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Philip Pullman’s Jesus

Paulist Press,

Reviewed by Karyl Davison.

THIS short book is a review itself. Written by Fr Gerald O'Collins SJ, it reviews Philip Pullman's fictional book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, also published in 2010.

Pullman's book, it seems, does not doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, nor much of his life or teaching.

The primary issue for O'Collins is how closely the fiction writer, and Pullman in particular, should stick with the textual evidence.

For O'Collins, it is quite okay for novelists to have complete freedom in writing about fictional characters and places.

However, he argues that those novelists who write about well-documented persons in human history should be constrained by the available evidence.

In other words, O'Collins' primary argument is that Pullman's fiction does not sufficiently respect the biblical text.

I suspect that to fully appreciate O'Collins' review, one would need to read the novel in question.

Some key story lines can be gained from Philip Pullman's Jesus.

Mary does give birth to Jesus, but Pullman's Jesus is one of twins.

The younger brother, Christ (the scoundrel), becomes the tempter in the wilderness and ultimately betrays Jesus (the good man) in the garden.

After Jesus' death, Christ impersonates his twin at Emmaus, thus explaining the mysterious appearance of Jesus on the road.

While Pullman seems to have a low regard for the institutional church which colours his novel, the larger question seems to be around the nature of fiction.