Friday, March 7, 2008

Book Review -- Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

Only one day after receiving my copy of the book in the mail, I have finished it and begun to ponder several of the details in this book by Anne Rice. Many years ago I had read two or three of her books of the vampire genre and found them entertaining and very readable. This book was no disappointment in that regard. The story flowed well and was generally a very quick read.

At the outset, I was surprised to find it written as if in the words of Our Lord. The story tries to imagine what our Lord's thoughts were -- his doubts, his temptations, etc.

I'm still ruminating on several details that are not really questions anyone can answer in this life assuredly. Among those questions are the manner of the death of St. Joseph. Our Roman Catholic tradition indicates that St. Joseph died in the loving arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary and with Jesus present. I thought that was one reason he was the saint to whom many Catholics pray for his intercession for a happy death (and why he is often pictured holding a lily). In fact, in a book written about the visions of Ven. Anne Katherine Emmerich, Light on Light , Sr. Emmerich describes it in that way. From the Emmerich account:

"According to Sister Emmerich, when Jesus was thirty, Joseph, then about 75 years old, experienced a holy death in Mary's arms, with Jesus by his side and angels in attendance. As would happen to the body of His foster-son three years later, Joseph's remains were laid in a beautiful tomb provided as an act of charity by a good man."

In Anne Rice's version, she describes a different death, with Jesus not present (in her version, at the time of St. Joseph's death, Jesus was being tempted in the desert after his baptism in the Jordan). I am puzzled as to why she took this particular turn away from traditional accounts of this. Perhaps she had other apocryphal sources, of which I am unaware, upon which this was based.

Another interesting point in the book has to do with the 'brothers' of Jesus. According to what I had learned in my studies, the Aramaic word for 'cousins' was the same as that for 'brothers', so there wasn't a specific word to differentiate in the normal speech. Now, I realize that the Eastern Orthodox tradition holds that Joseph was married and a widower before he married the Blessed Virgin Mary. They apparently teach that Joseph had children from his first marriage, who would have been called his brothers. I was surprised that she chose to use the Eastern Orthodox thinking.

A counterpoint: from the same book by Emmerich, her visions seem to coinicide with the Roman Catholic tradition, in that all the near relations that were considered 'brothers' of Jesus were in actual fact cousins. From Light on Light:

"Sister Emmerich's visions confirm that Jesus had no natural or step-brothers or sisters. His nominal "brothers and sisters" were indeed what we would call cousins, related to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary's older sister, Mary Heli, or more distantly through her mother, Anne, or her father, Joachim. Specifically, they were:

* sons of Mary Heli, viz., Sadoch, Jacob (or james), and Heliachim (all Jesus' first cousins, who followed John the Baptist before they followed Jesus);

* the daughter of Mary Heli, viz., Mary Cleophas (Jesus' first cousin);

* Mary Cleophas' sons and daughter by her first husband, Alphaeus, viz., James the Lesser, Simon Zelotes, Jude Thaddeus, and Suzanne (all first cousins of Jesus, once-removed); and

* Mary Cleophas' son by her second husband, Sabas, viz., Joses Barsabas (a first cousin, once-removed)."

Happily, she does not give credence to the many heretical teachings that Mary had other children born after Jesus.

Now, as these visions of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich are private revelations and therefore, the Catholic Church has not taken an official position on whether they are worthy of belief or not, in some ways this new book of Anne Rice's may also seek to fill the desire to know more about the smaller details of Jesus' life.

The problem I see in some of the so-called spurious "Gospels" is that they were used by heretical sects of the early church. In fact, as one scholar [Philip Jenkins, The Hidden Gospels -- How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way] commented: "Far from being the alternative voices of Jesus' first followers, most of the lost gospels should rather be seen as the writings of much later dissidents who broke away from an already established orthodox church."

One last point... again not something we can know for sure on this side of heaven... Anne Rice's story shows Jesus living in very close quarters with a large extended family. Certainly that is at odds with Sr. Emmerich's writings and the traditional Catholic teaching that Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived alone in a humble home. Certainly this story gives a vivid picture of perhaps typical Jewish life at the time with a large extended family, and, if for no other reason, is very interesting.

I was very pleased that, at least in this book, she did not choose to give fuel to the crazies out there in the cult of Mary Magdalene. Much of the book seems to be completely fictional, although the intertwining of the young couple being married at Cana and their possible relationship to Jesus was somewhat plausible to me, it seemed such a huge step to make the leap to proposing Jesus' personal feelings toward the bride.

I enjoyed the book very much, although I was quite sorry there were no references to any of the sources of hers she used in her research. In fact, there were absolutely no footnotes or references of any sort. On the other hand, perhaps it is better this way, since it doesn't seem to make a case for this account being anything other than fictional.


James H said...

I can not wait to read this book. Thank you for the review. I di denjoy her last book. I think the preface she did for Book 1 of this series was pretty fascianting and I wish she would have done something something similar here.

I heard a review of the book by the former head of Faith Based Iniatives for the Bush administratives on NPR a few days ago. He gave it a good review

Anne Rice said...

Thank you for your interest in Christ the Lord, The Road to Cana. It was scrupulously researched. Some acknowledgements appear on my website, Anne, and also there are four Youtube films done by me with Fr. Joseph Cocucci regarding the research for the book, with links from my website. I appreciate your reverence for the Catholic traditions, but the book seeks to be more than a novel in updating the probable life of Our Lord based on what we now know about the First Century, family life and history. I do think the Eastern tradition regarding James being the older brother is a worthy one. Thank you again for your interest and your kind remarks. Anne Rice..

lvschant said...

Anne: Thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting. I am sure many will benefit from reading this latest book of yours and wish you the best.

James: Thanks for your visit, too... and in case you are interested, I posted the source material I got from Anne Rice's YouTube interviews... see the later post on the topic if you are interested.

Jeff Miller said...

I just finished the book and I really liked it. Especially the second half on from when he meets his cousin. The temptation in the desert was just plain great writing and a meditation on this scene. The wedding at Cana was also very good and the scene between Jesus and Mary brought tears to my eyes.

As for Joseph being previously married this is one of the earliest traditions as noted in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James. This is certainly an orthodox understanding, but the Church has no offical teaching on this and there likely will never be one. We are free to believe that this was the case or that Joseph was not previously married.

Being a fan of her previous work I was quite pleased when she returned to the Church and this novel really makes me anticipate the next one in the series. I really loved how she handled the incarnation and neither downplayed Jesus' humanity or divinity. So many modern writers can't seem to get a hold on older cultures and insist on intepreting everything through modern eyes. She totally avoided this trap and I really felt transported to close to 2,000 years ago.

lvschant said...

Thanks for stopping by the blog, Jeff. I am glad you enjoyed the book...