7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Interesting idea, but...,
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This review is from: The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ (Myths) (Hardcover)
First, in the interests of full disclosure, you should know that I am a Church of England curate!
I thought that the idea behind this book was interesting, i.e. that Jesus and Christ were different people and that this explains the dichotomy between the preaching of Jesus, which Philip Pullman seems to see as good, and the later life of the Church of Christ, which Pullman perceives as bad, both here and in his other works.
There is certainly much to commend this work - Pullman knows his bible and much of the story sticks close to the biblical narrative and, on the whole, the slim volume is well written. There are passages which could easily be read verbatim in church as part of a sermon and I may well do so.
However I ultimately felt that this was a one idea book (which is spelled out in the title) and that Pullman's poorly concealed polemic against the church (Jesus Good, Church Bad) is hobbling his writing - this was also the case in the third part of his Dark Materials trilogy which turned from rollicking good yarn to lets have a bash at religion.
I have no problem with "This is a STORY" (from the back cover) but, in the end, I think it could have been a better story had the idea been developed and fleshed out more. This is a snack posing as a feast and simply does not satisfy.
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Initial post: 15 Oct 2010 22:04:27 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Oct 2010 20:55:56 BDT
[I read Pullman's book only after I wrote this comment, but I based this comment on the scholarly book by Fr Gerald O'Collins, mentioned in my comment, which is one long review-demolition of Pullman. I have now (28th October) read and studied Pullman's book, and have no reason to modify my judgment of it.]
Like other reviewers of Pullman's book, Paul White makes a calamitous mistake. He says that "Pullman knows his bible". Not so. I have not yet read Pullman's book, but I have just read Fr Gerald O'Collins's book, "Philip Pullman's Jesus", which is simply a long review (100 pages) of Pullman's book, and which demonstrates conclusively that Pullman's Jesus (and Christ) is not the Jesus Christ of history or of the New Testament. I know my New Testament very well indeed (I read it twice a year in the original Greek, with commentaries at hand), and the grave distortions and omissions and inventions by Pullman which O'Collins points out are simply a disgrace (especially the outrageous claim, on which Pullman founds his book, that 'Jesus' and 'Christ' are two mutually hostile twin brothers). Please don't try to say that O'Collins misquotes Pullman.
It is totally irrational and unscholarly to believe that in some extraordinary way the near-contemporary record of the life, work, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and the founding of his church, as recorded in the New Testament in the first century, and testified to by two thousand years of Christian scholarship and witness, are a totally untrustworthy invention, and that it is Pullman's distortions, inventions, falsifications, omissions, bad history, and igorance of the bible and of the history of New Testament times which really tell us the true story. This is simply absurd.
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2010 22:31:18 BDT
Paul White says:
I didn't say that Pullman gave an accurate biblical account...of course his 'story' is a gross distortion of the bible BUT it is also clear that he knows his bible well enough in order to be able to distort it as he does. I also did not say that Pullman's story was true and that the bible was false - if that was my position I would resign as a priest! Please read my first post more carefully and, while you are at it, why not read the actual Pullman book - it is a quick read.
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2010 14:29:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Oct 2010 20:23:10 BDT
I'm sorry if I gave the impression that you agreed with everything in Pullman's book. However, its whole thrust is destructive. For Pullman, the resurrection never happened, in fact in his view the biblical account of the resurrection is a most scandalous and deliberate con-trick. This is unforgivable, even for Pullman as a storyteller, for Pullman has to contradict everything that the only trustworthy record, the New Testament, says on the subject, and then we are meant to believe that Pullman, two thousand years after it all happened, is the one who really knows what the true history of his absurd invented twin Jesus-and-Christ really was. For Pullman, Jesus Christ is not God, and Jesus Christ (whoever he or they were) never did any miracles. I reject Pullman's book.
And you do say that "Pullman knows his bible and much of the story sticks close to the biblical narrative", and you also say: "I thought that the idea behind this book was interesting, i.e. that Jesus and Christ were different people". In fact, Pullman's constant tampering with "the biblical narrative" and what it has to say about Jesus Christ, and especially Pullman's invention of a Jesus/Christ split, reduce his book to total nonsense.
You correctly identify "Pullman's poorly concealed polemic against the church (Jesus Good, Church Bad)". Yet you conclude by saying "I have no problem with 'This is a STORY (from the back cover) but, in the end, I think it could have been a better story had the idea been developed and fleshed out more."
Your final judgment is simply incomprehensible to me. Pullman's book aims to utterly destroy Jesus Christ and Christianity. The book by Fr Gerald O'Collins to which I referred, "Philip Pullman's Jesus", spends its 100 pages rubbishing Pullman's historical and biblical distortions and inventions and omissions.
If I may adapt the Mary Poppins song, "Just a teaspoon of [good writing] helps [Pullman's lethal poison] go down." I can't buy that.
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Oct 2010 16:54:12 BDT
Paul White says:
I am a Christian but I also happen to believe in both free speech and in good writing. Pullman is a novelist and he was not seeking to write a gospel but a novel. My final judgement is that Pullman's book was an interesting idea but that it could have been a much better novel than it turned out to be. If you are against Pullman then that is probably a Good Thing.
Trini - for what it is worth I don't think it does the Christian witness any good to condemn anything which we have not actually read. I also think that God is big enough to take it.
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Oct 2010 18:00:38 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Oct 2010 21:09:44 BDT
[28th October: As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I have now read and re-read Pullman's book. I do not need to change my judgment on his book, though I have reworded (and I hope clarified) some of what I wrote earlier.]
In reply to your last comment, I say:
I am a Roman Catholic, and I can say, no less than you, "but I also happen to believe in both free speech and good writing". However, I must make serious modifications to your twin beliefs. First of all, I presume that you are trying to tell me that you, and Pullman, in your different ways, must enjoy, because of 'free speech', the right to say what you think. But behind this statement of yours I find the unexpressed but clear presupposition that I have not got the right (forget my right to free speech which you claim for yourself) to mildly criticize your views or savagely denounce Pullman's views. If that is not what lies behind your statement that you believe in free speech, then why did you make it? It is simply patronizing nonsense. So too is your declaration that you "believe in good writing". Again, is there not the patronizing implication that I do not, could not, like good writing? But I modify your belief: I believe in good writing being used in the furtherance of relaxation (e.g in novels, travel writing), or education, or culture, or philosophy, or sound religion, or whatever 'good cause' you can think of (and how does one define 'good cause', if there is a total free-for-all?), but I denounce the use of good writing in an unworthy cause. Poison in an exquisite glass is as deadly as in an ugly bottle.
I make yet more modifications to your 'belief in free speech'. Free speech exists only within limits. You are now, apparently, at liberty to teach children in schools that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable (at one time you could not so teach - Section 28); you may not teach that abortion is murder; you may not advocate blowing up your fellow-citizens on the tube, and so on and on ad infiinitum. There may be good laws and bad laws on these matters, or simply well-kept or badly-kept customs, but to say that there is 'free speech', without qualification, is naive in the extreme.
Furthermore, as against your (to me clearly implied) belief that I am in some way against free speech (or anyway shouldn't enjoy that privilege myself) because I dare to denounce Pullman, I bring up another point, the famous statement attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." There is needed a third arm to this proposition, which Voltaire didn't think of, but which must be added: "And I will defend to the death my own right to claim my freedom of speech (which I allow to you to express your views) to express my disagreement with the views which you claim the right to express. And you must defend to the death my right to assess your views, to praise or to contest them in public, as I see fit".
As regards my condemning something that I haven't read, may I make the simple point that I have a very good idea of much that Pullman has said, by reading very carefully Gerald O'Collins's book and other reviews. So while, beyond a shadow of doubt, Pullman distorts, omits, adds to, and centrally falsifies, according to his whim, the Jesus story that he puts forward as 'a story', my denunciation of Pullman's work and his aim is based, equally beyond a shadow of doubt, on Pullman's own words as endlessly quoted in O'Collins's book. O'Collins is an internationally famous biblical and theological expert, and he twice asks (page 44 and page 99): "should this book have been entitled 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Pullman?"
I will leave for another moment the list of biblical incidents to which, by falsifying or omitting or adding details, Pullman gives a meaning totally opposed to the intention of the biblical author, from the conception of Jesus to his preaching and miracles and resurrection, to his very identity (or rather identities) as Pullman's grotesque twins Jesus-Christ: Jesus did not rise from the dead, for Pullman, but his false brother Christ pretended to Jesus' disciples that he ('Christ') was the 'risen' Jesus who, 'Christ' knew, hadn't risen from the dead. Isn't this too absurd to be swallowed, even as a 'story', by any educated person? And the whole false picture of Jesus and the Church (according to Pullman) that we now have is the twisted account written by the treacherous 'Christ', who is the only source, for Pullman, of all the four gospel accounts - a view which is derisory from the point of view of scholarship.
Greater than the catastrophe that is Pullman's book is the catastrophe that it has found praise in some Christian circles. "Just a teaspoon of [literary skill] helps [the poison] go down".
True, God can take it. But unfortunately the ordinary person, even the ordinary practising Christian, will not be able to take it if it is presented as simply a retelling of the Christian story, but will be corrupted by it.
I conclude, for now, by quoting from a booklet by John Proctor ('Jesus is Lord - Why Early Christians Believed This and Why it Mattered', Grove Books, pp. 27, 2009). "What reason has the church got to think of Jesus in the special way that we do? Prophet, wise man, spiritual leader, friend of sinners - many good people have fitted these categories, in every age and culture. But the church says much more than this about Jesus. We rank him with God and as God, and we praise him accordingly. We pray in his name and sing to his glory ... the worship due to God, texts about God and the name of God [in the Old testament] were ascribed to Jesus ... A broad body of material - creed, liturgy, exegesis, reflection - talks of the supremacy, dignity, majesty and god-ness of the risen Jesus ... " (pages 3, 5).
Does Pullman's story match and clarify this picture, or destroy it?
Posted on 28 Oct 2010 21:06:22 BDT
I have now read and re-read Pullman's book during the past few days, and amazon (both UK and USA) have published my review, dated 23 October 2010. Even a full-length amazon review is not long enough to analyse Pullman's book completely. But please see my review.
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Nov 2010 10:28:57 GMT
dale force says:
No-one is interested in your rights,and whether you're offended, got the hump or whatever. Stick to reasoned arguments about the book, please. Pullman's yarn is just an exposition of a possible developed fallacy. (Do you condemn Winnie the Pooh because it's not true?) You may find it insulting to your God. But religious fanatics are all too ready to turn perceived insult into hatred and we all know where that leads to. Sadly.
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Nov 2010 15:14:12 GMT
I have always 'stuck to reasoned arguments about the book', but you don't seem to like that, and so, it seems, for you, I have no rights to speak, or to be offended, because (it seems) I dare to disagree with Philip Pullman. Well, well, you are a tolerant person. I suppose that nevertheless you would like me to be 'interested in your rights, and whether you are offended, got the hump, or whatever'?
It is unwise on your part to bring in Winnie the Pooh, because it is Pullman's imagination that invents a fictional Winnie the Pooh story (especially when he splits Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, into two separate people, Jesus and Christ). To recognize that Winnie the Pooh is fictiional, and to enjoy the story, is one thing. But Jesus of Nazareth is a real historical person of immense significance. It is totally unacceptable to imply, as you do, that to falsify the biblical record of Jesus Christ, as Pullman continually does, is just as allowable as to invent Winnie the Pooh. Pullman presents his invented Winnie the Pooh as a real person (or persons), the Jesus Christ we must believe in. This will not do.
Your last comment about religious hatred has nothing to do with the issue here. The track record of the atheists Hitler, Stalin and Mao-tse-Tung isn't very good either. But there is no reason why they shouldn't behave as they did, if they felt like it. On the other hand, Christians who sin go against their code, not in line with it.
I disagree with Pullman not only because as a thinking person I think that his philosophy of life is wrong, but because in the cause of his philosophy of life he massacres history and betrays the art of the storyteller.
In reply to an earlier post on 27 Mar 2011 22:05:29 BDT
S. J. Payne says:
"The track record of the atheists Hitler, Stalin and Mao-tse-Tung isn't very good either."
Whoops-a-daisy: spot the (deliberate?) mistake ...
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