Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Anne Rice: Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt

There are two kinds of conceit at work in Anne Rice's historical novel Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt. The first is the conceit of the book itself: It's narrated by a 7-year-old Jesus, giving a boy's perspective on Biblical history while describing his family's move from Egypt to Nazareth. It's a tricky gambit, but Rice cheats frequently by giving large chunks of the book over to conversations between adults who seem overly eager to explain things they already know. There's a lot of dialogue along the lines of, "The Law says plainly there shall be no image of a living thing in our Temple. Just because Herod built the Temple did not mean that he could put an image of a living thing in it." And when Rice hits a wall, she lets Jesus grow up in a hurry, explaining in his voice, "I often felt this way about old people, that the lines in their faces were very worth study… but as I am trying to tell you this story from the point of view of the child that I was, I will leave it at that."


Which brings up the second conceit: Rice's presuming to speak on behalf of Jesus. Rice plays it pretty safe, limiting her Christ's opinions to innocuous topics like how much he loves his family, how much he enjoys learning, and what jerks the Romans can be. The most daring and moving parts of Christ The Lord—and the heart of the story—concern Jesus piecing together the mysteries of his birth. He needs to know why his family came to Egypt, why he has powers others don't, and why his relatives sometimes regard him with fearful awe.

The book also contains a few tantalizing moments wherein Jesus observes acts of courage and generosity that will inform his ministry, and Rice is subtle enough not to put them in boldface. But otherwise, Christ The Lord follows the methodology of Sunday School sermons that try to imagine how Mary must have felt on Christmas Eve, or what Father's Day might mean to Joseph. It's a Hallmark Channel kind of humanism, evident in Rice's book in scenes where Jesus enjoys a good dinner, or where his mother takes pleasure in talking with her cousin. There's some charm to imagining how people in ancient times fed themselves and entertained themselves and loved each other, but aside from some passages toward the end that deal with Jesus learning his origins and embracing his destiny, the book's exercise is too limited. It's as though Rice thinks that loving lamb-and-lentil stew and feeling bad when an uncle got sick is all there was to Jesus the man.

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