AUTHOR Philip Pullman could spark religious controversy for the second time by writing a new book about Jesus.

Mr Pullman, the award-winning author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, is to question one of the crucial tenets of the Christian faith – the belief that Jesus is the son of God.

Set in a parallel universe, the Dark Materials series featured a young girl called Lyra, who falls victim to a brainwashing organisation called the Magisterium, which many readers equated with the Vatican.

The perceived criticism of the Catholic church led to The Golden Compass – the film adaptation of the first book Northern Lights – being boycotted in some parts of the United States. It is now doubtful whether the sequels will be made.

Mr Pullman last night told the Oxford Mail he took the “controversial impact” of his latest book into consideration before he wrote it.

He said: “When the play of His Dark Materials was being performed a few years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, approached me and said ‘you didn’t mention Jesus in the books’.

“I thought then that I would put Jesus in another book, and this is that book, so you can blame the Archbishop.”

Although Mr Pullman accepts that Jesus lived, he questions the belief that Christ is the son of God.

The book, a retelling of the story of Jesus, draws on the Bible for characters, locations and events, and is due to be published by Edinburgh-based Canongate in the Spring.

Full details are not yet available, but the title, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, suggests some Christians might find the work offensive.

Mr Pullman, who is in his 60s and lives near Oxford, added: “I read the Gospels very closely and attentively, and the Gospels that were left out of the New Testament.

“No doubt there was a man called Jesus, but Christ means anointed one.

“The idea that Jesus was born and was executed under the Romans changed. There was then the idea that he was the son of God.

“I don’t have a faith. I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, but this is a subject I have always been interested in.”

In the afterword of the book, Mr Pullman writes: “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’.”

It is understood Mr Pullman also puts forward the possibility that Jesus being the son of God was an invention of St Paul.

David McGough, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, told The Sunday Times: “There is no evidence that Paul influenced the Gospels.

“No respectable scriptural scholar would have anything to do with Mr Pullman’s theory.”

The Rev John Hancock, of Blessed Dominic Barberi Catholic church, in Cowley Road, Littlemore, said: “One could argue that Mr Pullman should leave this subject to trained theologians, but people do have a right to debate these matters.”

He added: “People have been claiming that Jesus was not the son of God for many years.”

No-one from the Oxford Anglican Diocese was available for comment.