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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Myths) Hardcover – May 4, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 155 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This gospel retelling is relatively faithful in style, time line, and events to the four canonical gospels-though Pullman injects a very Pullman-like spin on it by splitting Jesus Christ into two men, among other creative twists. Twin babies are born of the virgin Mary, one called Jesus, the other Christ. After a childhood in which Christ is a goody-goody and Jesus the popular one, Jesus and Christ continue down separate but intertwined paths, with Christ sneaking around, spying on Jesus's ministry and writing down his every word and deed. Jesus becomes a philosopher-revolutionary and Christ is the politically savvy brother, who ultimately proves naïve. Pullman's gospel version reveals how the politics and structure of the institutional church were plotted by power-hungry men, who used the renown of Jesus and his well-meaning, devoted brother Christ as pawns in their corrupt game-a critique that will be familiar to readers of His Dark Materials. This is a tale of (almost comedic) mistaken identity and good intentions gone horribly awry. Readers will find the parables, the Good Samaritan, healings, and the Sermon on the Mount, among other familiar scenes.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Inspiring . . . Again and again, [Pullman] displays a marvelous sense of the elemental power of Jesus’s instructions and parables. Even when he transforms the canonical stories to match his atheist perspective, he emphasizes the basic Christian theme of universal love. . . . The action moves toward a conclusion that’s inevitable but still startling and moving. Yes, some Christians will be offended by this book . . . but any honest reader will find here a brisk and bracing story of profound implications. And it’s bound to send some readers back to the Bible, looking more closely at Jesus’s words and especially at all those other words crowded around Him.”—The Washington Post

“[Philip Pullman is] one of the finest British writers of his generation. . . . The attention-grabbing title alone—The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ—has been enough to rouse his enemies, and reinforce his image as a church-baiting atheist who’s beyond redemption. . . . Yet this isn’t the indiscriminate anger of a proselytizing atheist. Pullman is too fair-minded. . . . Love his answers or not, Pullman’s honesty is hard to hate.”—Newsweek

“The erudite fantasy author, Philip Pullman, makes explicit his complaint against Christian dogma with [this] challenging deconstruction of the Gospels.”
Entertainment Weekly

“[With] His Dark Materials, his masterpiece trilogy . . . Pullman has written the most thrilling and imaginative novels in a generation. . . . The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a masterfully timed book, arriving just as the Catholic Church—Pullman’s enemy No. 1—convulses over priestly child abuse and papal cover-ups. . . . Give Pullman high marks for moxie: How many writers would dare to try to rewrite—no, to repair—the most famous, most sacred story ever written?”—Slate

“Imaginative and thought-provoking . . . A compelling portrait of Jesus . . . [Pullman] is asking readers to move beyond theology and religion. As a literary work, Pullman’s story examines perspective and how it influences storytelling. [He] provides a superb example of how history relies on narrative and narrative relies on point of view. . . . This is, at its core, a book about the power of storytelling and storytellers. . . . The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ asks us to read and then to think—really think—about what we have read, and that is precisely what we all should do.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Thought-provoking . . . Add to [Pullman’s] passion his considerable gifts as a storyteller, and you have the ingredients for a powerful treatment of a familiar story. . . . There is no lack of . . . inventiveness . . . but it is always framed by Pullman’s keen awareness of the gospel narratives. He knows just how much of a revered story needs to remain intact in order to make its metamorphosis compelling. . . . Pullman gives us an affecting portrait of faith in extremis, of a man continuing to pray even as he doubts there is any auditor to his prayers.”—Garret Keizer, Barnes & Noble Reviews

“Compelling and challenging . . . The writing is crisp-lyrical . . . precise . . . Successful in showing how all the contradictions of a life can become distorted, so that the most important lessons disappear into history.”—Jacob Schraer, Portland Mercury

In The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, we have what is both a perfect and perverse pairing: Philip Pullman and the ‘myth’ of Jesus Christ.”—The Globe and Mail

“Incendiary . . . A small gem or, given its explosive story and exquisite artistry, a hand grenade made by Faberge. Pullman is a craftsman of the highest order.”--Sunday Times

“Provokingly bold . . . Pullman’s rebel scripture belongs in a strong tradition of its own.”—The Independent

“Pullman is a supreme storyteller who . . . has done the story [of the Gospels] a service by reminding us of its extraordinary power to provoke and disturb.”—The Telegraph

“A wonderfully fresh reworking of the Gospel stories [concerned with] extricating what is ethically beautiful and of permanent value in Jesus’s teachings from the religious institutions that fallibly mediate and self-servingly distort them.. . . . Pullman’s imaginative and highly thought-provoking innovation . . . is told with a self-effacing, yet incisive limpidity. . . . [The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is] a work of genuine discretion—deeply involved and involving, but with a great instinct for what to leave tacit.”—The Independent

“A simple, powerful, knowing little book . . . Like a small grenade, it will ricochet uncomfortably around the mind of any Christian believer for some time to come.”—Financial Times

“[The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is] Pullman at his very best, limpid and economical. . . . Pullman leaves the Christian reader with a genuine paradox to ponder.”—The Guardian

“Told in simple, unadorned prose that is nonetheless beautifully effective, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ traces the familiar journey toward the cross and makes it fresh. . . . Pullman’s retelling of the central story in western civilization provides a brilliant new interpretation that is also a thought-provoking reflection on the process of how stories come into existence and accrue their meanings.”—Sunday Times

“A fast-paced little parable that puts a common sense tweak to a number of the miracles, while reminding us how much of the Gospels is devoted to social justice and compassion.”—Sacramento News & Review

“Short but ambitious, exhilarating . . . [The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ] mixes Christian mythology with speculative fiction. . . . Pullman approaches his biblical source material with respect.”—Winnipeg Free Press

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a compassionate meditation on the nature of faith.”—CBC News (Canada)

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Product Details

  • Series: Myths
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate U.S.; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080212996X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802129963
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,191,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The story of Jesus has been proclaimed by Christians as "The Greatest Story Ever Told". Pullman in his story "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ" makes the point that we can never know what happened especially when we were not present when a story was made. The story of Jesus Christ is a story. It was not sufficiently documented to be history, but even if it were to be taken as history for the sake of argument, Pullman's point was that history as told is not necessarily truth. Truth, he thinks, can be injected into history in any way the story teller wants it. When it travels far enough and is retold often enough, and is, above all, a good story, people will believe it.

Christians may likely find this book heretical and blasphemous. If the very idea that Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to twins, naming one "Jesus" and the other "Christ", may be sufficient justification for a charge of heresy, then to say that it was Christ who betrayed Jesus to the Roman governor must surely carry the aggravated charge of blasphemy.

However, this book is much more complex and complicated than that. Pullman did not write this book because he was an atheist with the intention of annoying Christians by disparaging Jesus Christ, God, and the Biblical account. He recaptured many of the teachings of Jesus - all taken from the Bible - and cast them in a context that made those teachings far more meaningful than they do coming straight from the Bible. His citation of the Lord's Prayer in the context that he had created would have moved many a Christian. It has many a teaching attributed to Jesus Christ that any man, Christian or atheist, will like to embrace.
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Format: Hardcover
If you look at the back cover of this book you'll find only four words: "This is a STORY." And at the most basic level, it is. It is a fictional story about Jesus and his brother Christ. But beyond that, and significantly more important, it is a story about stories, truth, humanity, religion, and how they all tie together.

If you are used to the writing style of His Dark Materials, you may be surprised to find that Philip Pullman has chosen to take up a completely different style of narration. This book takes a much simpler approach-- it almost sounds like it is written so that an adult could read the story out loud to a child. While it is a bit off putting at first, particularly for those who love the style of His Dark Materials, it functions perfectly for the book's purpose.

As the plot progresses Pullman beckons the reader to question whether or not truth and historical accuracy are one in the same; if an historical event is edited so that the truth is better portrayed, does that in some sense make the events that occurred more true, or more meaningful?

The beauty of the book is that Pullman makes us question this on two levels--through the story the characters write and the story he himself writes. Pullman obviously doesn't see his story as historical fact (as I'm sure certain reviews that pop up will miss), but by blending the New Testament, what historians can guess, and some fiction of his own, we are left with a unique work that in many ways is more interesting and fascinating than the sources he draws from.

As one might expect, the book, particularly by the end, is very critical of the concept of the Judeo-Christian God, as well as Christianity as it is often practiced today.
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This is an amazing book. One chapter in particular is positively mind-blowing--the chapter with Jesus "praying" in the garden on the night before his crucifixion. I can't say more without spoiling key elements within the story the uncovering of which are among the book's chief pleasures.

That the overall impression one takes away from "Good Man" is so overwhelmingly positive is all the more remarkable because the book is, in so many surprising ways, profoundly flawed. Pullman says that "Good Man" is in part an exploration of story itself, and yet the narrative structure of "Good Man"--ingenious though its central conceit is--seems confused. A book that starts off with a character apparently able to perform "authentic" miracles (turning clay birds into live birds, for example) and then moves to a naturalistic explanation of Jesus' miracles would be, in less skilled hands, something of a disaster. Yet, for its brilliant ideas, winsome prose, and compassionate wisdom, "Good Man" overcomes chapter-by-chapter the yawning failures of the whole. The parts are greater than the sum of the parts.

Is the story offensive to believers? I suppose so. It seems rather tragic that such an honest and heartfelt--and uplifting--exploration of the Jesus story should offend Christians, but I reckon that inevitable. It's hard not to think that Christians offended by a work of such sheer grit and earthy beauty have their offendedness coming to them, though.

With the criticisms I offered in mind--and a further note that the earlier chapters are not as compelling as the later chapters, so don't give up too soon--I recommend "Good Man" as highly as it is possible to recommend a work of fiction. And remember, this IS a work of fiction, and makes no pretense to be anything but.
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