Anne Rice has done it again.
In her second book in the Christ the Lord series, Rice has again skillfully created a historical novel of the life of Jesus that is engaging, historically connected, and true to the image of Jesus in the Gospels. Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana captured my imagination and fueled my devotion with its earthy depiction of an adult Jesus (referred to in the book by his Hebrew name “Yeshua” or “Yeshua bar Joesph”). Rice has continued with her masterful way of balancing the true humanity and true divinity of Jesus in The Road to Cana with vivid description. With Jesus as the narrator, Rice gives the reader another look into Jesus’ inner life, his thoughts, his anxieties, and his longings.
(WARNING: The following may contain plot spoilers. If you don’t want me to ruin the plot then order the book here.)
Rice has wisely chosen not to fill in too many gaps between Jesus in the temple at age 12 and his baptism at approximately age 30. The Road to Cana begins during the winter before Jesus’ baptism. We see less of his interaction between his mother, his father, and Uncle Cleopas and more of his interaction with his older brother James. There is a reference to his brother James being the son of another woman and not Mary, the mother of Jesus. Also there is a reference to Jesus calling his cousins his “brothers and sisters.” This classification is in harmony with the Catholic tradition that Mary remained a virgin and had no other children. Protestants may disagree, but this theological determination regarding Jesus’ family in no way takes away from the power of the story.
One of the triumphs of the book is Rice’s ability to portray Jesus’ romantic feelings in a pure, noble, and historically true way. Jesus’ temptation in this regard is completely free of the trashy, 20th century, sex-obsessed descriptions of his romantic feelings as seen in other contemporary stories of Jesus. Jesus is enraptured with a young woman named Avigail. She is a fictions character, but she could have very well been in Jesus’ life in first century Israel. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but Avigail plays an import role in The Road to Cana. Jesus’ love for her is very holy and very real. Rice does a wonderful job describing the pressure Jesus was under to take Avigail as his bride. The temptation was not unbridled lust, but the temptation to marry according to cultural standards. Jesus longs to make Avigail his bride, but he knows this is not his call. The interactions between Jesus and Avigail are wonderfully written.
The first half of the book sets the historical and personal context of the life of Jesus leading up to the Gospel accounts of his baptism, his temptation, and the beginning of his miracle ministry, including the miracle at Cana. Rice describes Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation in the wilderness with magical imagery and direct quotations from Scripture. She remains faithful to the gospel narrative and fills in the biblical text with wonderful color and texture.
In the front of the book she has a quote from Karl Rahner: The truth of faith can be preserved only by doing a theology of Jesus Christ, and by redoing it over and over again.
Anne Rice has used her gifts as a writer to do just that, redoing a theology of Jesus Christ on the canvass of biblical and historical orthodoxy…a historical-fiction-kind-of-theology that has great benefit for those of us on the journey of knowing, loving, and following Jesus.