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How Philip`s book split Jesus and Christ

New Delhi: The messiah descends on earth as a classic "split personality" - good Jesus and his twin, the scoundrel Christ - in the new novel by Philip Pullman who believes he must have been "a genius and one of the greatest storytellers".

Published in April, it is a contemporary and radical retelling of the story of Jesus Christ.

"He was a genius, one of the greatest storytellers who ever lived. I simply don`t believe in the miracles like the resurrection, but the parables and the moral teachings are magnificent," London-based Pullman said in an e-mail interview.

He said he has "analysed and re-interpreted the gospels" but did not want his book, "The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ", to read like one.

"It certainly was not my intention to write `an alternative gospel` or `the gospel according to Pullman` or anything of that sort. I wanted to tell the story of Jesus, which is an extraordinary one."

"His life was full of stories - the stories he told. When I thought of splitting the character into two brothers, one called Jesus and the other called Christ, I saw the way to tell it," he said.

In the book, Mary`s first born is named Jesus, but "what to call the other - Mary`s secret favourite?"

"In the end they gave him a common name, but in view of what the shepherds had said, Mary always called him Christ, which is Greek for messiah. While Jesus was a strong and a cheerful baby, Christ was often ill.

"And Mary worried about him, gave him the warmest blankets and allowing him to suck honey from her fingertips," Pullman writes in his book - on the dual personalities of `Jesus-Christ`.

The frail Christ, the younger twin who lived by his wits, watches his older sibling die on the cross. He takes it upon himself to keep the "glorious myth and magical legacy of Jesus alive" by penning the tale for posterity.

But if Jesus, the good man, were to appear in a modern-day avatar what would he be like? The query drew a rather thought-provoking response from Pullman.

"He would probably be concerned with political freedom," said the writer, the winner of the Guardian Children`s Book of the Year and the Whitebread Book of the Year awards.

"It`s easy to say that he would be concerned with political freedom but to depict him as a sort of Gandhi or Oscar Romero would be wrong. In the New Testament, he does not show much interest in political affairs and instead is keen to emphasise his certainty in the kingdom of god that was coming very soon," Pullman said.

The author said "he feared that Jesus might be one of the unfortunate prophets who led their followers to the mountain-top claiming that the world would end Tuesday and then have to come down Wednesday humiliated because it had not".

"His being crucified was unfortunate for him in one way, but extremely lucky in another. He did not have to undergo the embarrassment of being proved wrong," he said.

The writer smashes several filial myths associated with Jesus Christ, who has been projected over the centuries as the beloved child of the virgin and the devoted ward of Joseph.

"He rejected his family, as many of his sayings attest," Pullman said.

The writer quoted Jesus as saying: "If any man comes to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

It was the church over the centuries that exalted Mary into the figure of great importance that she became, he observed.

The book, published by Penguin-Books India, took Pullman "a very long time to think about and prepare, and about three months to write".

"This is not a book for children, it is a book for adults," he said.

At the moment, the writer is working on a film script - "an old fashioned adventure story about pirates, sailing ships and lots of fighting".

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