Rice, Anne. Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006. 350 pp. $7.99.
Anne Rice has woven a masterful narrative of a friend. The imaginative fictional account of Jesus bar Joseph and his family returning from exile in Egypt is not only an exciting adventure, but a touching portrayal of Rice’s connection with Jesus Christ. Her research supports the story which follows Jesus, Joseph, Mary and their extended family in a world apart from our own. Readers connect to Jesus and his humanity as the young boy discovers his divinity. Rice shares her own spiritual journey of return to the church through this bold story (321-350). Her rediscovered vision of Christ and faith provides inspiration for a retelling of Jesus’ life as a boy. The result is a work that makes one think of Jesus in a more personal way. He was a human being, with a loving mother and authortitative father, living together with extended family. Jesus, the young boy, fully divine, comes of age learning who he is and what his Father in Heaven has planned for his life.
Rice has spun a fictional account respectful of the gospel narratives that reminds the reader that Jesus was the Christos Kyrios (288), and was truly a human being. One will realize a closer sense of Jesus in a personal connection through this novel. Jesus can sympathize with mankind’s suffering and weaknesses because he faced the same weaknesses. Jesus, the Son of God, learned to trust God the Father, just as all Christians must learn to do. Christ The Lord; Out of Egypt will cause all who read it, to see Jesus of the gospels in a refreshing new way while reaffirming the truth of his divine purpose. He lived to die for all.
Often truth is more adventurous than fiction, but fiction accounts of the truth grab the imagination drawing the mind to be part of the story. The gospel of Luke is the only gospel that records a brief summary of the life of Jesus’ childhood under authority to his parents and the teachers of the law. From the short passage in the second chapter of Luke, novelists must spin tails and expand on legend to portray the life of Jesus as a boy.
Christ the Lord presents first century Alexandria and Galilee in vivid detail. Anne Rice is successful in explaining the Jewish culture in the Diaspora and the Greek cities of the first century with their centers of Jewish heritage. Her creativity takes the reader into the glory of the great cities of the period giving the reader a sense of life for Jesus and his family. Although there is no biblical account that Joseph settled in Alexandria, the Egyptian culture must have certainly influenced part of Jesus’ early childhood. Strong Jewish culture defined the people of God as they lived among diverse cultures and people, even in the land of Israel. Rice develops each character with creative skill. Roman governing mixed with Greek culture and language dominate the land of promise. Jesus is taught by family to embrace his heritage as he comes of age living in the land of his people.
Christ the Lord is a compliment to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. When read in proper perspective as fiction, this book can help the reader imagine the culture Jesus met as he proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Jesus’ humanity is also further understood in that one experiences what a young Jesus must have learned. Jesus the boy learned to grow into adulthood and his rightful role in God’s salvation for a fallen world that he loved dearly.
Anne Rice is a wonderful storyteller. Although her historical research enables her to develop a genuine understanding of the first century period, no novelist can escape the theological persuasions that shape the view of Jesus and his ministry. Catholocism is evident in the portrayal of Mary as the beloved virgin. Joseph is depicted as an honorable man, but his relationship with Mary is told in support of the theology that Mary never physically knew a man as husband her entire life. Joseph is described as a man who never touched Mary as husbands touch their wives. Protestant tradition would perhaps have approached the character development differently of Joseph and Mary as a married couple.
Creative license is expected in any fictional account of a truly historical figure. Yet the liberties taken with the gospel accounts can cause the casual reader to be misled on facts. Jesus is said to be twelve years old when his parents searched for him in the temple (Luke 2:42). Anne Rice clearly indicates that Jesus came of age much earlier at the age of eight years old. Taking liberties to change the age of Jesus the boy from the biblical account poses the danger of straying too far from the truth of Jesus’ life and purpose. Another concern is the inclusion of Apocraphal stories from the historical infancy gospels. A legend of Jesus’ infancy was that he turned clay sculptures of birds into real birds. This certainly false story is part of Anne Rice’s portrayal of Jesus. Although fictional, the unsuspecting reader can be led to believe the folk legends as truth misleading one away from the purpose of telling stories of Christ which is to proclaim the good news of his coming.
As a whole, Christ the Lord is a suberb telling of Jesus’ and his life with family. Too often, the Christian will imagine Jesus in ways contrary to reality. Jesus is truthfully depicted in the gospels with power, authority and compassion. Yet his human development and family life is mentioned only briefly in the gospel accounts. The fiction novel is an appropriate genre to explore these ideas about Jesus. Imagination combined with historical research is the only true way to think of the unknown season of Jesus’ life while understanding that fictional accounts are not divinely inspired as canonical.
Anne Rice is to be applauded for her creativity and boldness to write of Jesus in first person. Taken in proper perspective as fiction, Christ the Lord illuminates Jesus’ humanity causing the reader to approach Jesus as one who is approachable. In turn, the gospels become more attractive as the reader of Christ the Lord seeks to learn more about the man who lived and proclaimed to be the Son of God.