You may remember that Canongate publishers are doing a series of ‘mythbusters’ where they asked some of the world’s greatest writers to retell a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. (Salley Vickers did the one about Freud meeting Oedipus I think.) Philip Pullman has just written The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ taking apart what he sees as the myth of Jesus Christ.
I started it at lunch time today and have finished it just a few hours later so you can see it is a quick read. Lots of white space in this book to make notes if you so desire. The first three-quarters of the book is really the bible with one or two little extras thrown in. Mary gets pregnant by a young man who could be an angel who looks surprisingly like a man who hangs round the well. Twins are born: the first called Jesus and the second called Christ. Jesus becomes the charismatic itinerant preacher and teller of stories and Christ becomes the recorder of his life, writing down everything he sees and hears. Periodically an angel man comes to visit Christ and keep him on track. Some of the stories don’t seem particularly miraculous as we know them now but I don’t want to spoil the ending so all I’ll say is read it for yourself. I feel that I will need to give it another go, but much more slowly this time.
I did like this prayer by jesus in the garden of Gethsemane:
Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should not be a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow “Get out, you don’t belong here?” Does the tree say to the hungry man “This fruit is not for you?” Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?