'What I do with the story is my responsibility alone' ... Philip Pullman. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe
He enraged America's religious right with his portrayal of God as a senile old man in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and now Philip Pullman is set to court more Christian controversy – this time with a novel about "the Scoundrel Christ".
The book will provide a new account of the life of Jesus, challenging the gospels and arguing that the version in the New Testament was shaped by the apostle Paul. "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," said Pullman, who last year pronounced himself delighted that the His Dark Materials trilogy was one of the most "challenged" series in America's libraries, boasting the most requests for removal from the shelves because of its "religious viewpoint".
His new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, will be published next Easter as part of Scottish independent press Canongate's Myths series, which has also seen Margaret Atwood tackle The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus's wife Penelope, Jeanette Winterson retell the myth of Atlas and Heracles and Michel Faber take on Prometheus with a modern retelling which sees an academic discover a fifth gospel. In Faber's version, Jesus's last words on the cross are "please, somebody, please finish me", and one of his last actions is to urinate on the head of the gospel's author.
"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. I believe this is a pity," said Pullman. "The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories."
Publisher Jamie Byng said that Pullman's contribution to the series "strips Christianity bare and exposes the gospels to a new light". "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws down a challenge and does what all great books do: make the reader ask questions," he added.