Anne Rice’s “Road to Cana.”
Reviewed by Anthony Horvath
Buy on Amazon.com: Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (Christ the Lord)
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (March 4, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400043522
- ISBN-13: 978-1400043521
Anne Rice’s second book in her hugely ambitious and courageous life of Christ begins during his last winter before his baptism in the Jordan and concludes with the miracle at Cana.
It is a novel in which we see Jesus—he is called Yeshua bar Joseph—during a winter of no rain, endless dust, and talk of trouble in Judea.
Legends of a Virgin birth have long surrounded Yeshua, yet for decades he has lived as one among many who come to the synagogue on the Sabbath. All who know and love him find themselves waiting for some sign of the path he will eventually take.
This review is a bit longish- 4 pages, so if you want to download and print it, you can use this link:Road to Cana Review in PDF (100.5 KiB, 830 hits). Here is my review of her ‘Out of Egypt.’
|UPDATE: Anne Rice became aware of this review and liked it enough she had it published on her web page. That is quite an honor. It is the same as what is below, but if you want to read it there, it’s on this page here.||My Book, Fidelis was reviewed on WorldnetDaily.com!|
I have been intrigued by Anne Rice ever since hearing that the atheist-turned-Christian author was going to write first person accounts of Jesus’ life. Think about that: first person accounts. That means writing from Jesus’ perspective. That’s a ton of courage right there. Hubris, almost.
When her first book, “Out of Egypt” was released, I was extremely impressed. She did a fantastic job. I wrote a review of that book which you can read here. I note that I was honored that she found the review and left a comment. You can read that, there, too.
So now we have book two. Titled “The Road to Cana” it picks up where “Out of Egypt” left off, more or less. I wondered to myself how she was going to get another book out of Jesus’ pre-ministry years, but sure enough, she did.One of the things that will catch people’s attention right from the start is Jesus’ attraction to a pretty young Jewish girl. What with that whole ‘Last Temptation of Jesus’ mess, I can see how Christian readers would recoil at the very thought. The attitude and approach makes all the difference. Anne Rice handles it with delicacy and reverence… and this is key… she handles it.
There is no hint anywhere in any of the documents available to us that Jesus had any feelings towards women and even attempts to read into Gnostic literature is unsuccessful at raising that possibility. Why would anyone even dream of including such a plot line then, especially if they are devoutly Christian? The answer is orthodox Christianity essentially demands it. Either Jesus was fully human and fully God or he was not, and if he was fully human- that is, a man, then such feelings almost certainly would have occurred.
I feel that our reverence for Christ often looks the other way concerning his humanity. Do we not realize that he ate, slept, drank, cried, and yes, even urinated? A disturbing thought to some. The whole glory of the thing to others.
Let us consider what it might mean that Jesus did not encounter such feelings. It is written in Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.”
It is on account of this fact that the writer continues, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.” (vs 16).
Either Jesus was tempted in every way or he was not. Upon it appears to hinge how we approach the ‘throne of grace.’ If he was tempted in every way, we can be sure that sexual desire, which is built into the human being, was present in Jesus. We can also be sure that the Enemy tried to exploit it. For those who can’t imagine that it is possible to have sexual desire without sin I ask how you thought Adam and Eve were going to get along before the Fall of Man. If you don’t believe in that, well, I guess I got nothing to say. The point is that Jesus, being a real man, would have experienced such things, but unlike us, was the Master of them.
As I said, Rice handles the whole subject reverentially and I suspect that even if the above thoughts are ones that you as a Christian find uncomfortable, you will find that Rice resolves the issue admirably.
This leads into another area that I was wondering how Rice would handle. There is a lingering question as to how much Jesus knew of his own nature. As a one month old child did he recount to his parents how he had created the universe? Or did he sit there and kick his legs and feet and coo and cry? Rice already began laying out her answer in “Out of Egypt” and she continues in “The Road to Cana.” I think I might have a different answer then her, but not too different.
The great value consists in raising the question in the first place. Christians don’t tend to think all that deeply about that which they say they believe. Such thinking might seem to go beyond speculation and into heresy. How dare you question what Jesus, since he was God, could know? But then we have Jesus himself saying “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36).
These discussions center around Jesus’ ‘kenosis’ and involve also what Jesus’ relationship as a man is to divine attributes besides omniscience. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosis
The point is that even though Jesus was God, as a man and bound to time the way Men are, there were things he didn’t know. Rice does a fantastic job of talking over such issues in a way that orthodox Christians can enjoy and respect, even if they might disagree in some ways.
As in “Out of Egypt” this book is thoroughly researched on the historical details. 1st century Palestine is the background to the New Testament but it is easy for believers and skeptics alike to forget that we know more about that century then just from what we read in the New Testament. Having this background can help us greatly in understanding what we read in the New Testament, unless of course we are in the camp that scoffs at the New Testament by virtue of the fact it mentions miracles. When you know that there no God you know there can’t be miracles. But if you don’t know if there is a God or not then if miracles really happened then that helps answer the question. The miracles in the New Testament apparently occurred in a real historical context, and so understanding that historical context can dramatically affect your investigation.
There is a tendency, for example, to dismiss Christian theism as just one more fantastic mythology out of dozens that existed. This forgets, however, the Jews. The Jews were fiercely monotheistic. Fiercely. Violently. They were not opposed to miracles, of course, but the notion that a man could be God is literally the last thing a God-fearing Jew would have ever conceived of. Such a thing was blasphemy, and they knew it. It is amazing, then, that out of the very last group that could be expected to believe God had become man- the Jews- that very doctrine emerged. Nearly all of the first Christians were Jews.
CS Lewis expands on this point in his essay “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ” found in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics:
“[One approach to explaining the rise of Christianity is to say] that His followers exaggerated the story, and so the legend grew up that He had said them. This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, the belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God- that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary, we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily.”
That is the historical reality to which skeptics tend to dismiss with hand waving as though it were not something that needs to be explained on other grounds if one rejects the explanation that Jesus really was God. The more you know the actual history of the Jews the more you realize just how significant this is and how much it demands an explanation. Those ignorant of that background can be dismissive. Those who know the background know they can’t dismiss it.
Now, I don’t know if Rice plans on making that argument or not, but she draws on some historical events and puts them in “The Road to Cana” that certainly paves the way for an appreciation of CS Lewis’s point.
For example, the arrival of Pontius Pilate and his move to put ‘ensigns’ in the Jewish temple caused a Palestine-wide riot. This is recounted by the Jewish historian Josephus. Rice drops bits and pieces of this famous story, including how it was resolved: thousands of Jews kneeling on the ground, deliberately exposing their necks to the Roman soldiers that Pilate had sent to ‘disperse’ the crowd. When Pilate saw that the Jews were willing to die by the thousands without even putting up a fight just because of some silly (from his perspective) banner hanging in Jerusalem, he relented.
It is from out of a people with this sort of fervor and passion for their monotheistic religion that Christianity emerged.
Rice also helps set the stage for how dangerous life was by pointing out how brigands roamed the hills and those who claimed to be Messiahs were about.
In my opinion, atheists, seekers, and Christians alike should read Anne Rice’s books just so that they can see historically how the whole narrative put together might have looked. When all we know about the context in which Jesus moved and breathed is the New Testament we rob ourselves of critical information that would help us understand what we are reading in the New Testament.
Now, just a few final notes.
One of the things I noticed in “Out of Egypt” was a robust understanding of how different languages would play out in this region, this crossroads of Empires. She continues to show insight into that subject in “The Road to Cana.”
The animosity that Jesus’ own relatives show to Jesus as seen in the New Testament is given a compellingly believable back story. It is my view that something very much as Anne Rice described is what it was like.
Rice is sensitive to the dispute about whether or not Jesus had any actual brothers, that is, through Mary, and not just Joseph. She comes down on the Roman Catholic side of things (ie, Mary had no other children, etc), which I can’t blame her for since she is, well, Catholic. I have no problem with her approach so long as she doesn’t conclude her series on the Christ the Lord with a final book with the Perpetually Virgin Mary as the Intercessor. I don’t expect her to do that.
As I sat back and thought about Rice’s series to this point, I contemplated how courageous it was to try to write something from Jesus’ perspective but upon reflection realized that in fact writing accounts of Jesus’ life where we don’t really have as much material is actually much easier than the task that is now set before her. With “The Road to Cana” completed, Jesus now enters his life of ministry and this is much more thoroughly documented and people are much more familiar with that documentation. I am deeply curious about how she will weave her narrative through well known and treasured stories of the New Testament.
If her first two books are any indication, she will continue to root her accounts on solid historical data. She will continue to be reverent and respectful to orthodox Christian teachings even as she creatively tries to imagine how those doctrines played out in real life. I plan on picking up each book just as soon as I can.
I suggest you do, too. I would even go so far as to say that the books to this point could be useful reading to children, since they often have questions about Jesus’ early life. While you will have to point out that some of it is impossible to prove, you will be able to provide a framework for understanding the context of what is going on. You will also have the opportunity to point to the historical nuggets that abound in the books and thus help them see that Christianity is no mere ‘ancient mythology’ but rather rooted in history. Either it happened, or it did not. And you can find out if it happened by examining the historical ‘fossils’ that are left behind. And if you conclude that it did happen, then we live in a world where God became man, lived, died, and rose from the dead. If true, that changes everything.