Anne Rice's "The Road to Cana"

"Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana," Anne Rice’s new novel, received if not a rave review, then a very positive one in The New York Times this morning. "Times review" The book is a follow-up to "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," her bestselling novel about the birth and childhood of Jesus. That first installment I found slightly disappointing, mainly for its decision to focus simply on the seven-year-old Jesus, which proved rather limiting, at least to my mind. Her new book sounds much more promising. Anne Rice’s completely laudatory attempt at fleshing out (no pun intended) the life of Jesus fascinates me, for a few reasons. First of all, I’m a real nut for anything about "the historical Jesus." For some Christians, that academic project is fraught with difficulties, but I don’t share some of their hesitations. Pope Benedict’s book "Jesus of Nazareth" makes an offhand, but pointed, comment about the "limitations" of the attempt to use historical tools to understand as much as we can about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. (He mentions this, politely, when referring to "A Marginal Jew," the magnificent, magisterial magnum opus of the Rev. John Meier.) Benedict’s book is much more about the "Christ of faith" than about the "Jesus of history." Still, the quest to understand as much as we can about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is an important one, because the more we understand about his life and times, the better we can understand his message. If you understand something about the honor-shame society in which Jesus lived, for example, you will better understand his parable about the prodigal son. If you know something about the agricultural practices of the day, you will better understand his parable that talk about farmers, fieldhands, grain, seeds and plantings. As I see it (and I’m no theologian) the more you understand the "Jesus of history," the closer you feel to the "Christ of faith." The other reason that Ms. Rice’s project fascinates is that if I had the time (and the novelistic talent) this is--true confessions here--precisely the book that I would want to write. Who wouldn’t want to immerse himself (or in this case herself) in the latest scholarship (which Ms. Rice has done) and imagine the life of Jesus? The Times review notes, "Ms. Rice presents this miracle as she has the other biblical events on which her fiction is based: she decoratively embroiders the Gospels while fully respecting their message." Her efforts at a contemplative re-imagining would probably make many saints, including St. Ignatius Loyola, proud. (Well, maybe not proud, but at least happy.) One curiosity: I wonder why Ms. Rice decided to skip over what seems to me the most fascinating part of Jesus’ life--the time between ages 12 and 30, what are often called the "hidden years" or the "hidden life." The Times review hints that readers will see residues of this life, as Rice describes Jesus’s (or Yeshua’s) relationship with a woman named Avigail. In what sounds like a brilliant device, the Wedding Feast of Cana is that of the same Avigail, which gives the traditional "first miracle" a new twist and added poignancy: the idea of Jesus providing wine for a woman that he may have loved at one point gives his actions a wonderfully human dimension. That kind of marvelous fillip is a sign of a richly creative mind at work. James Martin, SJ

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