Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Jonal entry 944 | Friday, January 27, 2006
Still thinking much about Anne Rice's novel, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, which I have now finished, it kept getting better right to the end, which is what a reader always wants from a work of literature. But it could have the effect of becoming a "fifth gospel" if it became as successful as, say, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (which sales thus far, though it's on best-seller lists, doesn't support). If that many people read it and if it became a major source of information about Jesus and His family, its opinions could take on the weight of fact in popular thinking.
To use an example already mentioned in this series, I prefer to think that James, "the Lord's brother," was a son of Joseph by a previous marriage to a wife who died before he took up with the Virgin Mary. But Rice's presentation of this scenario is so compelling that many may just start assuming it's a fact when there is no strong historical proof of whether James was the natural son of Joseph or a cousin who was taken in after losing his own parents or one of several other possibilities.
One of the lessons I've learned in thinking about these issues is that although when I concluded earlier that James was probably an adult when Jesus was born where Rice assumes him to be just a few years older than the Lord, it probably didn't matter as much as I was assuming anyway. From my earliest years of memories of my family, I had two already-grown brothers who were living outside the home when I was pre-school age. But in Rice's scenario, even if James had been grown, he would most likely have been a member of the household anyway, and on this I think Rice's assumption is more accurate, and likely better researched, than mine.
Meanwhile, I've come across an online interview with Anne Rice that I think anyone interested in either Christianity or her writing would find worthwhile. Among the news it contains: Rice hopes her series on Jesus will be made into a TV miniseries, which I hope comes to pass. The page linked below has both a condensed version of the interview in print and the full version in streaming video. You'll have to have high-speed Internet to watch the video, but if you have it, it's worth it. Otherwise, the written version is also worth reading, here.
Turning to other lessons recently learned but not from Rice's book.... Some years ago I was greatly impressed by another book, Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran pastor who had been imprisoned by the Romanian Communists for many years until he was "ransomed" by Scandinavian relief workers who raised funds to buy his freedom in the late '60's. When he moved to America, he became famous by raising his shirt at public meetings to show the permanent scars of his tortures, which made headlines supported by photographs in news media across the country.
When I moved to Santa Barbara in 1968 he was already scheduled to make a presentation at the church I was pastoring, so it was my great privilege to meet him. It was my first year of pastoral ministry (having been in youth work and journalism ministry some years before) and I was ordained in a denomination that professed to believe the "great tribulation" would come before Jesus came back to establish his throne on earth but that true believers would be "raptured" before that awful reign of terror by the antichrist, the seven-years tribulation. Those I knew who believed this found great comfort in thinking they were to be spared the "great tribulation."
But Richard Wurmbrand said in his book, detailing his years of torture, that he couldn't imagine worse tortures than the Communists exacted on him and many others he had known, including, in a separate prison, his wife. This struck me deeply. How could we "pre-tribulationists" consider ourselves exempt for suffering for our faith when so many others had suffered and even had been martyred. That thinking was a hairline crack in the theology I'd been given but eventually led to a complete rupture.
The churches before the eighteenth century all held that the great tribulation had already occurred during the first 300 years of church history, with every imaginable form of torture and killing of believers from cross to being sawn in two, to being burned alive, and, of course, being fed to wild animals for spectator sport. Are we better Christians than they, that "we" deserve to be spared tribution? I seriously doubt it.