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602 of 634 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and clever story
I'm disappointed that so many people here have got stuck arguing about whether this is `blasphemous' or not. I'm a Christian and I think this is one of the best books I've read in a very long time. Pullman, whatever his own beliefs, knows his bible (Including the apocrypha) extremely well and has written what I think is an extremely clever story. Many people know how the...
Published on 9 April 2010 by L C James

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93 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
TGMJATSC is essentially a re-telling of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (there's bit of Luke: no John) i.e. the Jesus story. The miracle of the clay sparrows is also included, showing that Pullman is at least passingly familiar with the apocrypha. The significant point of difference is that Jesus now has a twin brother called `Christ'. The Jesus character is familiar:...
Published on 24 Dec 2010 by TomCat


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602 of 634 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and clever story, 9 April 2010
I'm disappointed that so many people here have got stuck arguing about whether this is `blasphemous' or not. I'm a Christian and I think this is one of the best books I've read in a very long time. Pullman, whatever his own beliefs, knows his bible (Including the apocrypha) extremely well and has written what I think is an extremely clever story. Many people know how the story ultimately ends; with the death of Jesus on the cross and claims of his resurrection, but along the way Pullman retells some of the most profound stories of our Christian life in an enlightening, and I would even say, a revelatory, way.

The book is a quick read, with short chapters detailing particular bible events. But readers should not think that a quick read makes it a "light" read. There is much to ponder in the writing. The book invokes questions about how history and story are interlinked as well as considering the difficulty of discerning truth from history. That truth can be discovered in story is self evident in the reading of this story.

I don't think this is an anti-Christian book; although it is, very definitely, an anti-church book; but Christianity and the church are two different things. Pullman's description, spoken through the mouth of Jesus in this book, of what the church is and what the church should be, is one of the most finely tuned expose of where we (Christians) have gone wrong.
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93 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, 24 Dec 2010
By 
TomCat (Cardiff, Wales.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Paperback)
TGMJATSC is essentially a re-telling of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (there's bit of Luke: no John) i.e. the Jesus story. The miracle of the clay sparrows is also included, showing that Pullman is at least passingly familiar with the apocrypha. The significant point of difference is that Jesus now has a twin brother called `Christ'. The Jesus character is familiar: an itinerant preacher held in suspicion by both the Romans and Jewish elders. Christ is his less-gifted but loving brother who follows Jesus, secretly writing down his teachings so that others may learn about Jesus' ideas. (The lit. theory dorks amongst you might call this an inter-textual narrative: as the story that Christ is writing on his journey is supposedly the exact one you're now reading centuries later).

Poor Christ is soon corrupted by a mysterious stranger (whose identity is never revealed; possible contenders include: the Devil, a Sanhedrin elder, a Roman spy or even an angel) who insists that in order for Jesus' teachings to flourish, Jesus must die. Christ unwittingly fulfils the role of Judas, betraying his brother so that Jesus' word will become immortal. Pullman stringently plays-down the supernatural aspects of the story: and so instead of Jesus rising from the dead, Christ pretends to be his brother risen: creating a doppelganger scenario that explains the resurrection without any supernatural or divine impetus. It's the Jesus story mythologized for a secular audience.

The real controversy lies behind Christ's motivations: the `mysterious stranger' convinces Christ that everyday folk are too stupid to make moral decisions or to be their own masters: only an all-powerful church can be responsible. So, if anything, TGMJATSC is a dig at the precepts of organised religion, rather than the spiritual nature of religion itself. A firm criticism of the church as establishment is about as contentious as this book gets. Aside from a re-imagining of some of Jesus' miracles, Pullman makes no attempt to destroy the foundations of religion with scientific determinism; which is refreshing, coming as this book does from a writer famous for his atheism.

Jesus' message of love and humility remains completely intact, and Pullman's own telling of the Sermon on the Mount is especially striking for its faithfulness to the original. Jesus is sacrosanct, it's the church that Pullman attacks: "Under its authority, Jesus will be distorted and lied about and compromised and betrayed over and over again".

The prose is charmingly understated; monosyllabic words and single-clause sentences are the name of the game (think: Good News Bible rather than King James). And the majority of the characters perform their roles adequately, if without any real charisma or depth. Doubting Thomas is doubtful because the Bible says he is; similarly John the Baptist baptises and Mary Magdalene is maudlin (that was a little etymology joke for you linguists). In fact, in terms of the Pullman-to-Bible ratio, I'd say about 90% of TGMJATSC is just a straight-faced and unembellished paraphrasing of the gospels. This is a shame, because the book is most interesting when Pullman deviates from his sources.

The changes that he does make to the Bible account for such a tiny percentage of the book that most of the novel feels underdeveloped. The unidentified stranger who corrupts Christ does so with some baffling and unexplored theology, which is so brief and poorly articulated that I didn't really understand what Pullman was getting at, despite taking pains to re-read the passage multiple times: "He is the history and you are the truth, but you will have to be wiser. You will have to step outside time, and see the necessity for things that those within time find distressing."

Equally as frustrating is the fact that Pullman takes great pains to humanise the figure of Jesus; but only at the very end of the novel. On the eve of his execution, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane. At this juncture, the writer takes a dramatic schism from his sources, and gives Jesus a ten-page soliloquy in which he questions the nature of God, sacrifice and belief. It's beautifully written and thoughtful, filled with poignant self-doubt and, in context, is deeply moving:

"No answer, naturally. Listen to that silence. Not a breath of wind; little insects in the grasses, a dog barking on some farm beyond the hills, an owl in the valley; and the infinite silence under it all. You're not in the sounds are you? If I thought you were, I could love you with all my heart. But you're in the silence. You say nothing.

If I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, powerless and modest."

It's the best (and longest) scene in the novel; but the only one in which the writing really comes alive and gets to grips with the issues at hand. If the whole text were as probing or as full of ideas as the final act, then TGMJATSC would be something special. But most of this book is nothing more than a paraphrasing of the gospels, injected with the occasional original short scene or comment.

Unfortunately, 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' never manages to transcend the novelty of its premise. The basic idea that Jesus had a twin brother is the most interesting thing about the book: but it isn't developed to its full potential. On the rare occasion that Jesus and his brother interact, the tension rises and my interest piqued. But these scenes are few and far between. The book was also over-hyped to a preposterous degree: and that the media misrepresented the novel as being a religion hating atheists rant didn't help matters either. I don't think I've ever accused a novel of being too short before; but Pullman should have given these ideas room to breathe and develop; when Pullman hits his stride things get really good; I just wish there was...more.
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167 of 186 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Step back and think, 2 April 2010
By 
S. Welham (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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A beautifully written retelling of the story of Jesus Christ. This is an easily read book where the words flow to cover the pages and keep you engrossed. I found the passages on the sermon on the mount and the agonising in the garden of Gethsemane strangely moving. There is no doubt that this book will cause great offense to some people and others will regard it as irrelevant but I think we need authors like Mr Pullman who make you think. Maybe we need to step out of our comfort zone and take a long hard look at the story of Jesus and the subsequent history of the organised church.

As far as I know there are no contemporary accounts of the life of Christ existing in their original form and this book points out the problems with recording accurately events and words spoken. The recorder will be seriously tempted to insert words, invent words and tell of events in such a way as to enhance the beliefs and opinions of the recorder! From then on it is a vast game of Chinese whispers!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to keep an open mind and be provoked to think!
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62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do give this a try, 4 May 2010
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I feel a bit of a fraud writing a review on a book that re-tells stories (albeit different versions) from the Bible. Most of the reviews I have read were written by people who know (or claim to) their Bible. I do not.

Having said this, you do not need to be a biblical student to recognise the salient points Mr Pullman has picked out - the Sermon on the Mount, for example. A lot of reviews detailed Mr Pullmans story - some almost re-wrote it. I don't feel thats what a review should be about and I won't do it here. What I will say is it is simply written and is thought provoking. It asks questions about how we treat others, who really has the right to judge others, and.....dare I say?......questions the church and its motivations.

It was inevitable a section of the community was going to crawl out of the woodwork screaming blasphemy. Perhaps these people don't like some of the questions Mr Pullman subtley poses. In the words of the author, it is a story. Which makes it no different from the Bible then.

Any book that gets such a varied response, people thinking and discussing ideas surely has to have a thumbs up.
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95 of 107 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is It Worth The Controversy?, 1 April 2010
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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Can you imagine if Jesus had in fact been born a twin? Well its from this idea that Pullman writes `The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' as after Mary's immaculate conception she gives birth to two boys on Jesus is a healthy strapping baby where as Christ is a bit of a weakling. As the two sons grow up they couldn't be more different. Christ is the quieter more thoughtful child who looks at everything from all sides and thinks it all through. Jesus is a more boisterous slightly rebellious child who won't conform to what people want. As the two young men grow up, and discover they have some quite marvellous abilities, one of them becomes famous everywhere he goes (and starts to become a bit of a megalomaniac) whilst the other sits in the background fading into the shadows. That is all I will give you of the story but it leads to a clever twist that becomes the legend people read in the Bible today.

I will admit to having no religious views but I know the idea of the book has caused outrage with those who have. I am sure it won't make the slightest difference me then saying that it made me much more interested in the stories of the bible than the R.E lessons or never ending assembly sermons did when I was at school. Jesus having a twin makes you see all his actions such as feeding the thousands bread and fish, turning wine into water and healing the sick from an eye witness and one who has a realistic stance on the whole thing and looks at it from more than one certain side.

It is a modern grounded and often quite funny take on the tale of Jesus and I think in a time where religion seems to be out of fashion I wouldn't be surprised if it sparks people's interest. I won't lie the church comes under some serious criticism in the book especially its morals and what it claims to stand for but I would say people should definitely give this book a try no matter what your views are on religion, God etc. It's a great tale and a wonderful addition to the Canongate Myths, though not quite my favourite it's not far off.
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66 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest 'story' ever told?, 3 April 2010
By 
Annabel Gaskell "gaskella2" (Nr Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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Storytelling is something that Philip Pullman cares about very much - this is immediately apparent when you start to read this book. The language is very straight-forward, with few embellishments and descriptive touches - simple almost, as you might expect from an author who has written so much fantastic fiction for children. Superfluities have been pared away to the plot only. As the back cover reminds us - "This is a story" - that's all.

This deceptive simplicity instead generates intensity and a longing to read on. From the very first sentence you know you're in for something a little different ...

"This is the story of Jesus and his brother Christ, of how they were born, of how they lived and of how one of them died."

Pullman separates the dual-nature of Jesus Christ into twin brothers. Jesus is the firstborn rebel who will become the visionary teacher and healer, and Christ is the quiet and observant, questioning younger brother who stays mostly in the shadows. When Jesus goes into the desert, it is Christ that plays devil's advocate, tempting him with the lure of being the front man of something big that will last forever.

Pullman uses the device of a mysterious stranger who comes to visit Christ to make his question everything even more. The stranger suggests that Christ starts to chronicle Jesus' acts, and Christ resolves to turn the truth into history, (as will the writers of the Gospels later). He also manages to put a great spin on the miracles. In that of feeding the 5000 for example - he has Jesus wave his food in the air and suggest everyone shares whatever they have, and only his five loaves and two fishes get remembered - this certainly raised a chuckle. But as we near the end, it becomes just as heart-breaking as the real thing, (Jesus' rant at God in the garden of Gethsemane brought to mind Ian Gillan's anguish on the original studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.)

But I mustn't digress. I did love every word of this book, and it made me want to revisit the Gospels, if only to double-check my memory of certain stories within. Pullman is fascinated by the story, and how truth is made into history, which is converted into myth, legend, even religion. The title is certainly controversial and, of course, in making Jesus and Christ doppelgangers of a sort, he has taken liberties with the authorised version. Audacious that may be, but it's done with reverence too, and for me it worked - it's a brilliant story!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The good man Jesus, 1 Jan 2012
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S. Paez - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Paperback)
A well-written and respectful version of the Christian bible. This is a wonderful read for anyone with an interest in an alternative, some might say realistic, story of Jesus.
I borrowed this book from the library but will now buy it, as its a book I would like to own.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good man Jesus, 15 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Paperback)
Easy to read as well as thought-provoking. Just as 'The Life of Brian' was not an attack on Jesus but a parody of the way some have chosen to follow him, this story likewise gives a positive and realistic view of the man Jesus. Using the fictional alter-ego and twin Christ, Pullman represents his view of where the Christian church has missed the point. The message that Jesus is sharing (such as that of the sermon of the mount) seems accurate and real. The miracles are not so much explained as downplayed by both Jesus and Christ leaving it to the reader to decide whether they were in fact miraculous or just seen that way. The idea that an fully structured global church was a concept from the start (by Christ) and in fact refuted by Jesus (here a slant on the temptation of Jesus after the 40 days is revealing) is putting the cart before the horse perhaps but allows the story to be told during the timeframe of Jesus's life. Just as in the Python movie this story should give pause for thought to Christians and understanding to non-Christians. Following Jesus should be seen as a dignified and noble way of life but doing what a church says blindly without thought should be challenged.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Gospel according to the storyteller Philip, 3 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Paperback)
I've read a number of retellings of the central Christian story recently: C K Stead wrote a fascinating and surprisingly faithful (irony intended) secular retelling from the eyes of Judas Hiscariot; I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of the famous, once-in-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria, and now I've stumbled over the famously atheist Philip Pullman's take - which involves a fair bit more licence than Stead's but is otherwise of a similar demystifying disposition: rationalising miracles into ordinary materialistic phenomena, and rebasing Jesus from mystic to idealistic, but nonetheless political, historical figure.

Pullman's licence is to pull Jesus Christ apart into two figures: Jesus (an idealist if naive populist) and Christ, his twin, a more introverted, but more intelligent, dark inversion.

Curiously, the Passion Play - which is entirely reverend to orthodox Christian doctrine in a way that Stead's and Pullman's works are not - also de-emphasises the spiritual in favour of the political machinations of the Sanhedrin and the political dimension of Christ's mission. All three, in some way, accordingly miss what's so special and clever about the passion. But we live in rational times - or so we like our chroniclers to tell us.

All three also bring the character of Judas into sharp relief: Stead and Oberammergau by his prominence, Pullman by his notable absence.

The thing is, unless read purely as a pantomime villain, Judas is the not only the central driver of the passion's narrative, but also the most interesting and recognisably human character of the lot: he means well, but is naivety/stupidity/vanity/self importance (delete as applicable) lets him down. His is the character arc which gives us lessons: if this were a Shakespearian Tragedy he would be the lead: a complex, brooding anti-hero in the vein of Macbeth. Jesus, by contrast, is a rather cardboard cut-out good guy not unlike the fated Duncan: At key points in the drama, Christ remains passive and stays pointedly silent. By contrast Judas agonises, soliloquises, and, for better or ill, acts.

While Judas is not represented by name here, his actions are, and it is telling how Pullman has re-designed the whole myth to accommodate them (it would spoil it to say more: you'll have to read the book to see what I mean). Much of Pullman's industry is to illustrate that there is no such thing as truth other than the compelling story contextualised and carved out of events which, in their unfinished natural state, don't have a moral or didactic dimension. Jesus provides the unshaped events, Christ the chronicle. Christ is, by turns, appalled by and drawn to the power he derives from his narrative talent.

This brief book is written stylishly and evenly in Pullman's curt and economical prose. He might seem a controversial choice to retell this particular story, yet despite his inventions Philip Pullman generally does not let his atheism get in the way of the thrust of Jesus' central message. Indeed, as a storyteller of the first order, you wonder whether he doesn't see a little of the tragic scoundrel Christ in himself.

If you like this, try C.K. Stead: My Name Was Judas

Olly Buxton
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A subtle and thought-provoking read, 29 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Paperback)
I very much enjoyed Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and his other books aimed at younger readers, and was looking forward to reading this. I wasn't disappointed, though clearly this is a very different proposition.

Most readers will be acquainted with the story of Jesus, or a version of it, though perhaps not many have read the gospels recently themselves. Pullman is clearly very familiar with his source material, and the subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) twists he applies to the 'real' stories are delightful and eyebrow-raising in equal measure. It certainly made me want to reach for the nearest Bible and re-read the original.

It's a short read, but there is a lot packed in here - as well as questioning the basis of the religion which has dominated the western world for a couple of millennia, there are discussions about truth and history and the difference between them, and it shows how easily a good person's actions and words can be turned inside out and upside down in the service of greed and power.

I would definitely recommend that you read this book - it won't take you long, but it will probably stay with you a fair bit longer.
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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman (Paperback - 7 Oct 2010)
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