His latest novel „The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ” is probably one of his most important works. Despite a controversial title the book is a remarkable modern retelling of the Gospels.
Pullman makes the split between Jesus and Christ real — they become two real people — the brothers. Jesus is passionate, good, unorthodox in his teaching, yet Jewish Rabbi (he certainly was), whose message is directed to Jews, not to Gentiles.
Christ is on a mission. The mission to build the church. Instigated by an unknown stranger, whom he called the Angel, he takes notes of Jesus teachings, first on tablets, then on Scrolls.
He participates in Jesus' arrest and witnesses his crucifixion to take the important role in building a myth of his resurrection. When the myth has been built and started to spread he vanishes from history, to live so called normal life....
I relate the story shortly, as I do not want to spoil it to future readers. On the layer of the plot, the novel is just excellent — you will not regret the time spent on it.
The title itself annoys me a bit — not for any sense of anti-church insults it might awake, but for the fact that Christ is portrayed there as a tragic figure, and the way he ends his story is far from that of a scoundrel...
The essence of the novel is in different dimension. It shows how the certain narration, created in right time and with right means, can become a big movement, a new religion, a new civilization...
Jesus, the real, knows about the attempt to create the story out of his deeds. Called „The Truth” shaping „The History” is recorded by Christ — and it is obvious from the beginning that it is not the true relation of The Events. Jesus rejects it. Christ indulges in it, until the very end of the plot.
The story Christ helps to create leads to the creation of Church:
„ 'I am ready, sir.
' You and I know that for the Kingdom to flourish, it needs a body of men, and women too, both Jews and Gentiles, faithful followers under the guidance of men of authority and wisdom. And this church — we can call it church — will need men of formidable organisational powers and deep intellectual penetration, both to conceive and develop the structure of the body and to formulate the doctrines that will hold it together.”
Jesus despises the idea during his prayers in the Garden at 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 is should wield no authority except that of love. That is should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive....”
This long prayer is one of the most remarkable parts of the novel, full of humility and full of doubts reaching far into modern culture discussions about G-d, his existence and his nature ...
My channel on YouTube features several films of Pullman's talk I recorded during Literary Festival in Paris, organised by Shakespeare and Co. There is more about his motives of the book.
There is an interesting review about the novel in Guardian.