I have to admit that I opened this book with some trepidation. I can never know what to expect from Anne Rice. When the “Queen” of vampire stories is on her game, she produces a fabulous book such as Interview With A Vampire or Tale of the Body Thief. When she’s off, she’s very capable of writing a convoluted time-waster like Memnoch the Devil. I was also afraid that Rice might use a book about Jesus as an opportunity to make some “way out there” artistic point. My fears were apparently somewhat justified. Consider what Rice herself writes in the Author’s Notes at the end of her book …
“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 … And what would I write about 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?” (page 312)
These were the types of things I expected to see in a Rice book about Jesus. But Rice goes on to explain how she discovered that the skeptical scholars were wrong. After extensive (and impressive) research, Rice found that the “anti-Jesus” arguments made in the “liberal circles [she] frequented as an atheist for nearly thirty years” (page 315) were unsupported and “some of the worst and most biased scholarship [she] had ever read” (page 315).
As it turns out, the story of how Rice’s faith and confidence in the Scriptures were strengthened by all her research is, in some ways, far more interesting than her work of fiction. I could easily recommend this book on the “Author’s Notes” alone. I love stories about people who are sure they know all they need to know about God and Jesus. Scholars like C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, and now Anne Rice who investigate the matter and then get “knocked on their butts” just like Paul on the road to Damascus. These types of stories really get me jazzed up.
As it turns out, Rice’s fictional account of the childhood of Jesus is a pretty good read as well. While it is obvious that she has drawn on some non-authoritative works such as the Gospel of Thomas, her use of these narratives are very unobtrusive and rare. This book shines though by giving the reader a glimpse into the word that surrounded Jesus. Rice draws from sources like Josephus and Philo to paint a picture of the politics, geography, and people that surrounded Jesus during his childhood. While it is obvious that this is a work of fiction and that specific conversations and the like are purely conjecture, they are all set over a backdrop of real historical events that give the book a sense of realism. I have to admit that it is an excellent read.
Readers will detect a hint of the Catholic in Rice’s theology, but there is nothing that a Protestant should take much issue with. I think Rice has produced a book that readers of any denomination (even non-Christians) will enjoy.
My biggest fear now is that this book will become the next “controversial Jesus film.”