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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Philip Pullman

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Philip Pullman / Hardcover / Book is published 2010-04-01 by Canongate Books Ltd

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      08.01.2012 18:12
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      A story about two brothers.

      Like many readers I hesitated to read Philip Pullman's account of the life of Jesus and his twin Christ. After reading it I was again left with a dilemma, should I even attempt to review the book knowing how controversial such a topic will be? Like the dilemma over the book this was very personal to me, I try to count myself as a person who isn't afraid to tackle something that I might not like or agree with and I do have a set of beliefs that I knew this book would probably challenge. Having overcome the first I couldn't not review it even if I annoy everyone with my opinion, after all, I count myself as a book reviewer first and foremost.

      The retelling of the greatest story known to man.

      I apologise to people with other faiths but the bible has been classed as the greatest book, and I've yet to read the torah or any other sacred books. My beliefs are varied and take in other religions but I'm still afraid to say the bible could be wrong. But after consideration I can say that this book is an excellent account of what could have been, knowing that men are infallible and even the best Historians can make errors. In fact I didn't see this book as anything more than a novel of fiction based on reading other people's accounts of the life of Jesus Christ.

      Pullman has my deepest regard for taking on such a task and doing it with such a humane and human style. As he starts the book he says it's a story of Jesus and his brother Christ and how they lived and how one died. I don't see that as an attempt to re-write the bible, just to take an idea and write a story around that idea.

      The book starts with Mary and Joseph getting married and continues it as a narrative without mention of heavenly intervention or any huge fanfare. Some chapters cover the life of John the Baptist as he has a place in the book as well. It carries on with the early life of Jesus and how he often gets into trouble because of his deeds in the temple and generally upsetting his family by choosing to preach from an early age. Like any other brother Christ will stand up for Jesus one minute and fight him in the next, but this only makes the brothers closer.

      When Jesus starts his preaching after his ordeal in the wilderness and the baptism by John, Christ starts to make notes of Jesus' actions and eventually he becomes a chronicler, even going as far as having Jesus spied on by one of his disciples so nothing can be misunderstood. In this he is encouraged by a man who explains to Christ that future generations will need an account of Jesus and this account should be as pure as possible. The man shows up often and vanishes quickly, leading the reader (and Christ) to consider if he is an angel or a devil.

      The story progresses with the main times when Jesus ministered to the sick and the miracles attributed to him. It culminates in the crucifixion and the resurrection as told in the bible, although Christ, not Judas, betrays him. In this lies the heart of the book and how Christians everywhere could be angered by this account. It concludes with the author's Afterword that explains the theory behind the book.

      My Thoughts.

      Once I started reading this as a story I soon felt more comfortable with it and found a lot of the stories about Jesus' ministry made a lot of sense. Often I felt that some aspect that had puzzled me seemed clearer and I thought how very cleverly the author had chosen to interpret that particular piece especially with parables that often contradict each other.

      One such parable about the foolish virgins being unprepared and then another where Jesus chides his followers for 'worrying about tomorrow' are completely at odds with each other. Can it be that the words were taken out of context? After all, the gospels were written many years after the death of Jesus and must have been changed by re-telling so many times.

      Naturally I felt uncomfortable with a Jesus who was just a man who made mistakes, but wasn't that the whole point of the Son of God made flesh? I also felt that Christ in Pullman's book got a very raw deal, after all he got no credit for faithfully recording the stories and being talked into betraying his twin brother. It does make a strange sort of sense though.

      I think what really won me over was the fact that devil or angel, who ever talked Christ into recording the miracles and stating the reasons why this needed doing to make a pure and honest account for generations to come did so with much more success than ever expected. There are arguments put forward by Pullman on how a corrupt church could have been avoided if the ministry of Jesus was unadulterated.

      If the church was the humble place envisioned by Jesus, the place where all could worship regardless of race, religion or social status. (Read tax collectors and moneylenders into this) then the two or three people gathered together in his name wouldn't need the fortune in estates and costly trappings of the modern churches.

      I felt the concepts that Pullman puts forward makes so much sense with one man as the pure and holy Jesus and another the man who got things wrong now and then. Who left his parents behind and seemed to care little for anyone except his disciples. Even then he made one betray him and another deny him if we take the bible as true to every word. Doesn't it make more sense that there were either two men or that the gospels were corrupted?

      Pullman also asks us the ultimate question. If we could go back in time then would we save Jesus that ugly death on the cross or would we be a Judas? The church needed a dead Jesus to front them; the poor needed a suffering and poor Jesus to show that God loves the least of us. There lies the crux of the matter, man or myth; we worship a dead and risen saviour, not a man who cried for his mother on the cross.

      Conclusion.

      I think this book was written as part of an ongoing series of a popular writer taking a myth and re-writing it to make a modern telling. Whether you can read the book this way lies in your own hopes and fears. I read the book and chose to read it as a story that could have happened that way. It didn't undermine my beliefs, if anything it clarified some of the questions that have always haunted me. Like who was with Jesus in the wilderness to take down his temptations and his thoughts? Who was with him at the end when he had his trial in the garden of Gethsemane? We are told by all the gospels that the disciples were asleep.

      Don't pass up this book because you are afraid it will clash with your faith. If it is strong enough it will withstand an honest attempt to take some aspects of the gospels and try to make them easier to read. The book is only 265 pages. It doesn't recreate the story of Jesus, but illuminates and tackles a touchy topic in an imaginative and beautifully written way.

      Definitely recommended by me. Also, don't be afraid to comment freely, it's well worth discussing.

      My book was a library book; this can be bought cheaply on Amazon and other discount shops.

      Thanks for reading.

      ©Lfuller2012.

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        14.05.2011 16:21
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        Disappointing

        I had picked up 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' a few times but was always put off by the price (generally around £7) compared with the length of it (few hours reading at most) so it wasn't until I saw the Kindle version for £1.42 I decided to take the plunge.

        I quite like a lot of the alternative views on the biblical times and stories as long as they are well researched and logically explained. I can't see how these books can be offensive, they are merely offering an alternative view point and usually provide material to challenge established thinking. Books like 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' are fascinating reads but suffer from being a little dry. I was hoping a story from a well respected author like Philip Pullman would be readable and challenging, sadly it was only the former of the two.

        As the title more or less tells you, Pullman has come up with the theory that Jesus was a twin, his brother being called Christ. This is an interesting idea and allows certain things in the Bible to be more explainable (specifically around the resurrection). This is the premise of the entire book. Take the established thinking and put it in a way that is more believable to the modern reader. Whilst the presence of a twin is clever and even the use of the names makes sense; this is pretty much where the original thinking stops. The vast majority of the book is summarising the better known stories from the bible into a few sentences. The stories are summarised so much that someone who is not familiar with the bible will not have a clue what the relevance is. The explanations are lazy and are ones you will have heard a hundred times before. The feeding of the five thousand from two fish and five loaves was possible due to everyone else having food with them, or as Pullman puts it someone had some raisins in his pocket, someone else had some bread in his. So feeding five thousand suddenly becomes much more believable when everyone has a pocketful of raisins. I would be more willing to forgive using conventional alternative theories had the book had more substance or the occasional moment of brilliance but I felt it failed to deliver on all counts. Almost at all times Pullman goes with what your average person would come up with, a real disappointment from someone I expected a lot more from.

        A further issue is that most of the story is told from the Scoundrel Christ's point of view. Firstly, he isn't much of a scoundrel and secondly you wonder what the fuss about Jesus is about. You are given so little of the story that it seems like all he is doing is causing minor public disturbances and his part of the story is vastly undersold. This makes the crucifixion all the more baffling as so little has been explained. You get the odd event described in detail as Christ attended it but for the vast majority it is not a first hand account. It is merely a recollection from someone in the crowd or an unnamed insider who feeds details to Christ. This was frustrating, Christ was in attendance at The Sermon on the Mount. This was the best part of the book in my opinion. It made you wonder how much better the other scenes could have been had Pullman put Christ there in person to witness them.

        The relationship between Jesus and Christ is never given a chance to develop. In their younger days they interact a little but as they moved into and beyond their teenage years there is almost no interaction at all. This is something I would have liked to have seen developed a lot more. There was a real opportunity for some great dialogue and questions between the pair but Pullman keeps them well apart.

        There is also another unnamed character who instructs Christ. In the early part of the book I speculated on who this character could be and one of the main appeals of the book was discovering the identity of this individual. Sadly you never do, despite him playing an increasingly prominent role. Again, this may be intentional to provoke discussion but it is also an easy way out for the author.

        You start to wonder if this is a book that Pullman wants you to use as a starting point to further studies. By giving you the briefest of details he may pique the interest of a reader, prompting further research. However, this is not the reason I, or I suspect most other readers bought this book.

        Pullman also seems to have quite strong views against the modern church. One of the few passages which lasts more than a page or two has quite a tirade from Christ about what potential evils the future Church could contain. Again, lazily Pullman just uses actual examples from history (and the present day) to illustrate this. This was another opportunity for some original insight but was it was neglected, so instead of being thought provoking it just brought about another sigh as the obvious was being used/stated again. However, the overall feel of the book is quite similar to the events of the Bible. It is not an alternate view of what happened, more a retelling with changes to remove the more miraculous events.

        To be fair the book does hook you in but I feel this is more due to familiarity with the original stories rather than being due to the standard of this piece. You could easily read the entire book in one sitting and it may have been written with this intention (that's the only reason I can think for it being so short). I also found I kept on reading as I was wondering how Pullman would deal with certain upcoming events but the results disappointed with one exception.

        The ending of the book was particularly well done. It was left slightly open-ended in terms of what would happen and the last dozen or so pages contained much more of the material that I thought would make up the majority of the book. So whilst it was a positive ending it just made you think that there was an idea here which wasn't fully utilised.

        Probably worth getting at £1.42 just to satisfy curiosity. Not worth any more in my opinion.

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          27.02.2011 17:19
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          recommended

          I had been really looking forward to reading 'The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ' ever since I first heard about it. Not only because it was a bestseller, or because it was written by award winning and brilliant author Philip Pullman, but also because I love anything to with religion as it is a topic that has always fascinated me.

          The book has received high praise from many critics, these are printed on the back cover. What's interesting as well about the back cover of this book, is that there is no text as you would usually find, telling you a brief description of the plot. Instead all it says is 'THIS IS A STORY', in big gold capital letters. I get the impression Pullman wants to imply from this bold statement that the whole bible itself is a story, a work of fiction and not a true tale. Controversial.

          The book wasn't written how I expected it to be written at all. I thought it would be written like a novel but instead what Pullman's done has taken each of the main fables in the bible and cleverly twisted them into a work of his own. His storytelling skills are exceptional and this is wonderfully written. It is easy to read yet astonishingly thought provoking. Anyone who is interested in religion should read this as it gives a fascinating insight into Pullman's own religious views. It is very imaginative and will get you wondering about the foundations of how religion came about in the very first place. A fantastic author is one who can leave you still thinking for days afterwards, and this is what Pullman manages to do with this book.

          I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who likes Pullman's novels, and anyone who has an interest in religion. It is a quick read and doesn't take long to finish; it could probably be read in just one sitting so isn't too heavy. In my opinion it is worth a read.

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          23.06.2010 23:57
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          an alternative take on well known bible stories

          The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is quite a controversial novel and alternative telling of the story of Jesus by Phillip Pullman, writer of the award winning 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.

          PLOT
          The book is based on the story of Jesus as it was written in the bible, but with a huge twist. Jesus Christ wasn't one man, but twins, Jesus and Christ, both with very different personalities and disposition which were apparent from birth. Jesus is quite a trouble maker growing up, but luckily he always has his brother Christ who has a gift with words to get him out of any sticky situations. However, he is a very well liked young boy by everyone that knows him. Although Christ is more religious out of the two, constantly quoting the word of God, it is Jesus that begins to preach the word of God and his intent as he understands it himself. After he has created quite a following a stranger approaches Christ and asks him to start to record his brothers word. Christ wants to be accurate but thinks that something's Jesus says may be misinterpreted if quoted exactly, so he alters the story a little at times. The story ends as it does in the bible, with a crucifixion, but how did this come about, and what really happened?

          OPINION

          Do you believe?

          Firstly I think I should say that I am not in the slightest bit religious, and am in fact quite the athiest, so I was already of the opinion that the story of Jesus in the bible was just a story and that this is a just a story in the same way. So I didn't find this an insult at all, however I can very much see how strong believers of the bible would be very offended by parts of this. I think for one thing this book is a very good kind of non biased explanation of how the writings in the bible may have come about. Obviously jesus spoke and someone took account of his words. However, more than being just a story, this also retells many bible stories, such as how King Herod tried to kill Jesus as a baby, how Jesus manages to feed thousands with bread and fishes, and what stood out most to me, how Mary conceived Jesus. This, for example, is one that really stood out to me, as I think it was kind of suggested that some random guy took advantage of Mary by climbing into her window and trying to make her believe he was an angel. Obviously, I see how this would be insulting to people believing that Jesus was the son of God, but to me it offers a much more believable version of events.

          The Book

          I was quite looking forward to reading this as a quite like Phillip Pullman, and I manages to read it in less than an evening. It is MUCH shorter than I was expecting, with not much writing per page and a large type. The hard back addition is quite nice however, covered in black, white and gold ink, good quality paper and a red cloth book mark attached. This hard back addition was quite expensive, and I think I paid a little too much for what I got. If written in average sized type this book wouldn't have been long enough to warrant a full book, in my opinion. Saying this, I did like the story. It was well written and quite ingenious at times. I think that we are so used to the story of Jesus, acting it out for Christmas plays at school, seeing variations of it on TV every Christmas, that it is hard to think of other ways it may have happened. The explanations that Phillip Pullman gives do make sense, I was quite surprised by how much I liked them. I would never have thought that Jesus and Christ could have been two different people, and I do like this take on the story, although with the two characters it does get confusing at times. Some explanations seem like common sense, but not all of the are turning the 'fiction' of the bible into 'fact', there is still something mysterious and magical involved.

          To buy or not to buy

          Like I said, I think this was slightly too expensive. You know when you buy a book and then just don't think it was worth the money? Well, that's what I felt with this. And it's not just the size, some quite short books are amazing, but I felt like this was over presented to make of for the lack of content. I'm glad I own it, but I would have waited for the paper back. It also isn't the kind of thing I'm usually into, I'm not interested in Christianity, religion or bible stories. But as a story I do like this, it was interesting and very clever in parts. So, I would suggest reading this book, but maybe not buying it. Do give it a go though if you can, it certainly makes you reconsider the 'truths' written in the bible.

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            26.04.2010 16:43
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            A beautifully written tale of 'How Stories become Stories'

            ~~~The Author~~~

            Philip Pullman - best known for his Northern Lights/Dark Materials trilogy* - is one of the most popular children's authors in the UK. Born in Norwich in 1946, with spells in Zimbabwe and Wales, he worked as a teacher for many years before his first novel 'Count Karlstein' was published in 1982. He's no stranger to controversy, but the subject matter in this, his latest book, has caused more stir than Cleggmania; he follows the likes of Dan Brown and Monty Python in daring to be seen to mocking religion. And, predictably, enjoys the ensuing publicity. A clever man indeed - there is no faster way to reach the best seller lists than court publicity. In reality though, this book is more a tale of siblings and storytelling than any deep, dark attack on religion.

            *If you have ever tried and failed to 'get into' a Philip Pullman novel, the trick is to hang in there - he does take some time to warm up! The books are far superior to the films so certainly worth tucking into.

            ~~~The Plot~~~

            The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ is aimed at teenage+ readers, and follows the lives of two twins. Jesus is the favoured of the two - an honest, charismatic lad who has a somewhat idealised opinion of the world and people. His brother is more pragmatic and sees beyond his brother, writing the story of his (Jesus') life as it happens, understanding that without strong direction Man will never make it to 'The Kingdom of God' and that sometimes there has to be compromise to make at least a small part of what you are aiming for, actually happen. The story knits many well known 'tales' from the bible into it, whilst offering a slightly different slant on some traditional favourites. It is perhaps misleading that the title contains the word 'Scoundrel' - as both brothers are portrayed as good people. Jesus - the miracle worker and preacher, and his brother Christ as the devoted sibling who chronicles his works. It is only the appearance of an angel towards the climax of the book that brings a darker feel to the text. The book raises far more questions than it answers, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. In short, fanatics have little to cling onto but their own bias - any questionable statements within the book are pulled directly from the bible leaving Mr Pullman neatly in the clear. As I said before: a clever man indeed.

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              14.04.2010 22:00
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              I've never been a big reader of Philip Pullman. In fact I'd go as far as to say that I've probably only finished a few of his stories. The majority of them being cast aside after not being able to get into them. Generally I don't even buy books, preferring to take them out of the library and then deciding whether they are worth it or not. So why bother with this one when it's by an author you're not keen on? Simply because the fuss it caused intrigued me into handing over my money. The idea of him getting sent supposed death threats and that he liked to shock people made me curious and I already knew that our library wouldn't have it on their shelves for a long time if at all.

              It tells the story of twin boys and how they grew up. One they call Jesus whilst the other, although given a more common name, is referred to as Christ. As their Mother sets the stronger baby in the trough and begins to feed the weaker, three men approach with gifts and news from King Herod. And so the story begins. Whilst Jesus is boisterous and head strong, Christ is more interested in his prayers. That and getting his brother out of trouble not that he gets any gratitude out of it.

              As the years go by Jesus has created a following. His preaching and supposed healing of the sick has attracted people from far and wide, hoping to catch eyes on the man who the people are calling King of Jews. As this is all happening Christ is called upon by a stranger, saying that he should write down all that his brother does in aid so that it will all be recorded for others to read about in years to come. Accepting this, Christ throws an outside look to the miracles and speeches which have become so well known.

              My first thoughts on this book was that it was quite short. From what was mentioned in the media I had assumed that it would be an in depth novel yet I found it seriously lacking in any substance. On the inside jacket it suggests that the book will ask questions for you to think about. Mr Pullman himself hinted that some might find it a bit shocking. So I read it again after I'd finished it just in case I'd missed anything. I hadn't.

              He has basically copied down stories from the bible and suggested a couple of explanations. That's fine but his logical reasoning's aren't new ones. Plenty of authors and people alike have written or spoken of possible theories as to how these miracles could of occurred, yet it seemed that Philip Pullman couldn't think of any for himself.

              On saying this I'm not suggesting that it was a bad read. The chapters are short and in places it is quite compelling. Telling brief moments of biblical events which most people will be aware of. Different situations are shown and more light is given on the image of Jesus, where he is often portrayed as a holier than thou man. A few reviews I've read have classed this book as a scathing attack on religion which I personally find is a little extreme. But then as a non believer you could put it down to that. I don't think that it's anti Christian book and I would say that anyone who chooses to criticize Philip Pullman over it when they haven't taken the time to read it are a little foolish.

              This isn't a light hearted read, towards the end you get to the darker text. Especially when Jesus appears to be talking to God himself just before his arrest. An anger which is obvious although uncharacteristic with the way Pullman has wrote about him so far. Although there is no mention of Satan or Judas the similarities are shown in other characters so you feel that they still play a role.

              Despite the fact that it isn't unique I wouldn't discourage you from taking a look. The ideas which are being suggested aren't all that far fetched and it will be less likely to offend if you read it with an open mind. Even if it does offend all you need to do is take a look at the back cover where it clearly states in bold print. This is a STORY.

              The book retails at £14.99 which I think is a bit steep but you can get it on Amazon for £7.49 The copy you get will either be a hardback cover in black or white.

              Not so much of a shocker, more of a bleak thinker.

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