I got around to Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ on the weekend. To repeat what has been said before, this is a creative retelling of the Jesus story. It isn't non-fiction, it isn't a biography, and it makes no pretence to be a work of scholarship. In fact this is Pullman's first book for adults; he has made his name as a children's author.
This didn't stop the morons who shelve items at Borders in Auckland from placing it in the religion section of course.
So, how good - or bad - is it? That is inevitably a matter of personal judgement, but for what it's worth here's my personal take.
It is a beautifully written tale that has a simple, direct style. You can read it in a couple of sittings easily, and if you've ever tackled a modern paraphrase (like the awful Peterson Message) you may even find Pullman a huge improvement in those parts where he follows the tradition.
They said 'Teacher, you're an honest man, we can all see that. No one doubts your sincerity or your impartiality; you show no favours, and you don't try to ingratiate yourself with anyone. So we're sure you'll give us a truthful answer when we ask you: is it lawful to pay taxes?'
They meant lawful according to the law of Moses, and they hoped they would trick him into saying something that would get him into trouble with the Romans.
But he said 'Show me one of those coins you pay taxes with.'
Someone handed him a coin, and he looked at it and said 'There's a picture on here. Whose picture is this? What's the name underneath it?'
'It's Caesar's of course,' they said.
'Well, there's your answer. If this is Caesar's, give it back to him. Give God the things that are God's.'
But of course this isn't a paraphrase, but a more literary enterprise. And Pullman isn't a pious believer but an upfront Atheist. I did find the plot a bit stretched to begin with: Jesus has a twin brother ("Christ") who ultimately brings him down. Then there's the mysterious stranger who uses Christ as his pawn in the subversion of the Kingdom of God message.
But does Pullman pull it off anyway? Yes, I think so.
Of course some Christians (but not all) will be offended. That's predictable. Tough.