'Scoundrel Christ' book is latest scoop for Scots publisher

THE Scottish publishing house responsible for securing the rights to books written by United States President Barack Obama has pulled off another coup.

Canongate Books has secured world rights to publish a controversial book written by notorious atheist author Philip Pullman that denies that Jesus was the son of God.

Pullman has previously ruffled feathers in religious circles with the trilogy His Dark Materials, interpreted by some groups as being anti-Christian.

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His latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, is due to be published next Easter, and argues that St Paul came up with the "story" that Jesus had a divine link.

The latest signing is the most recent of the publishing company's successes.

The publisher's biggest title to date is Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Life of Pi, which has sold two million copies. In 2007, Jamie Byng, the managing director of Canongate, secured the UK and Commonwealth rights to Mr Obama's The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father.

Speaking about his latest signing, Mr Byng said: "Philip Pullman has written a book of genuine importance, a radical and ingenious retelling of the life of Jesus that demystifies and illuminates this most famous and influential of stories.

"The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws down a challenge and does what all great books do: make the reader ask questions."

The book will be published as part of the Canongate Myth Series.

Pullman said: "By the time the gospels were being written, Paul had already begun to transform the story of Jesus into something altogether new and extraordinary, and some of his version influenced what the gospel writers put in theirs.

"Paul was a literary and imaginative genius of the first order, who has probably had more influence on the history of the world than any other human being, Jesus certainly included."

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Pullman said the idea of Jesus being the son of God came from Paul's "fervid imagination".

News of his latest book has already started to attract criticism from religious quarters.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: "It is important that people should be free to express themselves, and Christians have withstood a lot more in the past – namely being thrown to the lions – that puts a book into perspective."

Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh, said: "(Pullman] has taken existing myth stories and reworked them. I'm sure he will do something interesting with this one."