Out here in Her Majesty's Antipodean colonies we have to wait for Philip Pullman's latest novel - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ- to be released on May 3 (according to Amazon, May 4 in the US). Among some of the biblioliterati there have been advance kneejerk reactions and much grinding of teeth at the sheer awfulness of an outsider writing a book like this. Perhaps they forget what a rank amateur Mark was.
In any case, Rowan Williams' review in the Guardian is a helpful corrective to pious academic puffery. The first paragraph is worth quoting in full.
On the back of the book is printed in large capital letters, "THIS IS A STORY". It's worth remembering that emphatic statement as you read the book. This is not a speculation about the beginnings of Christianity, a claim to have uncovered the real, suppressed history of Jesus. It is a fable through which Philip Pullman reflects on Jesus, on the tensions and contradictions of organised religion – and indeed on the nature of storytelling.
A year ago I read C.K. Stead's My Name Was Judas.This is another fictional retelling of events that intersect the Gospels. Plausible it was not, but literature - thank God - transcends sober scholarly consensus. It was a stimulating read and told its own truth.
Could it be that Mark was attempting something not entirely dissimilar in his time? At the very least he was creative with his sources.
In any case, I'm eagerly awaiting a copy of Pullman's work, having taken great delight in his His Dark Materials series. A fable deserves to be judged on its own terms; just ask the archbishop.