Rowan Williams says author conveys view with ‘real emotional power’, though gospels remain ‘more resourceful’
Philip Pullman’s story, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, imagines Mary as having given birth to twins: the inspired, plain-speaking, revolutionary Jesus, and the anxious, manipulative, Christ. The annunciation is nothing but a seduction; the resurrection a trick; and Jesus’s faith hangs by a thread.
In short it’s not, you’d think, the sort of book that would be admired by the primate of all England. Particularly given that Pullman has received dozens of letters from concerned or angry Christians. But you’d be quite wrong: in the Guardian’s Review section, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, writes admiringly of Pullman’s book, which was published on Wednesday by Canongate.
In his review, the archbishop applauds Pullman’s Jesus as “a voice of genuine spiritual authority”.
He praises the style as: “mostly Pullman at his very impressive best, limpid and economical”.
Pullman’s bracing views on the evils of organised religion are well-known from the His Dark Materials books, in which he imagines God as feeble and senile, and the church as corrupt and murderous. Last week, Pullman told the Guardian: “I think my version is much closer to what Jesus would have said.” Williams, it seems, does not necessarily disagree. He said Pullman’s retelling “creates an echo of other gospel parables in its fundamental vision – reversing moral expectations in the context of the Kingdom of God”.
But Williams also has arguments with Pullman’s point of view, concluding “the gospels are a more resourceful text even than such a searching, teasing and ambitious narrative as Pullman has given us”.