One of the most powerful books I have read this summer is The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman. A master storyteller takes us back to the days of Christ and retells the Gospels using a fabricated twin of Jesus, known as Christ. A short read encompassing many of the favorite stories of Christian folklore, its unique perspective propels the reader to question the very material most of Western belief takes as the ultimate truth.
The story starts with a visit from an Angel to the teenage betrothed Mary. This Angel will become a pivotal force in human civilization as it controls information, manipulates characters, and forces a new philosophy on future generations. The powerful and gifted Jesus is the centerpiece of the Angel’s plans for a future powerful Church. Using the insecurity of Jesus’ twin Christ, a forgettable character for everyone but the author and Angel, the Angel coerces Christ to write down the actions through first hand reports and his brother’s close disciple for the benefit of all posterity. By his writing, and not Christ’s interpretation, the Angel assures Christ of his importance to world history and his brother’s eternal fame.
Christ is a human character who is embarrassed by his normalness next to his chosen brother. Jesus abandons his family for his calling to bring peace to ancient Palestine and to challenge the Jewish hierarchy of power that manipulates people into following laws instead of their conscience. Jesus teaches his message of a new form of individuality and accord through familiar parables that are meant for a few. His charisma attracts the attention that will lead to his death. Christ foresees the controversy and pain his brother is heading into and wants to protect him. He loves his brother, despite his feelings of inadequacy, and wants him to stop his preaching and live a safe and harmonious life. Christ plays a pivotal role in Jesus’ demise that will have you spellbound with the author’s creative take on this important and essential Western myth.
The book’s importance lies in the reader’s active interpretation of its core themes. Pullman, on his website, states this essential interaction:
As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means. The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader's mind.
I find the most powerful theme is humanity, including our Gods, is flawed in the beautiful life-affirming quest for truth and meaning. The power of the individual to create history, rewrite wrongs, and instigate turmoil is in our own power. When we write, we create new frameworks for understanding and carve new paths for history and its interpretation. Whether Jesus was son of God depends who how much you are willing to believe in Christianity’s divine authority, but the reader must realize that humanity’s ability to write and interpret plays the ultimate role in accepting or rejecting stories.
Jesus is only remembered through the creation of Christ. This new fictional interpretation by Philip Pullman will make us ponder the power of myth and the importance of the writer. For believers and non-believers, it will reveal more about your own beliefs than in any central religious dogma.
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