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Bookend: The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ

This is the Dark Materials guy?

Yeah, Philip Pullman wrote a massive bestseller series, His Dark Materials -- the first tome of which was filmed as The Golden Compass -- adventure stories about children wandering through parallel universes and battling evil.

God was evil, if I remember right?

Yes, God was the bad guy. And the competing forces battling it out included Oxbridge dons, witches and polar bears. Strange stuff, but mucho gripping, inventive and fun.

Now he's turned Bible-basher?

In Pullman's version, a credulous Mary is approached by an angel who says: "Mary, do you know how beautiful you are? You are the most lovely of all women. The Lord must have favoured you especially, to be so sweet and so gracious, to have such eyes and such lips . . ."

And Jesus is born?

Twin boys, Jesus and Christ. Mary favours slithery aesthete Christ; Jesus grows up in his dad's carpentry workshop, a strong, calm man.

But the signs and wonders?

All happen to Jesus, and Christ takes all the credit. All this doesn't work terribly well as a novel, but it's interesting.

Don't tell me the whole story!

I think you know it already. Pullman follows the course of the New Testament, but reinterprets it according to his theory. So when Jesus starts his career as a wandering preacher, Christ follows along, snooping.

And keeping a record?

You're ahead of me, I see. Christ is approached by a stranger rather like Mary's angel, who says it would be a great idea if Christ wrote out everything his brother Jesus said, just for the record, like.

What happens in the end?

You're living it, babe. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemene, says any church set up in God's name "should remain poor, and powerless, and modest . . . wield no authority except that of love . . . never cast anyone out . . . own no property."

Oh dear.

You know the rest.