I'll post here all the book related content that I usually share on my blog, be it comments, reviews, quotes or whatever else.
I decided to read this book because I'm a fan of Philip Pullman since I read His Dark Materials, I'm interested in the exploration of the history and foundation of religions and I thought the title was curious and funny.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ revisits the story of the man that became a myth dividing him in two twin brothers, Jesus and "Christ". This allows him both to rethink the origin of christianity as a belief and religious organizations and create two men who are much more believable than the usual messiah as reported in the selected gospels and their official interpretations. The first step to achieve this is stripe them off their granted divinity, writing them into this story not as the sons of god but of a man that passed himself of as an angel doing god's will and convinced Mary she had to have sex with him.
Jesus becomes the biblical prophet, the one who gives the speeches, who announces and the coming of the kingdom of god, who provokes the religious and administrative institutions of his time. He starts of a true believer both in god and in the things he says about him, his wishes and his kingdom. But as time goes by and he never hears a thing from god, never gets an answer to his prayers, never sees any evidence of the kingdom, he starts questioning himself: "If that makes me a fool, I'm one with all the fools you made. (...) Is that what you're saying to me? That when I hear the wind, I hear your voice? When I look at the stars I see your writing, or in the bark of a tree, or the ripples on the sand at the edge of the water? (...) So, what's the answer? These things are full of your words, and we just have to persevere till we can read them? Or they're blank and meaningless? (...) No answer, naturally. Listen to that silence. Not a breath of wind; the little insects scratching away in the grasses; Peter snoring over there under the olives; a dog barking on some farm out behind me in the hills; an owl down in the valley; and infinite silence under it all. You're not in the sounds, are you. There might be some help in that. (...) If I thought you were in those sounds, I could love you with all my heart, even if those were all the sounds you made. But you're in the silence. You say nothing. God, is there any difference between saying that and saying you're not there at all? I can imagine some philosophical smartarse of a priest in years to come pulling the wool over his poor followers' eyes: "God's great absence is, of course, the very sign of his presence" or some such drivel.(...) When the fool prays to you and gets no answer, he decides that God's absence means he's not bloody well there." This is the man who believed in the god of the old testament, the one who creates, speaks, shows himself (if indirectly), who punishes and forgives, and in his name asked all men to leave all behind and work only to become almost saints. And that man could never be the one who stands for a god of men, absent, implicit, assumed, likely, a god who speaks only through the interpretations of people's words and self-proclaimed institutions. Further ahead in the same conversation from which I quoted above, Jesus says: "Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive.".
The purpose here isn't to prove anything new, the book is no investigation, no documentary, though it is based on the supposed factual reports and does keep most of the story of what we now believe might have been the life of Jesus. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ presents itself as a story, but also and essentially as an exploration of the origin of stories and a provocation to the reader's mind, making him think or rethink Jesus, god or religion and its institutions. All this written by a man who clearly has a profound knowledge of the scriptures. It's an interesting book both to atheists and agnostics, christians and other believers.
There are two other comments I must add. Philip Pullman isn't insulting or disrespectful towards christians in the book. His tone is not that much one to make them feel foolish or stupid (as ends up happening a lot with militant atheists), but more to make them question the absolute belief in a church. There is a big difference between believing in Jesus' message, believing he was the son of god and believing in the churches that spawned around and presume to represent him. The negative criticism I have is that the author was too direct, too straightforward in his messages. It might have been better, both to read and to achieve any result, if those messages were a bit more implicit.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is part of a collection of works on myth in which I'm now very interested.
This review was originally published in Portuguese on my blog.