I see Philip Pullman has written a book arguing that the
whole idea of the risen Christ was cooked up by the
apostle Paul, who saw in the life of Jesus—a relatively
obscure Jewish rabbi—the basis on which he might
build a whole new religion. It doesn't invalidate the
religion in question to say that this is how it began, but
already the bishops are huffing and puffing, saying that
there is no scriptural authority for Pullman's argument.
I look forward to the book, The Good Jesus and the
Scoundrel Christ, because I'm one of those who were
captivated by Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but
he's by no means the first to advance the idea that Paul
was basically a brilliant PR man for Christianity. As I
remember it, in Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last
Temptation of Christ (memorably filmed by Scorsese)
Jesus doesn't die on the cross but marries and has a
family, discovering to his great relief that he doesn't
have to bear the sins of all humanity and can just get on
with being an ordinary joe. One day he comes across
Paul in the marketplace preaching the resurrected Christ
to the people, like a huckster selling patent medicine.
Hang on, says Jesus, you can't go around telling people
I died on the cross and rose again—look at me, I'm here,
I'm married with kids, I'm not the Messiah! To which
Paul, indicating the number of converts he's already
making, says, sure, but that's not what they want to hear
...they want something big to believe in, and I'm giving it
to them. Yes, it's a lie, but just look at their faces—they
love it! Now get out of my way and let me get on with it.
Thus the birth of Christianity—and modern marketing.