Everyone knows of The Greatest Story Ever Told. How Jesus was tempted by the devil and was betrayed by Judas for three pieces of silver; how he was crucified on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. It’s quite a story. It has all the elements of a good potboiler: heroes, villains, damsels in distress, betrayal, miracles, true love. Almost sounds like “The Princess Bride” doesn’t it? But has anyone ever asked themselves what happened before The Greatest Story Ever Told?
Apparently, Anne Rice has. The result is the breathtaking “Christ the Lord Out of Egypt.” I can hear you going: What? Anne Rice? The Vampire Lady? It’s true. After the death of her husband, Anne Rice stated that her focus of writing would change drastically. There were to be no more vampires, no more Lestat. They were to be gone from us forever.
Many speculated what focus or direction Anne Rice’s writing would take now that she was not going to write about vampires, mummies or witches. Having grown up in a strict Catholic childhood, Rice had left the church, only to return to its walls years later. Before the death of her husband, Rice had gone back to the Catholic Church and had wanted to write the story of Jesus Christ. For wasn’t Christ the most supernatural of creatures ever made?
Meticulously researched, it tells the story of a young, seven year old Jesus who realizes that he is not like other boys. Able to give life to clay birds, bring death and life to someone else in a heartbeat, Jesus is feared by many. After causing a boy to die and then bringing him back to life to ease the grief of his parents, Jesus and his family leave Alexandria and return to Jerusalem.
Jesus is aware that they are leaving because of him. Wherever they go, there is whispered conversation about what happened in Bethlehem seven years ago. Jesus learns that Joseph is not his father; this is something he has always known, though he is not sure how he knew. Though he questions Joseph about his birth, he is told not to ask questions, told not to question that which he can’t understand at such a young age.
Finally, one night, Jesus is forced to ask his mother about his birth. He tells her he needs to know about the mystery surrounding him. She tells him that he is not the child of an angel, that he is the child of the Lord, the child of God.
That an angel came to her and told her that she had been chosen the most blessed of women, that she would bear a child for the Lord. She worries that Jesus doesn’t understand the enormity of what she is telling him.
But Jesus does understand. For he is wise beyond his years. As well, when they return to Jerusalem, it is to a grueling sight: Instead of the Passover ceremony they were expecting, they walk into the temple into a slaughter. Herod’s men are killing the Jew’s left and right. Jesus knows that people are dying around him but he understands that he must see this; that he is meant to see this. He begins to get a measure of human suffering.
Jesus will have to learn a lot more before “Christ the Lord Out of Egypt” is over. And I, for one, hung on to the book with white knuckles as I read on to find out what would happen to him. The book starts with a bang and just gets better. “Christ the Lord” is really a historical novel of the finest weaving. Rice’s research is evident and the story of Jesus is brought to such life that you feel you are there, living, with him.
There are lessons in this book too: On human suffering, on love, on parenthood, on life and death. Jesus knows he must look at everything with a different eye than most. And he is very philosophical for a seven year old. But you feel for Jesus, for his family; for the trials they must go through.
Normally, this is not the kind of book that would interest me at all. I normally stay far away from anything that has to do with the Catholic Church. But the fact that Anne Rice had written it (and that is had gotten several glowing reviews) made me wonder. I knew it would be (hopefully) well written and I knew it would be well researched. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was enchanted.
I honestly think this is her best book since her earlier work on the Vampire Chronicles. The sensuality of her writing is still there, still crisp. And the love of her subject matter shines through at one hundred watts. Put simply, this book glows.