Issue Date: March 21, 2008
Jesus through Anne Rice's eyes
By BENEDICTA CIPOLLA
Dont ask Anne Rice about The Da Vinci Code unless you want an earful.
Ms. Rice, who returned to the Catholic church in 1998 and then abandoned vampires, her former stock in trade as a novelist, calls it a load of nonsense.
Her latest novel, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, is in many ways an orthodox response to the popular thriller that imagined Jesus and Mary Magdalene married.
Firing a direct salvo at Da Vinci, Ms. Rice states in her authors note: It is more than ever important to affirm our belief in Christ as sinless and unmarried because that is the way the Gospels present him.
The Road to Cana, published this month, follows Ms. Rices bestselling 2005 religious fiction debut, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. While the first installment in the series limned Jesus childhood, the second focuses on the beginning of his ministry, taking readers from the baptism in the Jordan River through the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
I can draw a valid portrait of him according to scripture as a sinless, celibate man, Ms. Rice said in an interview. Not some feminized pious image floating off the ground, but a real, virile man subject to noticing the beauty of the girls of Nazareth.
Jesus may notice beauty and even be tempted by the idea of marriage with a local young woman, but in keeping with Ms. Rices beliefs and her Gospel source material, there are no lustful thoughts as in The Last Temptation of Christ, and definitely no wedding vows.
Jonathan Cordero, chair of the sociology department at California Lutheran University, sees Anne Rices work as part of a larger cultural trend emphasizing Christs humanity. For most of Christian religious history Christ has been depicted in images and literature primarily as divine. But biblically speaking Christ is both fully God and fully human, he said.
Thousands of readers wrote to the author after reading the first Christ the Lord book, many confessing that the blend of Gospel, history and imagination had personally affected them.
What people say more than anything is that they didnt think about the humanity of Jesus before, she said. Theres also a relief that its scripturally correct. Often people start a letter by saying, I didnt want to read your book because I thought it would be a wild and crazy version of Jesus. But it wasnt.
Contemporary depictions have tended toward the contentious -- Last Temptation, for example, garnered author Nikos Kazantzakis excommunication from the Greek Orthodox church. Far from pushing boundaries or the churchs buttons, Ms. Rices portrayal of Jesus as the son of God and the savior of humankind is theologically sound. At the same time, hes also very human.
Its an attempt to get close to him and what he experienced, to make it historically exciting and historically correct, she said.
As with Out of Egypt, Ms. Rice peppers her novel with references based on historical research: the Roman appointment of Jewish high priests, the separatist Jewish community of the Essenes, Judah the Galileans tax revolt. She inserts historical events into her story that the Gospel writers never mentioned but which she imagines as shaping Jesus outlook, such as Pontius Pilates violation of Jewish law when he brought military standards bearing the emperors name into Jerusalem.
For Ms. Rice, Jesus mission of peace springs forth amid a violent milieu. Brigands roam the countryside, Roman troops are seemingly around every corner and periodic bloodshed is the norm. Several characters needle Jesus about his lack of action, reflecting their hope for a messiah to overthrow Rome and restore Israel.
Historians, however, disagree on the level of unease Jews might have felt at the time. According to Jeff Siker, chair of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, despite tensions with the Romans and even among Jews themselves, the political situation in Galilee was stable. Furthermore, messianic expectations were neither universal nor monolithic.
Filling in the Gospels blanks can be an irresistible temptation, as evidenced by the many books and movies that have tinkered with Jesus. While historical scholarship is compatible with faith, some experts wonder if history and belief can blend into a seamless narrative. It seems that Rice is saying, Ive done my research and here it is. But she disguises the fantasy at work, said Warren Carter, professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. Shes trying to play the orthodox card without recognizing that history and theology are miles apart.
Ms. Rice plans two more books in the series: the first a continuation of Jesus ministry, the second an account of the last week of his life. Movie versions may materialize once the series is complete. (Viggo Mortensen and Johnny Depp are two actors the author can envision in the lead roles.)
Writing the books has made me conscious of what [Jesus] suffered in the way of derision and dismissal, she said. Just like today, people go around making jokes about him. But he goes right on winning souls no matter what anybody does. Weve come 2,000 years, and you can still sit at his feet and hear him speak and feel his hand, maybe, touch your shoulder. He survives it all.
National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2008
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: firstname.lastname@example.org