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on 2 November 2017
This was an easy read; in fact I could not put it down. I am not
particularly religious, although I was brought up to be. This
story fascinated me.
But the bit I found most interesting was at the end when
the author said why he had written it and his conclusions
from reading 3 different bibles.

If you decide not to finish reading this book, then at least read
what Philip Pullman has written at the very end. It is quite an
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 November 2016
A beautiful twist on the story of Jesus. Just the kind of magic you would expect from Philip Pullman.

If you loved the Dark Materials Trilogy, or if you just have a fascination with religion with book will be a pleasant surprise.
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on 25 August 2013
I'm not a religious man. I think I should make that very clear, but a book review is no place for me to argue my stance on that. I do think it is fair to say however, that the mythology of religion appeals to me more than the actual spirituality of it. Of course, people who know me will also know that Philip Pullman is my favourite author, and with his often vocal stance on religion, I thought his 2010 release, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ would make for a fascinating read. The blurb didn't really give anything away of what to expect, and I thought what the hell. Let's give this a go.

The book itself is actually a part of the Canongate Myth Series and retells the story of Jesus, but in such a controversial and alternate way as the world knows. Mary didn't give birth to a son, she gave birth to twin boys; one called Jesus and one called Christ. And as the book progresses, we see the boys develop, drift away from one another and ultimately take a different stand on the 'coming of God's Kingdom'. It is an interesting concept that tells the history from the bible, but in such a modern and up-to-date way.

I have to admit though, that this wasn't really what I expected. It is a unique, complex and interesting device to adapt the story with two figures. Obviously one representing the human side of Jesus, the other the more spiritual. However, the book lacked any kind of religious sarcasm I was expecting from Pullman. It was as if he adapted the two figures into the history already told in the bible - and let's be frank, it is a pretty boring story. It wasn't exciting, it lacked any real depth, and the political situation the people found themselves in during the Roman occupation was completely two-dimensional. I hate to admit it, but this was a chore to read. I even put the book down for a while, hoping to come back to it with perhaps a little more energy and inspiration to seek the ending. Sadly, this did little to ignite my reading pleasure.

I found both characters utterly annoying. Jesus was arrogant, hypocritical and totally uninspiring. At first, you could be forgiven for thinking that this represents Pullman's view on Christianity, his voice coming through thick and strong, but sadly it isn't. Jesus preaches, he inspires the people, but the admiration doesn't seep through to the reader, as we see him shun his family and distance his brother. Christ actually takes it upon himself, with guidance from a 'stranger' to write down the truth Jesus speaks, keeping his distance so his brother isn't aware of his actions. But Christ is guilty of being whiny and moany; you often find yourself telling the guy to 'grow a pair' and stand up for his beliefs, but Pullman portrays him as a coward, who is tempted by sin. He creates such a show of Christ's 'sacrifice' towards the end of the book, but when it comes down to it, the actual betrayal lasts a minute paragraph.

Where Pullman's voice does come through however, is how Christ adds a little bit poetic licence when transcribing the sermons and speeches of his brother. He is completely engulfed that the world needs a Church, a sort of physical embodiment of God's Kingdom on Earth, whereas his brother is in total disagreement. The book tries to be clever, especially with its controversial title, but ultimately fails on all fronts - well for me anyway.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is at best an unsuccessful attempt at retelling the 'myth' of Jesus Christ. It has an interesting concept of two brothers, who take a different stance on what God's vision is, but it lacks the miraculous message many Christians I assume finds in scripture. The language is pretty cold, lacking depth and interest, which would be forgiven if the book was more a satirical look at religion, but Pullman really creates the controversy, without backing it up within the pages. The characters are wooden or annoying, and the 'sacrifice' of Jesus doesn't engage any reactions of sympathy or gratitude. I found the book boring and actually, lacking in purpose. It is no wonder that the book was heavily criticised by Jesuit theologians. If you find the story of Jesus inspiring or interesting, I'm afraid this book won't do much to heighten or lessen that, but if you are interested in reading a slightly alternate take on the baby born in a manger story, you may find something that tickles your fancy.
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on 30 March 2014
Pullman's book should appeal to anyone interested in Christianity who is open-minded enough to appreciate a revisiting of the Bible from a slightly different perspective. The Gospels provide you with the most important source of Jesus' life. Pullman used the Authorised Version, the New English Bible and the New Revised Standard Version. It is not to be seen as a work of blasphemy. Pullman is a storyteller and a Christian so the story respects the teachings of the Gospels and shows an interesting and extremely readable interpretation, sensitive but also thought-provoking.
It is something different and original but plausible and overly sad. The story is a visionary one retelling the birth, the life and death of Jesus Christ. Imagine: What if Jesus Christ had a twin brother? Or what if his twin brother betrayed him and not Judas Iscariot?
Simply put we are presented with two Almighty people, Jesus who is charismatic but selfish and Christ who broods, a pragmatist and a pessimist who hides away in shame and constantly weeps. He is emotional and very human. He has spent his sad life living in his brother's shadow worshipping him just like all of his followers, trying to protect him from his enemies.
Christ narrates the story and so we are fully aware of his misery and unhappiness as he chronicles his brother's teachings for posterity. The Stranger, an anonymous being whom Christ mistakes as an angel of God tells him that the truth is not the same as history. Jesus was the man the Gospels talked about but Christ was the Messiah featured in the Epistles. Jesus was history and Christ was the truth. In Christ's frustration he asks the Stranger: " I wish, sir, you would tell me what the truth is. My vision clouded, my knowledge lacking."
Pullman poses the million dollar question: if we went back in time would we save Jesus from such a horrible death by crucifixion or let him die just like Judas or Pullman's Christ?
The ending is powerful. Christ has opted for a simple life hidden away when he is discovered. He is disillusioned and knows that history will repeat itself. Jesus and himself have been used as pawns in a dangerous game, a tragic story. He is convinced that the truth about Jesus will continue to be distorted and he will be compromised and betrayed over and over again. And I hear you agreeing.......
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on 26 July 2014
So far, I am about 80% through the book (Kindle Edition). I may have been expecting more from Philip Pullman but somehow I find this book rather unsatisfying. The underlying plot is what you already know from the New Testament and his slant on it means splitting the character of Jesus from his "alter ego" twin brother, Christ. What you don't get is anyone singing, "Always look on the bright side of life"... I suppose I expected more input from the author himself, instead of what amounts to a kind of divided vision of the Bible story.
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on 1 July 2011
I am coming from an Agnostic view, I do not have strong faith at all and I regard the Bible as a fairytale book.

I haven't read Phillip Pullman's prose before and I was impressed how he kept the language much like that of the Bible itself. I knew he was a Humanist and thought it would be interesting how he interprets things.

Once upon a time, a virgin bride of Joseph, the Carpenter, is approached by an "angel" who tells her she will conceive a child. As it happens, two are born, one called Jesus, the other Christ, Greek for Messiah. Jesus always gets into trouble as a child, and Christ usually gets him out of it again. When John the Baptist baptises Jesus, Christ notices a dove fly overhead. Jesus spends his time in the wilderness, and becomes a spokesman for God in his belief that the Kingdom is coming.

Christ wants to Organise, Jesus does not. Pullman raises the issue of organised religion and its place in society. Jesus becomes a nomad, spreading the word of the Kingdom of God and performing "miracles" (for some of which Pullman gives likely explanations). His brother, still wanting to create a church, follows Jesus and writes down his speeches. Sometimes he cannot make it and asks one of the disciples, not named, what had happened and transcribes second hand the events. Again, truth versus history.

The "stranger" comes into Christ's life and takes the transcribed scrolls, and encourages Christ's belief in organising the church. It is not clear who the stranger is. Christ believes him to be an angel. The reader must decide for themselves.

Jesus tells more and more provocative parables and catches the attention of the priests. The stranger tells Christ that Jesus must die in order for the Church to come about. In the meantime, Jesus is praying to God in the Garden of Gethsemane and says he is losing faith, as the Kingdom of God hasn't come. He loves the beauty of the world and wants to believe he is doing the right thing, but also knows he is fighting his brother and his beliefs.

"...I can see just what would happen if that kind of thing came about. The devil would rub his hands with glee. As soon as men who believe they're doing God's will get hold of power, whether its a household or a village...the devil enters into them." "Lord if you are listening, I'd pray for this above all; that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That should wield no authority except that of love."

In the end Christ fills the "Judas" role, and turns Jesus over to the priests who turn him over to Pilate. Christ does this in the belief that the stories will turn into legend after Jesus dies. The "stranger" encourages him. Jesus dies on the cross. Christ is walking through the tomb garden and Mary mistakes him for his brother, which is Pullman's explanations for the Resurrection.

The Good Man Jesus...is thoroughly researched, and Pullman knows his Bible. It tells us that history and truth are not the same thing, the "miracles" may be fantastical exaggerations from third parties to promote Jesus' public relations profile. It raises debate over the power of the Christian church, its riches, and it power to extract more riches from the believing poor. It tells us about power to corrupt, and keep people in line. Now, in British life, we are becoming more and more secular, and control of the populace is more challenging. More than anything, at the time that Jesus and Christ were alive, the Romans were oppressing the Jews in Palestine and at a time of hardship and erosion of traditions and religion, the people needed something to believe in. The biggest story of them all was turned into a worldwide belief system.

It's a short read, I finished it in a day, and although the book was thought-provoking, it wasn't entirely attention grabbing. Having said that, as Christianity is now, in my view, fighting to hold onto its believers in an age of science and reason, it's a book to ponder on.
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on 13 April 2013
I thought this was a non-fiction serious commentary. It isn't, although of course it is making a serious point. The central idea is retelling the history of Jesus as stated in the gospels (pretty well the standard parts of the narrative as told by modern Christians) but with the twist that Mary actually had twins and that the story that has come down to us is a melding of the stories of the two boys who had different concepts of the role of religion. As an atheist I don't actually agree with the central concept that what Jesus said was generally good and it is the way it has been played by estabished religion that is the problem. Jesus without the miracles is .... someone with a few good stories. So why the rating? Well, I did enjoy the playing out of the ideas and it is only a short read so worth the time.
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on 27 June 2011
This is a very readable book, written in a simple, accessible fable-like style. The fundamental premise - that what Jesus taught and what the Christian church represents are two entirely different things - is sound, and the critique of the latter is particularly incisive. The essentially political nature of the church as institution is astutely analysed, as is its inevitable perniciousness - right down to an elucidation of Zizek's assertion of paedophilia being intrinsic to the church. The weakness of the book, in my opinion, is the portrayal of Jesus, who comes across as a rather shallow and silly caricature. Indeed, at times it borders on the Pythonesque. Neither did I find the reinterpretations of biblical events particularly illuminating or convincing. Whether or not you find this book challenging or thought-provoking will depend very much on your current attitudes and beliefs.
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on 31 May 2014
This presents a plausible account of how ordinary events surrounding Jesus were blown out of proportion into miracles in the zeitgeist of the ordinary, simple populace, aided by unscrupulous manipulators of the "truth". Likewise, the account of how Jesus came to be regarded as having been "resurrected" was plausible. I didn't understand the ending, I.e. what happened to the bread and wine after the stranger departed. The true identity of the stranger was not revealed, either. I guess one is supposed to put one's own interpretation on it.
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on 17 November 2011
This novel is a gripping and imaginative piece of fiction. It is an 'easy read' because the author's use of English is sharp and concise and he holds your attention to the end. His embellishments of the Gospel narratives pose a number of questions as to his real motivation for writing the story; and he quite rightly leaves some of these unanswered.

If it's entertainment you want, then this book is for you. But, if you are looking for revelation about who Jesus is and why he lived and died; then it's a disappointment! Rowan Williams has described Pullman's Jesus 'as a voice of genuine spiritual authority'. I find this hard to swallow, because Pullman's Jesus does not even seem to know that he is supposed to be the Son of God, or why he is doing the things that he is doing (the teaching, healing and miracles, etc)! Pullman's 'Christ' shows a clearer insight into who and what Jesus is supposed to be about; but his brother simply refuses to listen to him! Perhaps the author reveals his own true colours when he changes the biblical Jesus' short and poignant Gethsemane prayer into a protracted and disillusioned atheistic monologue.

But if this book turns some readers towards a serious re-examination of the truth of the gospels, then perhaps Philip Pullman will have done them - and the real Jesus - a favour after all!
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