Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Magical Adventures of the Christ Child in Egypt and Beyond

Anne Rice's latest novel, Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt draws from her research into the apocrypha, particularly the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which, from what I understand, was written down after years of oral tradition between 80 AD and the 6th Century. She also draws from the New Testament, and the things we know about Jesus's upbringing--born in Bethlehem (to much applause), moved to Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter of any child under two years old, and then moved with his family through Israel in a time of great uprising and revolution among Jews uncertain about the men who would call themselves King thereof. I've always had an interest in the Bible and the apocrypha, and I trust Ms. Rice's take on these things to be accurate. As she points out in her Author's Note, one thing she is known for--that she has worked very hard to achieve--is a complete attention to the details of the historical eras about which she is writing. She does not fail Jesus, as he is a very Jewish Jesus and the ancient world settings in which the novel places him come to life as much as her takes on the Old World of her novels from Cry to Heaven to The Vampire Chronicles.

Anne Rice is of course famous for her vampires and witches--perhaps the first author to create vampires with whom readers identify and root for. Her wicked supernatural creatures were, to me, always compelling in their searches for the meaning of life and undeath. So, as other reviewers have said, it is fitting that she take on the story of the most widely acknowledged and adored supernatural entity of all, Jesus Christ himself.

The novel centers around Jesus's attempt to figure out who he is. As others in his communities figure out, Jesus is Magic in the sense of Sarah Silverman's joke from her (hyper-offensive but funny as hell) movie >Jesus Is Magic. In one of the first jokes of that movie, Sarah shares how she, a Jew, and her boyfriend, a Catholic, intend to explain the religious differences to their future child: "Mommy is one of God's chosen people, and Daddy believes that Jesus is magic."

In Ms. Rice's novel, Jesus is both "magic" and one of God's chosen people. Of course he is -- his is the begotten Son of God. Along the way, Jesus surprises even himself with his ability to turn clay birds into real ones, to kill a bully with a thought and to raise him from the dead before everyone's eyes. He tries to keep himself from these kinds of miracles, but asks of God ("if it is your will") to cure an old man's blindness in the temple--which God does. Oh, and he also makes it snow one time. Through all of this he is portrayed as a good kid, who does kid things, and who just wants to be the best little Jew he can be.

His earthly father, who he calls Joseph, discourages Jesus from asking questions about his birth and purpose, as Joseph feels that God will reveal these incomprehensible things to Jesus when he sees fit. His uncle Cleopas (one of the novel's most loveable characters) continuously drops hints until Joseph shuts him up. Finally Jesus's brother James confesses to Jesus that he has hated him because of what he has brought upon the family (and likely a little jealousy as well. James may make good marks in school, but Jesus is the Son of God and there's really no topping that). Then James swears that he will never hate Jesus again, and reveals to him what took place in Bethlehem.

"You're too young to understand," Cleopas tells Jesus, to which Jesus later replies, "You're right, I'm too young to understand." "You don't fool me," Cleopas jokes, being one of those people who believed Mary's tale and knows that Jesus will go on to great things to say the least.

Like I said about Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, I think this book has come under a lot of unfair criticism for its creators beliefs (which I myslef can criticize given that I'm particularly good at Philosophy of Religion, a philosophical emphasis that is not widely studied these days and that has lost the interest of many philosophers) rather than the actual content. I still contend that whether or not you believe in God or are a Christian, the Bible is an important part of our culture, and an important book to know about as a work of literature because of its influence the world over. (That's not to say that, say, Jewish texts, the Koran, the Bagavad Gita, etc, are not.) So even though Mel and Ms. Rice are hardcore Catholics telling a very, very Catholic version of Jesus's stories, non-Catholics and non-Christians can take something away from their creations about the ancient, perhaps archetypal stories of the life and death of Jesus Christ. I recommend Christ the Lord as an interesting novel with compelling characters to say the least.


mike said...

"So even though Mel and Ms. Rice are hardcore Catholics telling a very, very Catholic version of Jesus's stories, non-Catholics and non-Christians can take something away from their creations about the ancient, perhaps archetypal stories of the life and death of Jesus Christ."
I'm not sure I understand though what exactly could be taken away from it if one is a non-christian. Other than Rice's book being a good piece of literature (which I don't know, I haven't read it). What could be learned? This is just one woman's fictional version of the life of a man that lived 2000 years ago. Fine if you are looking at it in a literary sense but I don't see it having any philosophic value.

anne arkham said...

Have you read Lamb by Christopher Moore?

Stroll said...

Mike, I think I mean exactly that, that it might not have philosophic value but it still can have literary value.

Anne, I haven't but I remember hearing about that a while back and it seems right up my alley. I'll have to check it out.

mike said...

i miss debating philosophy with you! i may be in nyc in february; hopefully, we can hang.

Stroll said...

Oh yeah? What brings you to the Big Rotten Apple? As I've previously requested, CALL ME!