Camden Theological Library

News & Reviews

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Posted on 25 June 2010 Gavin Glenn

Philip Pullman, author of the children’s series His Dark Materials, reimagines the story of Jesus in a fascinating new way. 

Philip Pullman

Pullman says of the work: "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 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."

Pullman decided to write a story about Jesus after being challenged by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Williams was making the point that although the His Dark Materials trilogy was openly anti-Christian, Pullman had not made reference to Jesus. When offered the opportunity to write a book as part of a series of retellings of myths being published by Canongate he chose the subject of Jesus. In preparation for writing his version of the “myth” of Jesus Pullman read several versions of the Gospels and was struck by how unlike biographies they were: no detail or description. In an article he wrote for London’s Sunday Telegraph, he revealed his conclusion: in their spareness and urgency the gospel narratives resemble folk tales and ballads, except that they have quite a different purpose: to tell us what to believe.

In the story Pullman postulates that Jesus was in fact twins with one brother, Jesus, a good man and teacher who was eventually betrayed and crucified while his brother, Christ, who dreams of an organisation of believers – a “church”, plays a background role recording Jesus’ ministry and teaching at the behest of an “angel” who appears to him at various times to encourage him and overcome his scruples. This history is modified to ensure that Christ’s dream of what the church should be will come about. 

In reading the novel it is clear that Pullman is less anti-Christian than anti-Church. In one scene Jesus is wrestling with God in Gethsemane about the future and says "Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property. That it should not condemn, but only forgive."

The story is challenging in many ways and has already attracted condemnation from many Christians for it’s portrayal of Jesus as an ordinary man. However in many ways the most confronting issue is the difference in the portrayal of the Church as seen by Jesus and Christ. It’s well worth a read – remembering that it is a work of fiction not a history.

Latest Announcements

Latest Reviews

See all News & Reviews