Friday, August 20, 2010
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice
Anne Rice recently decided that she doesn’t want to be a Catholic anymore, after having come back to the faith 12 years ago. (She had grown up as Catholic and left the church when she became an adult.) Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Ms. Rice’s historical fictional book of Jesus’ childhood, was published in 2005 as part of a trilogy. The second book, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana came out in 2008, and she is still writing the third. It remains to be seen if her discontent with not only the Catholic church, but all other Christian denominations will affect her last and most important imagining of Jesus’ life on earth.
Ms. Rice spent several years researching the historical evidence for the Gospel narratives which depict Jesus’ life and death. As a result of this research, Jesus’ life in Out of Egypt is vividly set against the political turmoil of the day, as various Jewish insurgents struggle against the rule of Herod’s family, appointed by the Romans. The story begins as Jesus’ family comes back to Palestine from Egypt on hearing of the first Herod’s death, who had sought to kill Jesus when he was just an infant. Upon their return, there is terrible fighting in Jerusalem and pillaging by revolutionary bands throughout the countryside.
What Ms. Rice has done for the curious and for the faithful is to tell the story from Jesus’ perspective. He is clearly older when he is narrating the story, but he confines himself to relating how everything appeared to him at that age, and how Jesus as a seven, nine, ten and twelve year old boy watches, listens, ponders, and tries to make sense of who he is.
Ms. Rice depicts a Jesus who has power and knowledge within him, and shows him sensing these qualities and slowly coming to terms with them, asking God to allow them only to fulfill God's will.
He is given bits and pieces of the history of his birth through the book, with Ms. Rice cleverly keeping us just one step ahead of his overwhelming discoveries. While family love and kinship are abundant in Jesus’ life with his extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, so too is death; and Jesus is afraid from having seen murder and riot in Jerusalem. He is aware of evil-- too aware, one might say, and struggles to understand how horror and darkness can exist in God’s universe. Interestingly enough, the most shattering knowledge he finally gains is not the truth of his identity, but how children were killed in his place, as Herod had sought to make sure that no such child would survive and challenge his rule. His eventual acceptance of his life and his yet unknown destiny make for stirring reading, in a prose that resonates with its simple yet evocative characterization of that long ago time and place.