Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Jan 26, 2006

"Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" is Anne Rice's twenty-eighth book. Beginning in 1976 with "Interview with the Vampire," Ms. Rice has been on the bestseller list many times with the vampire books, a series on witches.

"Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" is Anne Rice's twenty-eighth book. Beginning in 1976 with "Interview with the Vampire," Ms. Rice has been on the bestseller list many times with the vampire books, a series on witches, and, under the pen name A. N. Roquelaure, a soft-porn S & M series. She has sold literally millions of books, and her publisher has ordered an initial print run of 500,000 of "Christ the Lord."

I think they may be overoptimistic. Or, to put it differently, Rice readers may buy this one out of habit and loyalty and then, if they do not like it, they will not buy the next and the next. And there will be more, for Ms. Rice is publishing a four- or five-volume novel, fictionalizing the life of Jesus. This volume takes Jesus through one year, from age seven to eight.

Jesus is living in Alexandria, Egypt, where some scholars think the Holy Family moved after Herod began slaughtering babies in Bethlehem. Joseph and his male kin are working as carpenters and life is pretty good. Jesus, a small boy, is discovering he has some formidable powers. His step-brother James tells on him: "I saw it when he made the sparrows out of clay on the sabbath. . . . Jesus looked at the birds and they turned into real birds. They flew away."

Even more sensational, while Jesus is playing in the neighborhood, a local bully, Eleazor, bumps into him and Jesus tells us, "I felt the power go out of me as I shouted 'You'll never get where you're going.'" Eleazor falls down dead. When Mary finds out she orders Jesus to get right over to Eleazor's house and bring him back to life. To the complete astonishment of all present, Jesus does just that.

This is a novel, of course, and Anne Rice can write whatever she likes, but most theologians do not believe that the child Jesus performed miracles or necessarily lived in Egypt. Rice also asserts that Mary lived and died a virgin, that Jesus had no biological brothers or sisters.

Ms. Rice has done a prodigious amount of research for this book. The real problem here is not that the novel is not "accurate" but that it is not a very good novel. The language is stilted, and Rice is stuck with explaining all over the place, "Now the wife of Zebedee was Mary Alexandra, my mother's cousin, who was always called Mary, same as my mother, and same as my aunt Mary who was married to my mother's brother, Cleopus." This is not a page-turner, miracles notwithstanding.

There is also the constant problem of how much about himself does Jesus know, and when does he know it? Rice wants Jesus to learn, to discover, that he is the son of God, or, for him and for everyone reading, there can be no suspense. But bringing playmates back to life after you have killed them is bound to be a tip-off.

The family leaves Alexandria and returns to Israel. Jesus wants to know why they don't return to Bethlehem, but rather make the long trip to Nazareth. The revelation to him of the circumstances of the Nativity constitutes the climax of this volume.

Along the way there is some pretty interesting and, I think, accurate historical discussion of the Jewish rebellions and the cruelties of the Romans in putting them down, including the widespread use of crucifixions. Also striking is a remarkable dream in which a character "with wings" and "very comely" appears to the sleeping boy Jesus. "He had a soft musical voice. His eyes were blue like the sea. There was a shine to his eyes . . . he smiled at me." This beautiful creature, reminiscent of the vampire Lestat, is, in this instance, Satan. "You think your little miracles will help these foolish people? I tell you chaos rules, and I am its Prince."