The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Philip Pullman

In The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman presents an intriguing alternate version of the myth of Jesus Christ, in that he approaches the duality of Jesus Christ, who was alleged to be both man and god, literally, splitting him into two entities. In his version Pullman makes them twin brothers, Jesus and Christ, who are both tragically human.

In Pullman's work, Jesus represents the uncorrupted teachings of the Biblical Jesus Christ, who preaches about aiding the sick, the poor, the down trodden, and who loves all the little children. Jesus as a human is deeply sympathetic and this is especially clear in the chapter Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36 notes that Jesus and three of his disciples go to the garden where Jesus tells them to sit while he prays but we have no notion of what his prayers are about. In The Good Man Jesus experiences a lapse of faith and questions the existence of God and his own mission to announce the coming of the Kingdom. This chapter ends with perhaps one of my favorite quotes from this book:

'From time to time we'll remember you, like a grandfather who was loved once, but who has died, and we'll tell stories about you; and we'll feed the lambs and reap the corn and press the wine, and sit under the tree in the cool of the evening, and welcome the stranger and look after the children, and nurse the sick and comfort the dying, and then lie down when our time comes, without a pang, without fear, and go back to the earth.

'And let the silence talk to itself...'

Jesus stopped. There was nothing else he wanted to say.

Christ on the other hand is portrayed as a literal representation of the Christian Church, in all of it's glorious corruption. Christ, in Pullman's version, is the author of the Bible, instead of the unknown figures who finally wrote down the gospels decades after Jesus supposedly lived. In The Good Man Christ alters the teachings of Jesus to better suit his own agenda, this is done at the urging of a mysterious figure who is either Satan (which the figure denies) or a very good conman, likely the latter in this scenario.

Pullman heavily criticizes the Christian Church throughout this book, even taking a shot at the sex abuse scandals that have been exposed in large numbers. However, Pullman doesn't criticize the essential teachings of Jesus, in fact he does the opposite and praises them. He deliberately separates them from the pernicious influence of the church by creating two different manifestations.

More than anything The Good Man is a brilliant illustration of how myths emerge, which according to Pullman was one of the goals he set out to accomplish with this book. It also connects nicely with the first book written in the Canongate Myths Series, A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong which set out (but failed) to explain the origins of myths. In Pullman's work we see how a story which may or may not have been based in truth is elaborated on and changed to suit the needs and the desires of the myth makers. If this isn't clear throughout the book, Pullman makes it explicit in the last chapter as Christ mentally outlines improvements to the many scrolls containing the life and teachings of Jesus that Christ wrote. And he is not the only one who revises his brother's story, Jesus' disciples also add a few things including the story of Thomas the Doubter.

Myths are not born over night, they're carefully constructed over years or decades and they can have many authors. They've been handed down one generation after another until they were finally written on paper and a deeply rooted part of our lives. Pullman has done an amazing job of depicting part of that development here and has provided a fascinating read for anyone interested in that process.