Also read my extensive review of Rice’s “Road to Cana.”
Long time atheist Anne Rice (author of “Interview with a Vampire”) became a Christian a few years back and got it into her head that she wanted to write about Jesus’ life from a 1st person perspective… uh… Jesus’ perspective. Pretty brave, if you think about it. Anyway, the first installment is “Out of Egypt” and details Jesus’ life from Jesus’ perspective from his time in Egypt as he moved back to Nazareth in Galilee.
In the back of the book she has some notes which were very informative. Here is a brief excerpt that I completely endorse:
Having started with the skeptical critics, those who take their cue from the earliest skeptical New Testament scholars of the Enlightenment, I expected to discover that their arguments would be frighteningly strong, and that Christianity was, at heart, a kind of fraud. I’d have to end up compartmentalizing my mind with faith in one part of it, and truth in another. And what would I write about my Jesus? I had no idea. But the prospects were interesting. Surely he was a liberal, married, had children, was a homosexual, and who knew what? But I must do my research before I wrote one word.
These skeptical scholars seemed so very sure of themselves. They built their books on certain assertions without even examining these assertions. How could they be wrong?”
What gradually came clear to me was that many of the skeptical arguments- arguments that insisted most of the Gospels were suspect, for instance, or written too late to be eyewitness accounts- lacked coherence. They were not elegant. Arguments about Jesus himself were full of conjecture. Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions. Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.
In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horriefied by it if he knew about it- that whole picture which had floated in the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years- that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.
When I first heard about her conversion, I was a little worried, though. I heard it was to Catholicism, and while many Catholics are very devout, their scholarship is based on many liberal premises. I was delighted to read these words of hers, but more importantly, find it evident in her book. By way of contrast, Mel Gibson, also a devout Catholic, sought to direct his “Passion” as ‘authentically’ as possible, and for some bizarre reason decided to film the whole thing in Aramaic…. oops….
Anne Rice handles this issue of Jesus’ language very well. There are dozens of reasons to acknowledge that Jesus would have been, like most other Jews at the time, tri-lingual. He would have known Aramaic, sure, and Hebrew, indeed, but Greek definately. Ms. Rice handles that fact admirably. Since this book only covers Jesus life from his time in Egypt to his time in Nazareth (age 12ish), it remains to be seen whether she will follow through with her solid historical perspective and have Jesus primarily preaching and teaching in Greek, as well. We’ll see.
There are dozens of other historical details that she gets right, too. Perhaps most importantly, she accurately and adequately sets the stage that Jesus is moving against. The break-up of palestine into four tetrarchies after the death of a certain King Herod is a critical historical backdrop for understanding the circumstances that Jesus finally emerged on the scene from.
Another critical element that she admirably emphasizes is Jesus’ Jewishness. Now, in the modern day there certainly are Jews who distance themselves from the Jews of yesteryear who were in the temple-sacrifice system, but Jesus would have very much been immersed in it, as well as the other Jews of that day. This fact comes out loud and clear, and various insights arise that leave many modern readers, even some well-educated conservative Christians, in the dust.
For example, the ritual cleansing with “living water” that was required in order to be clean is included. What constituted “living water” essentially meant water that was moving, ie, it wasn’t stagnant. The health benefits are clearly seen compared to modern advice to wash using ‘running water.’ In fact, ‘running water’ is the same idea. (google mikveh). At anyrate, Jesus’ statements to the Samaratin woman in John 4 where he says “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” would have conjured mikveh-like concepts. Separated from the knowledge of Jesus’ intrinsic Jewishness, even I thought something completely different about what Jesus meant by ‘living water’ in this passage (eg, maybe something to do with baptism, see John 3).
Anne Rice gets Jesus’ Jewishness right.
While I think that if I would have had the kahoonas to put myself in the place of Jesus to write from his perspective, 1st person like, I would have done it differently, Anne Rice did a superb job in the way she did it and any objections that I might have are mere quibbles. They aren’t even worth mentioning.
For any person seeking to understand the historical setting that Jesus emerged from as established by the historical data itself (devoid of the skeptical/liberal material which dismisses the data, usually), they will find this book very insightful.
I recommend it to all. Even if you are a skeptical/liberal sort, you will benefit from seeing how the conservative school of thought conceptualizes Jesus called the Christ.