Friday, December 30, 2005

Out of Egypt

Haven't written in a few days, I know. Why? Been reading...for fun. What a concept! And I have to tell you, it's thoroughly enjoyable to do so. It's amazing how fast one can get through a book not written in academic-speak. Like a little vacation for your brain (but without sucking out the life, like the movies/TV have started doing).

So I've just finished Anne Rice's first novel about Jesus, entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. If you didn't know already, Rice, author of many very successful books about vampires (Interview with the Vampire being perhaps most famous), has abandoned the dark world in favor of her newly rediscovered faith in Christianity, and is writing a cycle of novels about Jesus' life from his first-person perspective. Ambitious, yet successful, at least in this first book which covers his family's departure from Egypt back to Nazareth, and the boy Jesus' quest to understand the circumstances surrounding his birth and the strange powers he seems to possess.

Rice is a voracious historian, and her research shows in the novel. I recommend doing something I didn't: read her Author's Note at the end of the book first. You will gain a great appreciation for the work that went into writing the novel, as well as her journey to rediscovering her own faith through it. She undertakes her task with all the seriousness and scholarship of the best in New Testament studies, while giving a strong argument for the direction of her book (which is pretty much orthodox Catholic belief about Jesus and his family). Plus she loves N.T. Wright, so how can we not love her?

I was thinking how in Dogma, Alan Rickman’s character, an angel, talks about how he was the one sent to the boy Jesus to tell him of his divine parentage, and how we don’t hear anything from boyhood through adulthood because it took the man that long to deal with the news. Anne Rice’s Jesus is more confident of his calling, more self-assured. He is more like one would imagine the actual Son of God to be.

Rice’s Jesus senses the pain and hurt in the world about him, and intuitively senses people’s needs even as he delights them with love. He is deeply aware of the natural world and the supernatural elements beyond it. He is a philosopher and a scholar, even at age 7. He amazes his teachers – he is smart, as Dallas Willard tells us we must believe if we are to truly be Christ's followers.

He is the Jesus of the gospels, but more than that. The book actually illuminates the Scripture. I could believe this child would grow into the Christ. Although he has fear, he also has assurance – and he never doubts. He knows God is with him always. Even as he is figuring out who he is, he knows already. Somehow his search for meaning helps us to understand his dual nature - not an easy feat but accomplished by Ms. Rice.

It’s a devout book, a faith-filled story. Of course it may not be all biblically accurate, but it is fiction, after all. I enjoyed it because of the ways it got me thinking anew about stories I've heard so many times, and the clever things I had never thought of before where Rice's faith clearly comes into play (e.g. she has James be Jesus' brother because he is Joseph's son from a previous marriage - well that makes perfect sense to me, and it allows Rice and millions of Catholics to keep their Virgin Mary. I thought that was rather a creative way to solve the problem and still have Jesus and James be brothers).

It’s a fast, enjoyable read, and there’s much to learn about history and cultural context. It added to my knowledge and enlightened my understanding of the person Jesus. I recommend it heartily.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Have you read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore? It's the story of what really happened during those lost years between the nativity and the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Many people will find it offensive (Jesus learns lots of magical tricks from the three wise men, induces his friend Biff to have sex with prostitutes so that Biff can explain the mysteries of sex to him, etc.), but I thought it was both moving and hilarious and it inspired me to think about Jesus in a whole new way.

Oh, and it was recommended to me by my priest. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog - love it.

My wife is reading Lamb right now and shakes the bed she laughs so hard. I gotta read it.

As to the James/Jesus theory - that's a theory getting some decent play in the "historical jesus" circles.