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The Good Man Jesus…

Book Cover

The Good Man Jesus…

The Gospel according to Philip? No, there is one of those already in the Nag Hammadi library of gnostic texts, which Pullman mentions in his afterword before concurring with the opinion of MR James (who published a translation of them in 1924) that apart from a few vivid turns of phrase, they simply aren’t very good and don’t hold a candle to the “clarity and force” of the four canonical gospels. That does not stop him from offering this retelling of the life of Jesus (acknowledged in the afterword as a historical figure) weaving together different sources and his own fictions as if it were a hazy and unclaimed myth up for grabs as grist for the creative mill.

The writing is up to his normal high standards and the concept that the historical figure of Jesus may have been a composite of two related persons was novel to me. However, since I am convinced that Jesus is more than just a person who lived and died two thousand years ago, the whole tissue of the work sits uncomfortably with me. It feels like a wedding where the best man takes the road most have the decency to avoid and spends his speech blackening the groom’s name, made all the worse because the groom is a friend of yours and you know the stories range from misrepresentation to outright falsehood.

Perhaps that paints it too black? Contrary to what I expected, some of the gospel miracles are included for what they are, as inexplicable events (although certain others, such as turning water into wine, are watered down — in this case explained as the steward of the house being shamed into remembering crates of the good stuff he had been conveniently forgetting). Mixed in though are miracle stories from gnostic accounts (such as a young Jesus bringing clay sparrows to life) and further miraculous events that are fictional additions. I am trying to be positive but with a mixed wash, white clothes soon loose their purity. 3 / 5 and all those points for style rather than substance.

21 October, 2011 by Wulf Forrester-BarkerBook Review

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