The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
Canongate, New York, 2010
I own this one.
Philip Pullman is a favorite author, His Dark Materials is a favorite trilogy. I looked forward to reading this book, part of the Canongate Myth Series, a retelling of the story of Jesus. I now find it difficult to write about for it brings up old feelings, so I am just going to give a brief outline and leave it at that
The story is based on the New Testament descriptions of Jesus. By splitting Jesus Christ into two characters, twins born to Mary, Pullman allows us to see the paths that diverge at this point in human history.
There is Jesus, a brilliant and often tormented preacher and storyteller. He is loved by his followers, a problem for the temple elders and a threat to those in power. And there is Christ, hebrew for “Messiah” who, at the urging of a “stranger”, begins to record what his brother says and what people see, or believe they see, him do.
It is the “stranger” who directs Christ to record what is happening around him, to give that record a certain tone, and each time they meet he guides Christ, tells him to write in a certain way, to add a bit more to the story.
…There are dark days approaching, turbulent times; if the way to the Kingdom of God is to be opened, we who know must be prepared to make history the handmaiden of posterity and not its governor. What should have been is a better servant of the Kingdom than what was…
…There is time and there is what is beyond time. History belongs to time, but truth belongs to what is beyond time. In writing things as they should have been you are letting truth into history. You are the word of God. From pages 98/99
These writings will, eventually, plant the seeds of the gospels and the Christian church. Pullman never makes it clear who the “stranger” is, is he acting on his own? Is there some power behind him?
This book is part of a series of myths, and myths are narratives that explain how we came to be and how we got to be where we are. Pullman shines a light into a corner, revealing things about power and coercion, about the formation of belief. It is always about the story and about who tells it.
The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ. But what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories.
I think I am going to have to step away and then come back and reread this one.