There is a jarring early on as the Annunciation is replaced by a rather equivocal scene with Mary and an angel in the guise of a young man. The result is twins and this provides the machinery of the plot. The elder, Jesus, is a good man who does not claim to be God. His younger and weaker twin brother, named Christ, has no such scruples. Jesus is passionate about calling all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is very close at hand. Christ is altogether more circumspect.
There is real pleasure in coming across stories from the Gospels told so refreshingly and well. That of the Prodigal Son would come first on my list. But there are then those stories, which although based on the Gospel account, deviate in some material way. This can both upset and let the hackles rise, until the note on the back cover is recalled: This is a Story. It is a story and, for a story to work, particular actions and motivations must be present. On a second reading and on reflection these deviations begin to shed light. Some are precious Gospel stories and so the deviations also jar deeply.
Peter’s confession at Caesarea Phillippi is met by a furious denial by Jesus, but, in the context of this story, this is in character. The Feeding of the Five Thousand in this story is about sharing. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is given an intriguingly different twist. With others the precious elements are missing. The journey to Emmaus has none of the burning in the disciples’ hearts as the scriptures are revealed; Jesus is not recognised as he breaks bread. There is no Last Supper and so no washing of Peter’s feet. The Eucharist is introduced after the resurrection and then misunderstood.
For all the jarring, I found myself drawn yet more closely to Jesus of Nazareth and his goodness and honesty. Pullman has created vivid depiction of the man, even if many Christians would dispute his theology.