Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Anne Rice's Jesus
Jonal entry 942 | Monday, January 23, 2006
Continuing Friday's thoughts about Anne Rice's novel, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, which I am nearly finished reading.
I feared her attempt to get into the mind of Jesus at age seven might slip into blasphemy because reviews I'd read indicated that she was utilizing legends about the childhood of Jesus from one of the gnostic gospels, which are blasphemous and are a core source of the also blasphemous mega-best-selling novel by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code. I recently spent time in the gnostic writings which present the child Jesus as a petulant vindictive killer, and the adult Jesus as the husband of Mary Magdalen and father of her children and the progenitor of a French royal bloodline (which is a core plot point in Brown's book).
It didn't help my confidence in her novel that Ms. Rice also has been the author of erotic fiction (which some call pornography) in the past and is most famous for writing about vampires. On the other hand, the articles I read included interviews with her in which her profession of being recently reconverted to her Catholic faith and intending to write to the glory of God for the rest of her life seemed sincere enough. So I'm glad the latter impression is the one thus far confirmed by her Jesus novel rather than the tentative skepticism.
The gnostic "Infant Gospel" about Jesus is the source of a legend that as a child he made clay sparrows come to life. It also says that he got even with a playmate by declaring him dead, which immediately came to pass and resulted in Jesus' family being asked to leave Alexandria, which Joseph, Jesus' foster father, decides to do. When Joseph tries to discipline Jesus, his attitude is that he won't strike his elder down because he is his mother's husband, but it's apparent he considers that a generous practice of tolerance on his part. The amazing thing about Anne Rice's novel is that she incorporates both the sparrows coming to life and a playmate dying into it, but recasts them in such a way that they are not at all blasphemous or blameworthy on Jesus' part. I won't tell how she does this, lest others think I've spoiled their fun in reading the novel later on, but that she does is quite a testimony to her writing skill.
Another aspect of her account that I am impressed by is that she casts Jesus' "brother" (as the Gospels call him) James as the son of Joseph by a previous marriage. As discussed here earlier, Catholic interpreters generally make out James to be a cousin rather than a half brother, because Catholic theologians want to make Joseph (like Mary) a lifelong celibate. More Orthodox accept the interpretation Rice has chosen. However, rather than casting James as an adult already when Jesus is born as I guessed, Rice's James is only a few years older and is, from the beginning, privy to things about Jesus that Jesus himself doesn't know (which is the crux of Rice's plot, and having said that much, I'll disclose no more).