Cover Story

Into the light

"Into the light" Continued...

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

Her previous work also dealt with the supernatural, and now she has moved up to Christ, whom she calls "the ultimate supernatural hero." It is as if, she said, everything in her life was leading her to this moment, that "all of the novels I wrote before were a dress rehearsal for this. It helps you trust in God that there's a purpose for things even when you don't know what it is. Especially if you don't know what it is."

Mrs. Rice hesitates to discuss the next installment in the Christ the Lord series, having frequently spoken about a future work only to have the finished project turn out much differently than she'd predicted. She suspects, though, that Volume 2 will be set in Nazareth and continue until the last year before Jesus leaves home. "But I really don't know," she said.

What she does know, with a simple coalescence of purpose she attributes to faith lost and regained, is that her goal is to write in the first person the story of Christ's entire life: "I feel like I have this wonderful challenge ahead of me . . . that will fill up my whole life until I die. There's so much to study, so much to ponder, so much to write, so much to know. It's like finding a wing on your house that you didn't know was there, opening the door and discovering rooms of treasure."

Perilous project

Source material for Christ's childhood is scanty, so Mrs. Rice makes use of what she has, including apocryphal books excluded from the canon of Scripture

By Gene Edward Veith

Portraying Christ in literature poses special problems. How to portray someone who is both God and Man? Some authors evoke His deity, portraying His transcendence and majesty or turning Him into a mystical inner presence. But they miss His humanity, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Other authors evoke His humanity, portraying Him as a flesh-and-blood man, often sentimentalized. But they fall short of conveying His divinity.

But Anne Rice, in her novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Knopf, 2005), hits the orthodox balance. She portrays Jesus as a 7-year-old child, but He is more than a child. He plays, He cries, He is dependent on His parents. But when He yearns to see snow, it snows. When His uncle is sick, the young Jesus heals him. Throughout the novel, Jesus tries to understand who He is, piecing clues together and asking questions. But, as a prophet tells Him, "The day will come when You will have to give us the answers."

The only potential problem with Mrs. Rice's novel is the project itself. She tells the story of the 7-year-old Jesus in the first person, from Christ's point of view. Entering into the mind of Christ, even when He was so young, might seem disturbingly presumptuous. So is making up episodes in His life. This project is indeed fraught with peril. But those objections are softened by the author's reverence and her care to be biblically and theologically correct. Out of Egypt can best be appreciated as the work of a skillful writer meditating on the Incarnation and the Person of Jesus Christ.

Source material for Christ's childhood is scanty, so Mrs. Rice makes use of what she has, including apocryphal books excluded from the canon of Scripture. This too is fraught with peril. But Mrs. Rice told WORLD that she herself considers the accounts to be "legends," and she uses the details while draining them of any heresy. For example, in an apocryphal gospel, the Christ child strikes a bully dead. Lots of schoolchildren would like to do that, but it feels uncharacteristic of the New Testament Jesus. In this novel, a bully hits Jesus, who feels "power go out of Me." The boy dies, like Uzzah touching the ark, but then later Jesus, sorrowing with the boy's family, raises him from the dead.

Instead of gnosticism, what we get in this novel is a richly textured imagining of historical reality. Mrs. Rice synthesizes the findings of historians, archeologists, and anthropologists to give us a vivid portrait of everyday life in Bible times-household customs, the observance of Jewish law, what it was like to worship in the Temple. Her portrayal of life in a large extended family-which does characterize tribal societies-is particularly charming. It also makes at least imaginable Mrs. Rice's Catholic conviction (shared by many of the Reformers) that Jesus' "brothers and sisters" were not Mary's children, but a product of adoptions within the kinship system.

Scripture says that Joseph and his family left Egypt when Herod died, but feared his son Archelaus and so moved to Galilee. Mrs. Rice fills in the history, recounting the horrific bloodbaths and insurrections sparked by this change of rule. She portrays the rebels not sympathetically but as plundering bandits. In this anarchy, the Romans are welcomed at first as restorers of order, though they often crucify the innocent with the guilty.

Through these tumultuous times, Jesus grows in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. We see Him being exposed to things He would later use in His ministry-lilies of the field, living water, moneychangers, weddings, crucifixions. When Jesus, now 8, finally learns that He is the Son of God, He realizes at the same time that He is "born to die." The setting for this epiphany is significant: He is in the Temple, standing in front of the altar of sacrifice.

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