Book Review: Christ the Lord -- Out of Egypt

"Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt" by Anne Rice

Delightful depiction of Christ’s hidden life

It’s one of the paradoxes of modernity that the farther we get from the days of Christ’s earthly life, the more we know (or can accurately guess) about it. Anne Rice has done a creditable job of depicting 2 years in the life of the boy Jesus, in a way that illuminates his times and the influences on his later ministry.

Rice starts the story in Alexandria, where Jesus, now seven, and his family fled after the persecutions of King Herod. And when I say family, I mean not only Mary and Joseph, but a whole company of aunts, uncles and cousins. Joseph is accompanied by a couple of his brothers and their families, and Mary has her own brother and his family. All sleep together in a common room, work in a common industry, and share an almost cultish Jewish piety. The family is prosperous in Alexandria, doing work for the famous Jewish philosopher Philo. But they long to return home to Nazareth. Their journey back takes them through rebellions, mass executions, sickness and troubles of all sorts. Throughout all of this, Jesus (who narrates the story) seeks to understand who he is from the bits and pieces of stories that the rest of the family knows about his birth and identity.

“Out of Egypt” has much to commend it. It makes sense of scriptural attestations that Jesus had brothers and sisters, and it places certain mysterious gospel figures (for instance Mary of Cleopas) in a family matrix. Jesus is shown in the protection not of an American-style nuclear family, but as part of a loud and loving extended family. It’s the kind of close-knit family in which everyone knows everyone else’s business, with the advantages and perils of that arrangement. But it seems to truly reflect the kind of family that makes sense in 1st century Palestine.

Some quibbles. Rice combines the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke and treats both as history. While this may reflect reality, it may not be satisfying to those who see these tales as reflecting theological rather than historical reality. Rice also has borrowed from non-scriptural texts (like the proto-gospel of James) to fill in the story of Mary. She also borrows turns of phrase from the gospels to adorn unrelated stories. And most unfortunately, she gets settled history wrong, for instance, attributing a massacre the gospels blame on Pilate to Herod Archelaus. Rice sometimes goes overboard on the family theme, with Jesus seemingly related to many gospel characters. Finally, Rice puts miraculous power into Jesus as a child, when some don’t see it until after his baptism.

But quibbles notwithstanding, the book gives us a wonderful picture of what life in Nazareth may have been like. Not the antiseptic semi-suburban life that many of us imagine, but a life full of tumult, noise, crowding, fear and a shared hope that God was about to act in a new and startling way.

Narrator Josh Heine does a splendid job of voicing Christ, with just the right touches of youthful wonder and emotionality.