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The copy I have is beautifully bound with a glossy white cover and gold embossed title on the front. On the back, in large gold letters, lest there be any doubt, it states "THIS IS A STORY." And as a nice finishing touch the book comes with a white page marker ribbon reminiscent of many a bible.
Mostly the story of Jesus follows the biblical gospels but Pullman does tweak the tail of the religious purists by including a few items from the Dead Sea Scrolls including the miracle of the mud sparrows.
The story is written simply and presented in good sized type. For all appearances it is an imitation of a child's story book. And it is a child's story book. The story is a good one and is full of lovely little moral dilemmas and interesting events. To have split the historical figure of Jesus Christ into two brothers was a clever device. It enables the paradoxes which are often there in the biblical texts to be revealed in a way that illustrates how they are paradoxical because both sides are understandable. Essentially Jesus is the historical figure but presented without the confidence of Jesus in the bible that he is God and Christ is the more practical one who believes in his brother and wants to ensure his greatness is recognised and preserved. Unfortunately Christ, without the confidence of his heart is easily used by outside sources to be party to the death of his brother.
The story is like a postcard. You start at the beginning and it all seems like one bit until you reach the end. A kind of still image which says so much. Pullman's views on religion are clearly demonstrated in this story and I doubt that either an atheist or a Christian could really claim that the book were one or the other. What the book clearly demonstrates is that quite regardless of the "reality" of a God or not that the values of love, passion, meaning, kindness, cruelty, control, fear and beauty are all quite real anyway and he also demonstrates the power of stories to convey and confirm these values.
Jesus would have enjoyed the book and for those of you who believe he is still alive he may even have had a hand in it. Philip Pullman is a compassionate and perceptive author and this book is the neatest piece of text I have ever encountered to put the horrible monster of theological intellectual distraction and control to bed. Pullman extracts some of what is beautiful in the old biblical story and puts it in a frame without the confusion of interpretation. This book could be controversial for it's title (which is evidently tweaking another Abrahamic religion's problem with questioning their authority) but the content is simply a revealing story about people and politics.
Definitely a book to have read.