detect an almost spiritual quality judging by the novel’s subtext regarding truth and human dignity. Whatever issues people might have of his religious opinions, his writing is excellent; once I started his book I could barely put it down. To me it’s a terrific novel and one of the best books I’ve read this year. I highly recommend it.

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10 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Fiction, History

10 responses to “Gospel goodies: Philip Pullman’s novel approach.

  1. I’ve only ever read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and that was when I was much younger. At the time, I didn’t really pick up on all the religious themes, although I’m sure I would now. I didn’t realize he’d written more fiction, but this sounds like it could be really good.

  2. The trilogy is definitely geared toward a younger audience though I do still enjoy it after reading and enjoying as a child. This sounds fantastic too though and as I keep saying about all these books… one of these days!

  3. JoV

    I have been wanting to read this book for a long time. THIS year should be the year! Great review, I’ll come back and check it out when I read the book.

  4. Very good review of a book I’d like to read. I just finished Christoper Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, which is another retelling of the Gospel story, although I suspect that it was a good deal lighter than Pullman’s book. Still, if you’re interested in retellings, that’s a great one.

    • Thanks for the kind words ! Thanks also for suggesting that novel. I was wracking my brain trying to think of the name of that particular novel and lo and behold you told me what it’s called. Thanks !
      Thanks for dropping by my blog. Please visit again !
      And before I forget, you have a very cool blog. I rather enjoyed what I saw !

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