How Anne Rice Created Her Christ
Rice's novel is rooted in scholarship about Jesus and first-century daily life. But not all scholarship is equal in her eyes.
BY: Benedicta Cipolla
Religion News Service
The queen of darkness has seen the light.
In her latest book, "Christ the Lord," novelist Anne Rice turns away from the doomed souls of her best-selling tales about vampires and witches in favor of a first-person account of the 7-year-old Jesus.
"I was sitting in church talking to (God) about it and I finally realized there was no holding back anymore," said Rice, 64, who returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 after a 30-year absence.
"I just said, 'From now on it's all going to be for you.' And the book I felt I had to write was the life of Christ. ...When my faith was given back to me by God, redemption became a part of the world in which I lived. And I wasn't going to write any more books where that wasn't the case. You do not have to be transgressive in order to achieve great art."
With a distinct emphasis on the devout Jewishness of Jesus and his extended family, the novel -- due out Nov. 1 with a first print run of 500,000 copies -- depicts their first year in Nazareth after leaving Egypt following the death of King Herod. (The Gospel of Matthew reports that Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt shortly after his birth to escape a death sentence by Herod).
Rice meticulously recounts the daily life of Jews in Galilee against the backdrop of Roman occupation, detailing purification rites, Sabbath study, construction work in the nearby city of Sepphoris, and trips to the Temple in Jerusalem for feasts and animal sacrifices.
"The pious picture of the holy family in a little carpentry shop on a hill, that's not accurate," Rice said in her first interview about the book, speaking from her new home in San Diego, where she moved five months before Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown of New Orleans. "The challenge was to get some fictional verisimilitude there, to really present this as a vibrant society in which people are working and living together."
Rice devoted much of the two and a half years she spent on the novel delving into research, from ancient Jewish philosophers and historians like Philo and Josephus, to contemporary historical Jesus studies. At times, what she found disturbed her, as she explains in an author's note following the novel.
"Some of the people in New Testament scholarship don't hide their bias at all. They're just out to prove Jesus wasn't God, but of course that's impossible to prove," she said, taking issue as well with what she called "trends" and "fads," such as theories that Jesus was a political revolutionary, or married.
Rice also critiques the widespread dating of the Gospels to between about 60 and 90 AD, and the theory that they appeared decades apart. Instead, she believes they were produced around the same time, and all before Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. She declined to name any scholars she found fault with, either in an interview or in her afterword.
Some biblical experts aren't sure why Rice is taking issue with conventional scholarship.
"She seems to be attacking some kind of liberal, PC bogeyman," said Adam Becker, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at New York University. "But the majority of historical Jesus scholars are Christian and affiliated with the church in some way. She criticizes fashionable notions, yet she's basically saying it's fashionable to be a Christian."
"Rice's Jesus is conflicted and confused..."
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