The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman's first adult novel, is a creative retelling of the New Testament. In Pullman's version, the Virgin Mary is seduced by an "angelic" — but very real — young man, and bears twin sons: the kindly charismatic teacher, Jesus, and his cunning and calculating brother, Christ — who ultimately masterminds the rise of the institutional Church. Is The Good Man Jesus an imaginative retelling, or is Pullman (an outspoken atheist) out to incite the wrath of Catholics?
Pullman's novel is an honest look at faith: Hardcore Catholics "looking to find grounds for offense" will find it, says William Underhill at Newsweek, but Pullman's "fair-minded" reinterpretation sheds useful light on the "pernicious" aspects of the organized Church. "Pullman's honesty is hard to hate."
"Philip Pullman takes on the Gospel of Christ"
The Good Man Jesus is tedious and unoriginal: "Give Pullman high marks for moxie," says David Plotz at Slate. After all, how many authors would "try to rewrite — no, to repair — the most famous, sacred story ever written?" That said, the idea that Jesus had a brother is hardly new — the Gnostic book of Thomas was supposedly written by him — and the book's "hectoring and obvious" language turns what could have been a "subtle and joyful" read into a literary "drag."
"Philip Pullman's strange new book rewrites the life of Jesus"
This book gives Catholics food for thought: The Good Man Jesus is hardly blasphemous, says David Larsen at The New Zealand Herald. It poses questions any serious theologian must consider. If Jesus really was "all-knowing," for example, was he sent to Earth in "full knowledge" that the Catholic faith would trigger so much evil, including the Crusades, the Catholic child-abuse scandal, and "a thousand get-rich-quick televangelists"? Ultimately, this is a "profound, mysterious, and beautiful" read.
"The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman"