The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Myths)
Canongate U.S., 2010
256 pp., $24.00
Betty Smartt Carter
The Good Man Philip and the Scoundrel Pullman.
"What would I do about Mary? Wouldn't she know one son from the other?"
"Ah, yes. I'd leave her out of the later chapters. Fortunately, the Bible takes the same tack."
Pullman wrote the story that the stranger suggested and even found that he enjoyed the project and drew inspiration from the character of Jesus. His crowning achievement, he felt, was the famous prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead of submitting himself to his father's will, Pullman's Jesus indicted God for his silence and declared himself an atheist. After the publication of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Pullman told an American reporter that his Jesus reminded him of himself (he said this without irony, but later wondered if he hadn't tipped his hand). A few weeks passed, and then, excited about all the rave reviews he'd collected so far, he rang up Philip to share his joy.
"There's no Philip here," said a raw voice on the other end of the phone.
"That's ludicrous—I've been using this number for years."
"There's no Philip here and never has been, so don't bother us again."
He was stunned. But when Pullman told the stranger about it (he'd come for a visit, showing off his iPad), the man smiled mysteriously. "Be happy, Pullman. Now you get credit for everything."
"What are you saying?"
"We read back over the galleys of your life and decided that your brother was superfluous to the plot. So we merged the two characters and—well, it's much better this way. Cleaner. You'll be happy about it when you have some distance."
Pullman recoiled. "Who in hell are you? What gives you the power or the right to change history—to change biography?"
At which words, the stranger grinned and said, "Enjoy your success—I'm hoping to write a book of my own one day. Can I count on you for a jacket blurb?" When Pullman swore at him, he vanished into a Starbucks and never reappeared.
Pullman, who now added the name "Philip" to his own, lived the rest of his life in moderate happiness. For a while, he missed having a brother to talk to. The feeling faded in time, though, as most feelings do. Eventually, he was content simply to chat with himself.
It was a little like praying.
Betty Smartt Carter teaches Latin and writes fiction in Alabama.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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