I’m no Archbishop, but I’ll have a little go with Philip Pullman’s latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which is such a mouthful as to make it almost impossible to talk about. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it, but thought that since I usually like Philip’s writing, there was no reason to make an exception for something where he tries to stir up the church. Except Rowan Williams seemed not stirred at all. I think he was meant to be, and it’s only because the man is quite reasonable, as Archbishops go, that he could say he liked it.
Did I like it? If I say I’m not sure, it’s an indication of how well written it is. Because I was so drawn into this new version of the life of Jesus that it was hard to see it as fiction. So I can totally identify with any Christians who become enraged with it, despite it saying in large letters on the back ‘THIS IS a STORY’. Most will still not remember that when tempers warm up.
The other hint to its status as fiction is the small detail that there are twin brothers, Jesus and Christ. But after that I sort of lost the plot. I struggled to come to terms with who was bad and who was good, if such a division could be made. I was pleased, and relieved, to find that I seem to have learned more than I thought, back in primary school. There was nothing new here, with the possible exception that I’ve never read much from the Bible in English.
There was no good or bad in the end. What Philip shows us is the two sides to Jesus. He simplifies the reactions to Jesus from those around him. Jesus doesn’t always come across as a ‘nice guy’, but I think Philip was more after the church than Jesus. It feels very anti-church, which I suppose is only to be expected.
TGMJATSC is different from Philip’s usual fairy stories in that it seems to follow the original far more than we’ve seen elsewhere. There was more of the New Testament here than there is of Cinderella in I Was a Rat, for example. And maybe you can’t have people laughing at Jesus, which explains the lack of jokes.
I don’t like the title. I didn’t find Christ to be a scoundrel at all. And I would have thought that was the whole point.