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This is brilliant conjectural history about the origins of the christian church. Pullman constructs 2 main characters: a brilliant scheming twin called Christ (messiah) and a truly holy twin called Jesus. This should be read by all Pullman lovers and by those who consider the christian church to incarnate both good and evil.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
Two groups of readers should avoid this book. If you're a devout Christian who is just plain offended by any treatment of Jesus that departs from worshipful orthodoxy, the title alone has warned you not to spend your money. Equally, if you're a nonbeliever who has never read the New Testament and isn't familiar with the past century's worth of research into the historic Jesus, chances are this novel will bore you, and you'll have no clue why Pullman sometimes sticks close to the Gospels and sometimes departs radically from them.
But Christians aware of the historical complexity of Christianity, and non-Christians who are nevertheless moved and fascinated by the words and story of Jesus, should enjoy grappling with Pullman's "what if" experiments in this novel. On one level, twin brothers "Jesus" and "Christ" simply stand for the familiar opposition between the "historic Jesus" and the Christ that emerged as disciples coalesced into the early church and then a great Church that ruled an empire. The title is intentionally misleading, however: the "good" Jesus is shown to have all-too-human failings (unconcern for his family, the anti-Gentile prejudice of his day), while "scoundrel" Christ develops a complexity of character that recalls Dostoevsky's tragic figures.
Pullman's well-known atheism doesn't prevent him from having a deep respect for much of the career and teachings of Jesus, and his modern-English rendering of the Sermon on the Mount is especially powerful. Even the "bad guys" in the novel (roughly, speaking, organized religion and the theology of the Gospel of John) are admitted to have been essential parts of Western culture. But he stumbles, to my mind, by making Jesus sound too much like Phillip Pullman toward the novel's end.
Pullman is a fine reader of his own writing, pacing well and giving convincing voice to both major and minor characters.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful