f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of <i>Christ the Lord</i> – Your Own Personal Jesus

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Day 2 of Christ the Lord – Your Own Personal Jesus

Normally when discussing a book like this, I try and explore the craft or construction or some element and note some universal element that we can learn from or study. As I mentioned, it’s hard in this case for a few reasons:

1. There’s more interest and discussion about the author than the book.
2. Biblical fiction is a weird genre in which only famous people can write, apparently.
3. When Jesus is a character, odd things happen.

I thought we could dwell on number 3 for a bit.

Here’s a question I want to ask: Can Jesus, as a character in a novel, ever be a metaphor or must our fictional treatment always try and reflect our full, orthodox understanding of Him?

I think many people in Christianity insist on theological orthodoxy and I think that’s a problem for anyone tackling biographical fiction of this sort. We as humans know only in part. To insist that our fiction make sense of even one let alone myriad of paradoxes that Jesus brings…to me it seems a bit overreaching.

Still when a character of Jesus appears, our first tendency (mine, too) is to focus on the ways he’s NOT like Jesus than in the ways he is. Would it be better to offer room and acknowledgement that this IS NOT Jesus? It’s a feeble attempt to even capture one bit of him—a metaphor of a kind meant to render not his entirety but just a portion. It’s not an easy question and it’s something folks in the visual arts have dealt with for years. Icons or no icons? Graven images or no?

I have no idea what Anne Rice’s assumptions are in creating her Jesus. I think she’s trying to render the whole as possibly as she can, but in doing so she’s chosen to approach it from one particular theological angle.

At seven-years-old, Jesus doesn’t know who he is.

Her reasoning makes sense. After his birth, an angel warns of Herod’s coming fury and so the family escapes to Egypt until news comes of Herod’s death. God obviously wanted his son protected. Upon their return, with the country in chaos, neither Joseph nor Mary are excited to announce who their son is. And to protect him further, they’ve not even told the boy of the circumstances surrounding his birth. She shows moments where the boy exerts his power—thus assuaging us that he is God and man, fully—but he does it unconsciously.

So…the question is asked: When did Jesus know who He was? This is the theological stumbling block I think most readers are going to trip over. We’re going to point to her little boy—who is not omniscient, who kills (and then resurrects) a boy accidentally with his power, whose primary emotion is fear. We’re going to point and say, “Not, the Jesus I know.”

I’m going to grind a slightly different axe.

Oddly enough, it’s not the best thing to have at stake. Finding out the truth that you’re the begotten of God seems like it would be pretty huge stakes but there’s two problems as it plays out in Rice’s book:

1. Jesus isn’t really in control of anything. People are keeping the secret from him. He starts asking for the truth. Lots of people say they won’t tell him. Finally one does. There’s no narrative inertia forced by the choices Jesus makes. It’s all reactive.

2. The answer, well, it’s a bit of anticlimax. I suppose there are readers out there who haven’t seen Linus deliver his soliloquy, but most of us knew what Jesus was going to find out. So that dramatic tension isn’t available to Rice. She needs to rely on some other things—none of which add up to much. Though all are interesting in their own way.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the stuff I liked in the book since I know how touchy people get when I only critique things without saying anything nice.