Romancing the crucifixion in biblical rewritings by Phillip Pullman and Colm Tóibín


This paper focuses on how the romance mode is used to re-narrativize the trauma of Jesus’s crucifixion in two contemporary biblical rewritings: Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ 2010 and Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary 2012. Reflecting on the process of the composition of the Bible, these novels resort to romance in order to invite a critical reflection on different narrativizations of the traumatic event, dependent as they are on both conservative and more subversive effects of romance. As some characters rely on the strategies of traditional spiritual romance in order to alleviate their pain, others cynically resort to a dualistic vision to establish and consolidate power, and still others make use of the excess and disarticulation of romance to do justice to the absolute horror of the event, the novels draw attention both to the comforting and subversive function of Christian scripture. Adding a metafictional dimension to the narrative of crucifixion, the novels expose the way in which religious scriptures can become ideological instruments, and signal the potentially dangerous effects of the renewed significance of religion today.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Botting, F., 1996. Gothic. London & New York: Routledge.

  • Carr, D.M., 2014. Holy Resilience. The Bible’s Traumatic Origins. New Haven and London: Yale UP.

  • Caruth, C., 1991. Introduction. In American Imago 48.1, pp. 1-12.

  • Casanova, J., 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Elam, D., 1992. Romancing the Postmodern. London: Routledge.

  • Frye, N., 1957. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP.

  • Ganteau, J.-M., Onega, S., 2013. Introduction. Traumatic Realism and Romance in Contemporary British Narrative. In: Ganteau, J-M., Onega, S. (eds.). Trauma and Romance in Contemporary British Literature. London: Routledge, pp. 1-14.

  • Heng, G., 2003. Empire of Magic. Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy. New York: Columbia UP.

  • Josipovici, G., 1990. The Book of God: A Response to the Bible. Yale: Yale UP.

  • Loveday, A. 2007. Acts in its Ancient Literary Context. London & New York: T&T Clark International.

  • Mączyńska, M., 2015. The Gospel According to the Novelist. Religious Scripture and Contemporary Fiction. London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

  • Parker, P. A., 1979. Inescapable Romance: Studies in the Poetics of a Mode. Princeton: Princeton UP.

  • Pullman, P., 2010. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Edinburgh: Canongate.

  • Tóibín, C., 2012. The Testament of Mary. London: Viking.

  • Vitoux, P., 2007. The Mode of Romance Revisited. In: Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Winter 49.4, pp. 387-410.

  • Ward, G., Hoelzl, M., 2008. Introduction. In: Ward, G., Hoelzl, M. (eds.). The New Visibility of Religion: Studies in Religion and Cultural Hermeneutics. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 1-11.

  • Witherington, B., III. 1998. The Acts of the Apostles. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.


Journal + Issues