The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Frank Kermode writes:

The church, an angel advises Christ, will not be the Kingdom unless ‘at the centre of it is the ever-living presence of a man who is both a man and more than a man, a man who is also God and the word of God.’ The story is of a man who dies and is brought back to life. Without that story the church will wither away; a mere image of itself, a vain foreshadowing of the Kingdom. And without that story there can be no church. The charm of this book lies in its seriousness about the story it tells, and about its being a story. Christ, the survivor, the writer, gets excited about the possibilities he sees in the record of Jesus’ life – he wants ‘to play with it … to give it a better shape … to knot the details together neatly to make patterns and show correspondences’ – and of course the book at present in our hands is the result of agile manoeuvres and devious inspirations of exactly that kind.

(LRB 27 May 2010)

The latest in Canongate’s ‘Myths’ series is a radical retelling of the life of Jesus in which Philip Pullman imagines Mary to have had two children, one known as Jesus, the other as Christ. ‘Once Pullman would have been burned at the stake for blasphemy,’ wrote Diarmaid MacCulloch in Literary Review, ‘like poor Michael Servetus in John Calvin’s Geneva back in 1553; now, unless he is very unlucky, probably the worst result will be a great deal of angry noise out in the blogosphere. But when the pious fume, they might reflect that some of the greatest blasphemers have been trying to discover what is authentic in the experience of the sacred, and that like Philip Pullman’s troubled, unscrupulous and over-scrupulous Christ, those blasphemers have hoped to solve the puzzle of reconciling history and truth.’

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