Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Rice’s Christ the Lord Good for Fresh Visualization

  • Shawn McEvoy
  • 2006 2 Feb
Rice’s <i>Christ the Lord</i> Good for Fresh Visualization

Title:  "Christ the Lord:  Out of Egypt"
Author:  Anne Rice
Publisher:  Knopf

Before Anne Rice’s novel, "Christ the Lord:  Out of Egypt," is even half a page old, readers are presented with a tremendous challenge. Would it change anything for you as a Christian, or for Jesus’ status of having lived a sinless life, if it turned out he’d killed someone as a seven-year-old boy? Would it still make a difference if he didn’t realize he’d had the power, or if he later brought the victim back to life?

And so the stage is set for "Christ the Lord," the newest offering from the woman known best for her "Vampire Chronicles." Remembering the fact that this text isn’t Gospel may prove difficult for anyone who is used to accepting any narrative about the Savior. Give Rice credit, however, for the impression, as she goes to extreme pains to ensure that the history, the languages – everything from clothing to attitudes – is as accurate as possible.

Rice provides an interesting epilogue in which she tells of her rejection of her Catholic upbringing, atheism, and recent return to faith. She describes her tireless research in tremendous detail and offers this book “to all Christians – to the fundamentalists, to the Roman Catholics, to the most liberal Christians… [and] to those who know nothing of Jesus Christ.”

We receive this story through the point of view of the young Jesus, whose chronicle in the canonical gospels and elsewhere has an immense gap between the first Christmas and the advent of his ministry at 30 (save for a trip to the temple at age 12). Questions regarding the missing years of Jesus’ life are not new, but has anyone ever dared to add to the clues in order to provide such a cogent, albeit fictional, tale?

Our narrator-redeemer even finds himself avoiding the temptation to speak as an all-knowing member of the Trinity. At one such point, describing the bright eyes and simmering wisdom He’d “often felt” in elderly folks, Jesus catches himself and says, “But as I am trying to tell you this story from the point of view of the child that I was, I will leave it at that.” His voice is a touch irresolute, and his aim – and therefore Rice’s – isn’t to delve into theological questions.

This is a book about a boy who has suspicions but no answers about his own identity. He wonders why he has never referred to Joseph as “Father.” He at first fails to understand why his uncle Cleopas – Mary’s brother – is always chuckling knowingly and mumbling about angels, and why his mother is so concerned about the names/insults that may be hurled at him. The period of hiding from Herod in Egypt before settling in Nazareth is yet another mystery known to the reader but hidden from Little Yeshua.

There isn’t so much a plot as a fill-in-the-blanks, historical mystery that finds Jesus slowly and amazedly gathering clues about his birth and destiny. But because Rice is so successful at establishing setting and tone, the temptation for the reader is to treat the events as accurately as the Bible. Jerusalem, Alexandria, Nazareth, and other locales are brought to bustling life under harsh Roman occupation. The concept of the Jewish nuclear family is established in great detail for those of us who carelessly picture a lone trio of Joseph, Mary, and Babe living a static life in Bethlehem and Nazareth.

As gripping fiction, or part of a quest to know a dynamic Lord, the book comes up wanting, as young Jesus without profundity concludes he was “sent here to be alive,” and “born to die.” Those who have already accepted such tenets may find the book anti-climactic. However, regarding the socio-political arenas into which the Son of Man was born, "Christ the Lord" is a beneficial read, one that presents new ways to consider the Gospels via the help of Rice’s greatly-enhanced stage lighting.