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June 4, 2011 12:39 am

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman, Canongate, RRP£7.99, 265 pages

 

This retelling of the gospel story posits Christ as the twin brother of Jesus, who skulks in the background, torn by envy and admiration for his brother’s reluctant but charismatic power. Goaded by an unidentified shadowy figure, Christ records his brother’s radical speeches for posterity, realising with a quiet pride that by rephrasing Jesus’s coarse aphorisms he can imply a spiritual dimension that gives the story a different impact.

Pullman nimbly presents this as a contrast between historical veracity and the bon mot that can take root in the popular imagination. He implies that Christ’s true achievement was to put a spin on Jesus’s story, adding elements of mystery and poetry to an otherwise prosaic tale.

Casting Christ as a self-effacing guardian of Jesus’ legacy allows Pullman to have fun, imagining the Gethsemane prayers as a humanistic grumble interrupted by arrest.

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