Friday, April 04, 2008

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

A word of warning: This post is the longest review I've written, but it's full of really good things, so I encourage you to read to the end. I tried to cut it down, knowing that length can be a blog killer, but I couldn't trim much; it's not full of much fat. Perhaps you can grab your coffee now and relax whilst I talk a bit. Oh, and you might want to get a snack too. It may take a while.

Let me start by saying that the reasons I picked up Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt are because I am an admirer of Anne Rice's writing skills, and I wanted to see her take on Christianity, now that she has accepted God, Christ and the gospel fully into her life. I wanted to see how she could be a tool for Him in this world.

Her writing does not disappoint. Although I know the ending of the entire trilogy that she is creating, she has a way of creating new life into this story. (Not that it needs new life - just that she gave it a new perspective.) Her stories are written from the viewpoint of Jesus himself. This book takes us through the 7th year of Christ, when he is just beginning to understand that he is different, that he has a purpose unlike anyone else that he knows, that he is capable of things that are impossible for others. It really was an inspiring, unique look at the One who was born to die for each and every one of us.

Rice, ever the prolific writer, keeps the story moving by inventing created characters while weaving known ones into this history. (I want to call this a historical fiction, but I don't want to confuse or mislead anyone in my whole-hearted belief in Christ - his birth, his death and his resurrection. But for all intensive purposes, this telling is a historical fiction due to the nature of the writing. Can we all say "I understand" and let me move on? Thank you very much.) Many names are familiar - Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John, Salome, and James, while others are new - Cleopas, Alphaeus, Rabbi Berekiah, Rabbi Sherebiah, Old Sarah - family members and teachers of Jesus. They feel authentic even if they are figments of Rice's imagination for the purpose of the story.

She took time to study the customs of the Laws and the sacraments of the Feasts. She wove Biblical facts into each of the events, describing the required rituals with accuracy from the book of Leviticus. The priests were adorned correctly according to the scriptures and the offerings were realistic, including the blood and the rites incorporated with the sacrifices, without being gory or over the top. She did a fine job presenting her studies. She did a fantastic job keeping the reader interested despite knowing the end.

Here is where I deviate from the praise to criticize her efforts. In the author's note section, Rice stated, "Every novel I've ever written since 1974 involved historical research. It has been my delight that no matter how many supernatural elements were involved in the story, no matter how imaginative the plot and characters, the background would be toughly historically accurate. Over the years, I've become known for this accuracy."

If only she had followed this desire for accuracy when presenting some important material in her story.

Now I understand that Rice came from a Catholic background and that Catholics hold Mary in high esteem (sometimes in too high of an esteem in my opinion). The Bible describes Mary as "highly favored" (Luke 1:28), having "found favor with God" (Luke 1:30) "blessed" (Luke 1:42, 45 and 48), but nowhere does it describe her as more highly favored than her child (Jesus) or untouchable as a wife, as Rice portrayed her.

In the book, Joseph refuses to "know" her because 1) she is so special she can't be "known" to a man and 2) he would feel an inadequate lover compared to the Holy Spirit. Rice completely ignores the scripture that states "But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:25) He was a proper husband to her, but it wasn't until the birth of Christ. Rice's attitude for Mary was that Mary has "never been with another man, not then, not now, nor will (she) ever be. (She is) consecrated to the Lord." Yet there is no scripture to back up this theory. If anything, there are many to rebut it.

In the novel, Rice got around the issue of Mary having "other children" ("Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? - Matthew 13:55-56), by having Joseph have an older son, James, from a mysterious first wife and also by Mary adopting her brother's children and raising them as her own after her brother's wife perishes from an illness.

But this idea is ridiculous because it would be counter to the scriptures, especially the first part. Were Joseph to have an older son by another woman, then it would make the scripture incorrect. In the scriptures, Jesus is their firstborn. 'On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."' (Luke 2:21-24) The firstborn is counted through the father's lineage only, not the mother's. The entire family would have thought of Joseph as the father, even if he knew he was not. So if Joseph were to have a son through a first wife, that son would have been consecrated to the Lord, not Jesus. In the book, Rice does not have James consecrated to the Lord as the Law ordained.

Another item that Rice added to the story was that family traveled with Joseph and Mary, not only to Bethlehem, but also to Egypt. Nowhere in scriptures does it indicate that they had additional family members with them. Each time they traveled, the scriptures say that Joseph traveled with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him (Luke 1:5) or with the mother and child. "When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. '"Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." ' (Matthew 2:13-15) Or these verses a little further down: (vs 19-21) "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel." Though it would be tradition to travel in a family group for safety, it was also tradition to ostracize those who were considered shameful. Joseph and Mary both would have been deemed unacceptable since they were perceived as fornicators, punishable by separation from family. Therefore, it makes sense to follow the wording in the scriptures that it was just that immediate family. Besides, can you imaging trying to get 20 additional people to flee in the middle of the night? They wouldn't have left for at least a few days! All those men packing the donkeys...

Also, Rice has Herod killing all the children 2 and under immediately after the birth of Jesus. This part cannot be since it took time for the Gentile Magi from the east to make their way to Bethlehem. Obviously they were not from that area because they stopped to ask Herod which Bethlehem they were to visit. They were following a star, so the directions were a little vague to them. But Rice has the killing spree within days of Jesus being born. Were that true, why would Herod kill the much older children as well as the young?

Still another error in her research: Rice has Jesus, at the age of 7, making the statement, "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49). Had she read just a few verses earlier, she could have easily remedied this inaccuracy, for in verse 42, it clearly indicates Jesus' age. "When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom." There was no need to make this alteration to the scriptures.

Lastly because really, you all must be bored to tears by now by my little Bible research project, I disagree with Rice's account of Zechariah, High Priest, and John, his son. According to Rice, John was a somber, non-lively child. He kept to himself and acted as an "adult child." This view does not hold to the verse in Luke that says, "And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel." I admit that this part is my opinion, but I cannot see John - one who is strong in spirit - as someone who would not also be happy and joyous with life, praising his Maker openly and readily. As a firstborn, he too would have been consecrated to the Lord and attending the lessons toward priesthood until he went to the desert. Being strong in spirit, I could only imagine him to be full of song and hope in the Lord. But maybe that's just me.

As for Zechariah, Rice had him killed between the Temple and the altar, by the hand of the Roman soldiers, with the other priests doing nothing to rebuke or to prevent it. The Romans wanted Zechariah to tell where his son was since he was of the House of David. She wrote it assuming that his death was the death of Zechariah son of Bekeriah ("You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar." Matthew 23: 33-35) However, if her research was done properly and thoroughly (pronounced "thur-oh-ly" by the way, Shannon), she would have found that Zechariah son of Berekiah refers to the prophet in Zechariah 1:1. I do not say that Zechariah, father of John, could not have been murdered at the hands of the Roman soldiers for the benefit of Herod; it is a fitting scenario. But to equate it to the Zechariah of old, almost exactly as Jesus states, is not appropriate to following the scriptures. As far as we know, it is not the one in the same person.

I know these things sound picky, but they're not. I'm not even saying that I myself have all the right answers. But if one is going to take on the initiative to write about Jesus, even a historic fiction, I would advise that the author follow scriptures rather than theories from other sources. It just makes sense to go to the real Word rather than the words of men.

It may sound as if I'm telling you not to read it. I'm not. As a matter of fact, I'm thrilled that I read it because it made me go back through the Word, time and time again to either find justification for passages in the book or reasons to refute them. And anything that causes me to pick up the Bible and to search the scriptures is a very good thing! So read Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, but have a Bible at the ready for you to study on your own.

Thus ends my longest and most detailed review to date. I hope that I have proficiently proved to you that I'm a study geek in need of friends... God bless you if you read all the way to the end! You deserve some kind of reward or some chocolate at least. I've got some of my kids' Easter candy still if you need it after this long read...

Labels: ,

Link me baby:

Create a Link

<< Home