Something a little different for today Husband dearest has agreed to a guest spot on Pen And Paper.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
Phillip Pullman 2009 Canongate
Philip Pullman's story, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, imagines Mary as having given birth to twins: the inspired, plain-speaking, revolutionary Jesus, and the anxious, manipulative, Christ. The annunciation is nothing but a seduction; the resurrection a trick, and Jesus's faith hangs by a thread.
Charlotte Higgins – The Guardian
…and thereby hangs the tale. In pensive mood and being thoroughly sick of text books I thought that I may indulge myself in a novel or two in the last week, just to convince myself that reading remains an enjoyable thing. With Pullmans latest offering it could certainly be said to be relaxing and for the deconstructed christian who likes his scripture tempered with a dose of historical reality there is nothing in the book which could be said to be challenging. Anyone who has simply read the four canon gospels as we have received them is already acutely aware of the discrepancies therein, the scope for mistranslations, redactions and simple interpretation by the reader. This book simply pushes the scope of these things a step further by providing an example of a continuous narrative of a narrative produced with specific intent.
In fact Pullman quite probably has done a service to the gospels that he would never have intended, as readers with but a dull remembrance of Sunday School stories may return to a swift read of Mark just to reassure themselves that it was as they remembered it. It won’t be. One of my favourite lesson starters with students when encouraging them to think about why they think the things they do is to ask them which animals were present at the birth of Christ. Years of singing ‘Away in a Manger’ have of course done the job nicely and students are shocked when provided with a copy of the bible and asked to show me where it says so. The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ, have a similar sort of feeling for me. There was nothing in there that horrified, not even the little Pythonesque hat-tip to Michael Palins ex-leper, nor the more detailed extrapolation of bits of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Pullman has of course received the obligatory threats and abuse for suggesting that Mary was just a gullible little girl abused by a stranger and that the resurrection was a quiet shuffling off, stage left of a body, to be swiftly replaced by the twin brother, again at the behest of the same stranger. Our blessed leader who art in Lambeth* described the story as a ’searching, teasing and ambitious, narrative’, whereas I simply found it, brief and a bit dull in the main.
Pullmans central theme, seems to me to be that the massive and organised bureaucracy of church which he so despises, was in fact ordained and achieved with remarkable precision from the outset. Who might be responsible in this respect and any notion as to why is conveniently got around by the presence of the guiding hand of the stranger who remains anonymous throughout. Anyone who has really engaged with the church, certainly in the modern era knows all too well that achievements garnered through deliberate intent, are probably few and far between and much of the theology which has guided its development through the last 2000 years has been a mish-mash of to-ing and fro-ing between political and economic realities. The notion that the current Pope, with all of the current difficulties he is challenged with, was the manic scheme of a stranger 2000 years ago, is a little far-fetched, although there is certainly an integrity within the story that lends it credibility. It is perhaps too easy to believe in the tropical storm when the only evidence presented is the butterfly flapping its wings. Just because the theory says its possible it doesn’t mean it is likely. Conflating the existing organisational problems and conflicts with one possible variant of the mythical cannot be called conclusive in any measure.
In his favour I( will say that Pullmans description of the church is sadly recognisable and probably painfully apparent to anyone of a liberating theology. Further, I will not stint with praise for his rendering of Jesus last moments in Gethsemane , which are worthy of consideration for anyone interested in the human/divine argument in christological study or simply in a finely rendered bit of prose.
So for a nice, quick, unchallenging Da Vinci Code version of the life of Christ, go for it. For a serious engagement with the church, go find a priest.
* The Archbishop of Canterbury .