Good Man Jesus and Scoundrel Christ

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Jeff D
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Good Man Jesus and Scoundrel Christ

Post by Jeff D » Tue Jun 08, 2010 2:36 pm

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is Philip Pullman's new short novel. It's a quick read (I finished it in maybe 4 evenings).

I consider the Canonical Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, ministry, arrest, trial, execution, etc. to be fiction . . . elaborate fiction built upon a possibly historical core that is narrow in scope, short on detail, and unknowable in its precise contours. In this book, Pullman sort of does a little of what Kazantzakis did in the Last Temptation of Christ, or what others such as Robert Graves and Clysta Kinstler (The Moon Under Her Feet) did. With a very simple, clean style, Pullman re-imagines all the major events in the Synoptic Gospels, and several episodes from John's Gospel, and weaves them into one chronological narrative, with these changes, among others:

(1) Jesus has a twin brother named Christ, who largely remains in the background as an observer throughout Jesus' ministry (recall the many apochryphal or heretical stories about Jesus having a twin, or about Judas being Jesus' twin)

(2) Jesus performs no miracles and preaches an idiosyncratic personal vision of God's "Kingdom" that is in marked contrast to the hierarchical, doctrine-heavy, world-beating church that later arises in his name

(3) An unnnamed stranger who has a future concept of an eternal church speaks to Christ about creating "truth" (as opposed to "history") and convinces Christ to record and report on what Jesus does

I won't spoil the rest by divulging more details. I was not bowled over by this book, but where Pullman's prose really shines is in his paraphrasing / rewriting of Jesus' teachings, and especially in the long soliloquy that Jesus speaks in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest . . . Essentially it's directed at a god who isn't listening or isn't there.

Pullman assumes that the major events depicted in the Gospels actually happened, but with non-supernatural explanations, so that he can illustrate how the original kernel of a story can be distorted and embellished over time to serve other ends.

What makes the Christ character a "scoundrel" in this story is his willingess to play a central role in distorting Jesus' original teachings and the events of Jesus' life, so that an eternal religion can be founded on the distortions and perpetuated.

I had a 40% discount coupon when I bought this book (list price around U.S. $25.00). Would I have paid full price for this book? Probably not.
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Re: Good Man Jesus and Scoundrel Christ

Post by nmblum88 » Wed Jun 09, 2010 12:09 am

Interesting review, and Jeff's insightful remarks led me back, which the book itself did not, to read both Matthew AND Mark (it's been a long time).
I had always accepted both as fictions, albeit important ones, although the time lines on the explosion of influence or either is a bit murky.
Both seemed to have languished as inspiring religious documents until
Saul of Tarsus took his impressive show on the road.

So for me, Pullman, whom I very much admire, nice guy, evolved sensibilities, better than average writer on skeptical themes, does really approach the roots of Christianity as being rooted in the actual existence of a Jesus, during the waning, troubled days of the Roman Empire.
A troubled Jesus, a conflicted Jesus, perhaps even a schizophrenic Jesus, but a living, breathing human being nevertheless.
While I (not common to all atheists, of course) am more or less committed to the idea of the Gospels, one and all, being inventions on behalf of political ambitions... taken later, to a new level of exploitation by St.Paul.
But there's no denying the intriguing nature of Pullman's fictional theorizing.
And although I may be mistaken ... for not the first time when it comes to comprehending the mind capable as interpreting the story of Jesus as being that of an actual life, that is of accepting the intrusion of the supernatural in either an individual existence of the flow of history....I read it with the idea that the plot was designed to explain the essentially schizophrenic nature of Christian dogma... grace on the one hand coming from thruth and beaugty of compassion and forgiveness, from giving and sharing, and brazen intrusiveness, furious animosities, and unequalled cruely when faced with rejection, on the other.
The benefit of the up-front fictional approach to both author and audience when pursuing the intricacies of religious history and attempting to explain where the salient ideas come from and what keeps their (huge) audiences so captivated to the point literally staking their lives and their societies upon them, is, of course, that an authror not matter how frivolous or how serious can go anywhere s/he likes with a thread.
And the idea of Christ as half of a human dyad (goo cop, bad cop) in thrall to, and under the egis of what amounts, really to an equally conflicted god, is original and entertaining.
But also, to those who find the entire possibility of a god impossible, intrinsically foolish.
I do have to add - worth 26 bucks worth of foolish or not... that at my branch of the Los Angeles Public Library ( great library service in the process of being decimated by a combination of our pursuit and maintenance of Empire as well as the supporting of our peculiar form of Socialism ( our government paying for the grievous, even fatal errors of private enterprise), Pullman's book had too many people waiting to read it even before it actually appeared in the book stores.
I HAD to buy it....
However, a small price to pay compared to what we all pay to keep churches and synagogues AND mosques from having to pay their fair share of real-estate taxes on the various and HUGH amounts of property they own...
So to stretch a point - maybe-- the bad Christ always wins.
As did the less admirable side of every deity or semi-deity, before or after him.

" Norma, you poor sad lonely alcoholic. You entire life is devoted to interrupting other people's posts on this forum, regardless of the topic, to tell them what's wrong with them. The irony is, here you are doing it again, with this very post.
Your fanciful card games, movie sojourns and exciting overseas trips, that all take place within the four walls of an aged care retirement home, do not suggest your own children offered you the care, I gave my parents."