Christ the Lord: Out of
Author: Anne Rice
Review by Rev. Dee Dee Azhikakath
What business does a woman who has spent the last 30-plus years writing about vampires have writing a book about Jesus, and from Jesus’ point of view? Yes, Anne Rice the cultic writer of vampire novels, including Interview with a Vampire (1974) and The Queen of the Damned (1988), has rediscovered her Catholic roots and replanted them in Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
After running from Christ for decades, Rice realized her time away “reflected [her] misery in being cut off from God and from salvation; [her] being lost in a world without light.” As a parallel to Rice’s own personal quest to re-find God, she audaciously details Christ’s own spiritual journey as a child grappling with understanding his divinity.
If you move beyond the blasphemous line that Rice falls close to crossing, her emotional and tender portrayal of the Christ she envisions between the Scripture verses unveils a world ripe for pondering.
Scholars believe that, at best, the Synoptic Gospels piece together the ministry of Jesus. There are many things as a reader of the Bible that we do not know or are forced to imagine. For example, if Mark’s depiction of the “foolish” disciples was accurate, we might assume that Jesus laughed to keep his sanity, even though he is not described “on the record” as doing so. Similarly, Rice imaginatively expands the account of Jesus’ childhood, detailing not only the human characteristics of a child growing up but also Jesus’ own struggle to realize his history and purpose. In Out of Egypt, the first in the planned Christ the Lord series, Rice describes the years between Jesus’ flight with his family to Egypt and his being “lost” and found in the Temple.
Obviously inspired by the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical gospel attributed to Thomas that describes the boyhood of Jesus, Rice opens the novel with a 7-year-old Jesus allegedly striking a bully dead with just spoken words. As the ruckus continues to explode in the Alexandrian neighborhood, Jesus sneaks over to the bully’s home to bring him back to life.
As the crowd cries for explanation, Joseph sidesteps the confrontation by disclosing that another dream has come to him, and the family will begin their journey back to
As the extended family begins their journey back across the sea, Rice adds depth and definition to the personalities vaguely known through the Scriptures. Joseph emerges as a strong silent type, faithful and dedicated to the instructions God reveals to him in his dreams. Mary is depicted as a nurturing mother, but only as a companion to Joseph, which underscores her virginity. Though jealous of his younger brother, James, Jesus’ older stepbrother, is also equally compassionate toward, and protective of, Jesus. Jesus, apparently still unsure of his divinity — even after striking someone dead and raising them back to life — begins to pull at the thread of secrecy that his family has guarded all these years. As he pursues answers and struggles with meaning, he matures in wisdom and confidence, impressing even his most critical family members and teachers. Perhaps the hardest position in Out of Egypt to accept is actually the novel’s biggest assumption — that Jesus was unaware of his own divinity. As Mary explains in Out of Egypt, “If [God] made you a child, then he’s made you to grow in wisdom as well as in everything else.” However, even the slightest theologian must take pause. For if Christ was fully human and fully divine from conception, would he not know from his first breath that he was God’s son and not be in need of a quest for self-understanding as Rice depicts? Or rather, could he have understood his divinity, but only struggled as an adolescent with his purpose? Even when Jesus’ revelation comes that he was “born to die,” it is also revealed that he was “sent here to be alive. To breathe and sweat and thirst and sometimes cry.”
While Rice makes a superb effort at being historically and theologically accurate, her cutting and pasting from different theories has left systematic holes. Out of Egypt will at least make you ponder Jesus and the beauty and mystery of his full humanity, his full divinity, and his experience here on earth.
Azhikakath is the United Methodist campus minister at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz.