Philip Pullman’s book on life of Jesus prompts letters condemning him to ‘eternal hell’

Alison Flood

Philip Pullman is well-accustomed to disapproval from the Christian community: he’s been on the US’s most “challenged” books list for the last two years for his bestselling Northern Lights trilogy, which portrays God as a senile old man and the church as an oppressive tyrant. So it’s unsurprising that he remains sanguine in the face of letters condemning him to “eternal hell” for his new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

The book, out at the end of this month, will argue that the version of Jesus’s life in the New Testament was actually transformed by the apostle Paul. Despite the fact that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is not yet published, the author told the Sunday Times yesterday that he had received “scores” of letters accusing him of blasphemy and condemning him to “damnation by fire” and “eternal hell”. “Many refer to the title itself, for which there is clearly a passionate objection from some out there,” Pullman said. “The letter writers essentially say that I am a wicked man, who deserves to be punished in hell. Luckily it’s not in their power to do anything like sending me there.”

There will be heightened security at Pullman’s event at the Oxford Literary Festival next Sunday as a result of the letters. His publisher, Canongate, which is bringing out Pullman’s book as part of its Myths series, said this morning that it had also received letters of complaint about the book, just as it did in 1998 when it reissued 19 books of the Bible with introductions from the likes of Nick Cave and Will Self. “Publication of this book was always going to spark debate — books and ideas of note often do,” said sales and marketing director Jenny Todd. “Once people get the chance to read it they will see that Philip has written a thoughtful and considered piece of fiction about the power of stories and storytelling.”

Pullman was equally calm this morning, saying that he had “been getting letters of disapproval and condemnation for years”. “[It’s] water off a duck’s back,” the author added. He suggested that the Sunday Times article “was making bricks without straw.”

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