Having just completed Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice, I thought it necessary to post some of my thoughts. To sum up, this fictional account traces the life of the historical Jesus as a young boy (between 7-8 years of age), dealing mainly with his journey from Egypt to his hometown of Nazareth, and then back to Jerusalem for the Passover. In a nutshell, Christ the Lord is a novel about Jesus understanding his true nature; namely, awareness that he is the Son of David spoken of in the Old Testament. Although he doesn’t fully comprehend this nature by the end of the book, he nonetheless accepts his role with faith and assurance that God will show him the path he must make. While the journey out of Egypt was long and difficult with many trials along the way, Jesus has his own journey to make, one that he must keep secret until the appropriate time.
There are many strengths and weaknesses in Christ the Lord and I will try to mention them in light of the biblical data. First, there is much to commend in Rice’s historical research. She provides many intricate details for the setting in life in which Jesus lived. This is helpful because it gives us a grasp on the “humanness” of Christ. We see that he was taught from the Old Testament (and had to study hard!), that he worked as a craftsman with Joseph, and that sometimes he fell ill. While Rice is clearly writing a fictional account and taking liberties in doing so, she provides these details with precision. We must understand that Jesus was fully man yet without sin. I believe that Rice’s book is useful in this regard.
However, the book is no literary masterpiece. Certain features are clearly forced, mainly for literary tension and to support the theological presuppositions of the author (Rice is an ardent Catholic). For instance, in order to guard the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of Mary (based on the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which implies that Mary was not born in original sin and therefore lived a sinless life), Rice explains that Mary has never had sexual relations with any man, including Joseph: “I have never been with a man, not then, not now, nor will I ever. I am consecrated to the Lord” (53). Of course, this creates problems, the first being that of James, Jesus’ brother. We find out later that James is not Jesus’ brother by birth but his half-brother. Joseph, before marrying Mary, had a former wife who died after their son, James, was born.
A second issue deals with Jesus’ miracles. While the gospels present his miracles as signs that prove Jesus is the Son of God, in this account Jesus unknowingly performs them. Power simply slips out of him when he wants something done, usually out of the goodness of his heart. In the first chapter alone Jesus causes stone sparrows to be real sparrows, and raises a little Jewish boy to life! Later he heals his uncle, Cleopas, who was dying from illness. When in the Temple for Passover, Jesus has compassion on a blind man, and after praying the man receives his sight. Miracles are great, but miracles without a message are magic tricks. Jesus was not a 1st century David Copperfield. There were plenty of those floating around (Acts 8). In the gospels Jesus clearly knows what he is doing. Power doesn’t spurt out of his hands like Harry Potter’s wand. Rather, the power of Jesus is the power of the Father, fully manifested in him, to show he is truly God’s Son.
Many other issues are troubling. Caiaphas is somehow related to Jesus. This is probably to heighten the tension between the two when the time comes for Jesus’ trial and execution (Rice plans to write more novels in this mold). John the Baptist meets Jesus as a young boy, always staring at him and not knowing why. We learn later that John becomes an Essene, an extremely pious Jewish sect who lived in caves north of the Dead Sea. Of course, this is all speculative. One of the more disconcerting elements occurs in the Temple, where Jesus and the male family members go to sacrifice before Passover. When the sacrifice is done we learn of Jesus’ thoughts: “It is finished. Paid in full” (293). But it is not finished! It is not paid in full (as far as this story goes). Only when Jesus dies as the once-for-all sacrifice is the payment made in full. Only when he is bruised for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities can he cry, “It is finished.” The work was never complete in the sacrificial system of the Law. The sacrifices according to the Law are a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice. As the book of Hebrews contends, “he has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (7:27). Further, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (9:12). Only by means of his own blood is the work complete.
One last point is not to be missed. After Jesus offers his sacrifice (he is about 8 years old) he wanders into the court of the Rabbis seeking answers to his questions. He stays with the Rabbis, we learn, for about 3 days, after which Joseph and Mary find him. Upon meeting him Mary says, “Why have you done this? We’ve been in misery searching for you.” Jesus replies, “Mother, I must know things now…things I’m forbidden to ask to you or Joseph. I must be about what it is that I have to do” (307)! At first glance nothing seems out of place with the story in Luke 2. But the implication is far reaching in Rice’s account. First of all, Luke explicitly states that Jesus was 12 years old when these events occurred (2:42), and that the Rabbis were listening to him teach, not the other way around. Furthermore, Luke records Jesus telling his mother, “did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business” (2:49). Rice’s account implies that Jesus was asking the Rabbi’s for information about who he really was (as if they would know), while Luke’s account seems to indicate that Jesus already knew his nature and purpose. Not only is the factual evidence distorted, so is the meaning of the text.
Other particulars can be pointed out and applied, which I will remain from doing here. The overall consensus? Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is an enjoyable book that seeks to show the reader how Jesus lived during 1st century Judaism, but more importantly how he came to understand his kingship. However, the story is skewed by the many false assumptions underlying the plot. As fully human Jesus must have come to a knowledge of his true nature in some way or another (most likely by his reading of the OT). But to come to these conclusions outside of the inspired text (Rice quotes the Apocrypha on occasion) is conjecture, which can lead many away from the truth.
I was once told that there is no such thing as an unbiased historian. I’m inclined to agree. Rice is no historian, but she has taken historical accounts and placed them in a literary framework outside of Scripture. Instead, she reinterprets the Gospel story with theological presuppositions. The question for us is as follows: without endorsing the book, should we recommend such reading to others in our churches? Should all such literature be ruled out? Before jumping to conclusions, think about The Passion of the Christ movie, or popular womens fiction like The Atonement Child or And the Shofar Blew, which are based on biblical stories. What about theological fiction such as The Shack? Are such works edifying to the church, or distracting?