An atheist children’s author is to use his latest book to say that Jesus was not God, instead claiming the Apostle Paul imagined the idea.
In a new book entitled The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman says the idea of Jesus being God came from the “fervid imagination” of Paul.
Mr Pullman is a strident atheist who has said his books aim at “killing God”.
Critics have described his work as “proselytising”.
Commenting before the launch of the new book Mr Pullman said: “For every man or woman who has been led to goodness by a church, and I know there have been many, there has been another who has been inspired by the same church to a rancid and fanatical bigotry for which the only fitting word is evil.”
Mr Pullman described Paul as, “a literary and imaginative genius, who has had more influence on the world than anybody else, including Jesus. He had this great ability to persuade others and his rhetorical skills have been convincing people for 2,000 years”.
He adds: “By the time the Gospels were written down, Paul had already begun to transform the story of Jesus into something altogether different and extraordinary.”
The new book is due to be published around Easter next year.
In 2007, the first of three planned series of film adaptations of Mr Pullman’s novels was released.
The first film sparked considerable controversy and after low box office ratings, plans for a sequel were dropped.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has said Philip Pullman’s books are among his favourites.
Dr Rowan Williams, said he liked Mr Pullman’s work because he took the church “seriously” at a time when it appeared to be “drifting out” of mainstream intellectual debate.
The Association of Christian Teachers’ Chief Executive, Rupert Kaye said of the trilogy: “My key concern is that many young people (and adults) who read Philip Pullman’s trilogy will be left with an extremely distorted understanding of what Christians actually believe and what the Bible really says about the person of God.”
Tony Watkins, an evangelical media commentator said: “The trouble is, he blurs the line between fantasy and reality by giving interviews and talking about the Republic of Heaven in the world.
“And because he’s got all of this anti-God rhetoric in the real world that is even stronger than what’s in the book, I think he can’t get away with saying, ‘It’s just a story and you can read into it whatever you like.’ Because he does understand what he’s saying.”
Columnist Melanie McDonagh warned about His Dark Materials, a trilogy written by Pullman, saying it was “actually setting up a parody of Christianity as a thing itself.
“Now, that’s fair enough as Mr Philip Pullman’s own belief but I think it is something that readers should be alerted to because it is a proselytising agenda,” she added.