Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Pullman on "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ"

Monday's Guardian reports on the next novel from Philip Pullman, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which sounds like a kind of bad-dream variant of "the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith". Details are here:

Philip Pullman to publish novel about 'the Scoundrel Christ'
His Dark Materials author to explore 'the dual nature of Jesus'
Alison Flood

A novel exploring "the dual nature" instantly sounds very Kazantzakis to me, but the nougat of information we have in the article sounds, I am afraid, like it is going to be yet another version of the "Paul invented Christianity and distorted Jesus" line:
The book will provide a new account of the life of Jesus, challenging the gospels and arguing that the version in the New Testament was shaped by the apostle Paul. "By the time the gospels were being written, Paul had already begun to transform the story of Jesus into something altogether new and extraordinary, and some of his version influenced what the gospel writers put in theirs," said Pullman . . . .
I may be unduly pessimistic. I am inclined to think that Paul had an influence on the Gospel writers too. This is explicitly the case with respect to Luke-Acts, and likely to be important in the composition of Mark. But "the story of Jesus" is something Paul seems inclined to depend on others for, especially given the evidence of 1 Corinthians, and I am sceptical about the "Paul invented Christianity" motif that is often so attractive to those in the early stages of their research.

13 comments:

Geoff Hudson said...

A story becoming a story, according to Pullman. We know the second story. What was the first? Pullman is yet another author cashing-in on Jesus. How does the first story go without a real Jesus and a real Paul? There must have been something - something very Jewish.

Juliette said...

I see that this is part of the series of retellings of myths that brought us The Penelopiad. I take the point that elements of Christianity are as open to analysis as myth as anything else, but since Jesus was a real person who lived in a specific time and place, he doesn't seem terribly suitable as a subject for a series that usually deals with characters like Penelope or Prometheus...

Geoff Hudson said...

According to the second story.

Andrew said...

The Jesus/Christ contrast also makes me think of the quasi-Marcionite/gnostic mythos of His Dark Materials, where a G/god exists but is detestable, and a higher but impersonal/trans-personal reality (dust) is more genuinely real.

Although this sounds a bit different, the idea that a real Jesus transcends, or contrasts with, an ecclesial Christ has some echoes in similar texts and traditions. It continues to be intriguing that the most fruitful thing Pullman can find to deconstruct Christian tradition is Christian tradition...

Doug Chaplin said...

Mark, I suggested this story is an example of bad journalism a couple of days back.

Scott F said...

Given the "climax" of His Dark Materials - some interesting stuff ended with a big "Was that it?!" - I wouldn't go out of my way to read Pullman's attempt at this one.

Mark Goodacre said...

Ah yes, I did see that post, Doug, but did not click through to see that it was the Guardian article. Problem is that you did such a good job of persuading your readers that the article was not worth looking at, that I didn't look at it!

James Crossley said...

I'm puzzled by the phrase 'I am sceptical about the "Paul invented Christianity" motif that is often so attractive to those in the early stages of their research.' Are you firing at Pullman and popular writers on Christian origins? If not, and if you mean people engaing research at a more conventional academic level, I don't think I've ever come across such people in the early stages of their research. Maybe it happens more elsewhere but I've only encountered the opposite in the UK.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the comment, James. I was just being mean, I am afraid. "Those in the early stages of their research" = those who are fairly ignorant about Christian origins!

Geoff Hudson said...

"Those in the early stages of their research" = those who are fairly ignorant about Christian origins!"

It is a matter of opinion, but that could include just about everyone.

James said...

I take it that “who founded Christianity?” is an intriguing question, and an important one. And the obvious answer is “Jesus.” But Christianity is a religion, a set of beliefs and practices. And Jesus’ religion was Jewish. Like a good many other Jews of the time, he was an apocalypsist. In every way, his proclamation was kingdom-centered, and to whatever degree it was unique and new, it had to have been in regard to features of the coming kingdom and its entry requirements.

Now Jesus’ self-conception is a vexed question, and anyway his subjective perceptions of his function in the scheme of things might not be decisive—possibly he didn’t know entirely what he was about. For instance, it might be that in his humanity he went to the cross and died in despair, reaching a nadir of human suffering. And, one might still believe, yet he was raised three days later.

To the contrary, in the view of many, Jesus foresaw his resurrection and saw it as instrumental to the arrival of the kingdom. But there is evidence that he didn’t have this serene expectation—if he did, and had told the disciples of it, why did they renounce him and disperse in fear and despair?

Jesus may have expected that he would be present on earth, still living a normal human life, to welcome the arrival of the kingdom. He may have thought, as Sanders holds, that he would be the deity’s viceroy on earth in those heady days, taking a leading role in the establishment and implementation of God’s rule. But still, all the elements of his religion were Jewish, even this hope for the replacement of human rule by divine. There is no weighty historical reason to hold that Jesus’ religion encompassed a doctrine that belief in his death and resurrection were essential to salvation. But that doctrine does lie at the heart of Paul’s gospel, and of the religion of Christianity.

Ergo, Paul (and others like him, lesser lights) were the founders of the religion we know as Christianity. Jesus had a remarkably close and intimate relation to a father God, was seized of an all consumingly intense conviction that the old, dark and troubled world was witnessing the breaking in of a refulgent new one, freed of frustration and unfairness, and was able to impart to dozens or hundreds of followers a remarkably close similitude of his own conviction. But did he impart to them the centrality of belief in himself and his story and his death and resurrection that defines soteriology in the religion that bears his name?

Wasn’t Jesus’ religion Judaism, and Paul’s, though still half-Jewish, the emergent new religion that a third of the world adheres to today?

James Crossley said...

"Those in the early stages of their research" = those who are fairly ignorant about Christian origins!

I hang my head in shame for not appreciating that one...a very nice put down too!

Mark Goodacre said...

Ha ha, thanks, James. You see, this is the problem with my civil way of engaging -- when I try to be mean, people don't notice! :)