CHRIST THE LORD: The Road to Cana (2008)

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CHRIST THE LORD: The Road to Cana (2008)
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¡CompraEl Mesías: El niño judio aquí!

Anne Rice's second book in her hugely ambitious and courageous life of Christ begins during his last winter before his baptism in the Jordan and concludes with the miracle at Cana.

It is a novel in which we see Jesus—he is called Yeshua bar Joseph—during a winter of no rain, endless dust, and talk of trouble in Judea.

Legends of a Virgin birth have long surrounded Yeshua, yet for decades he has lived as one among many who come to the synagogue on the Sabbath. All who know and love him find themselves waiting for some sign of the path he will eventually take.

And at last we see him emerge from his baptism to confront his destiny—and the Devil. We see what happens when he takes the water of six great limestone jars, transforms it into cool red wine, is recognized as the anointed one, and urged to call all Israel to take up arms against Rome and follow him as the prophets have foretold.

As with Out of Egypt, the opening novel, The Road to Cana is based on the Gospels and on the most respected New Testament scholarship. The book's power derives from the profound feeling its author brings to the writing and the way in which she summons up the presence of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

1. In the Christian New Testament, the Gospel of John records that Jesus' first miracle happened at the wedding feast of Cana, where water was changed into wine. Also in the Christian New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew states that, before performing any miracles, Jesus first entered the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil. Rice's first title for this book was THE TEMPTATION. Why do you think she changed the title to THE ROAD TO CANA?

2. Rice has customarily written in the first person, which offers the reader a particular insight into the inner life of the protagonist. In THE ROAD TO CANA, does the first-person narration give us insight into the inner life of Jesus? Is the intent of God elucidated? Discuss how revelations of Jesus' personal life are meaningful for contemporary Christians.

3. In THE ROAD TO CANA, Jesus says, "What I must know, I know. And what I must learn, I learn."Thomas Aquinas explicated Jesus' human intellect as having a threefold font of knowledge: divine knowledge, infused knowledge, and experiential knowledge. With regard to Jesus' experiential knowledge specifically, how does Avigail contribute to Jesus' experience and knowledge of love? Does he learn about human love? Discuss whether experience and knowledge can help one to love more humanely.

4. Discuss the divine power that Jesus demonstrates as God’s son in THE ROAD TO CANA. In chapter 22, how does Jesus overpower Satan?

5. The New York Times Book Review of CHRIST THE LORD: OUT OF EGYPT states: "Ms. Rice retains her obsessions with ritual and purification. . . . She writes this book in a simpler, leaner style, giving it the slow but inexorable rhythm of an incantation." Are the Christ the Lord books a prayer for Rice? Discuss instances in THE ROAD TO CANA where Rice has written rituals of purification and incantation.

6. Which of the four Christian gospels most influenced THE ROAD TO CANA? Which gospel stories are distinctly portrayed? Discuss whether these gospel stories inspire rites of maturity for all Christian faiths today.

7. First-century Jewish women worshiped in the Ezrat Nashim --- the Women's Courtyard --- which was located beside or behind the men's place of worship. How does Rice's scholarship and penchant for historical authenticity enable her to accurately depict the role of Jewish women in first-century Palestine? In THE ROAD TO CANA, does Jesus criticize, whether by word or by deed, this masculine/feminine segregation? Discuss how new understandings of masculinity and femininity have influenced today's religious practices.

8. The Gospel of John is the only biblical source that mentions the wedding feast at Cana. In John’s account, Jesus' mother, Mary, informs him at the wedding feast that the wine has run out. It is Jesus' reply to her that has mystified many throughout the centuries. In the final chapter of THE ROAD TO CANA, Rice quotes this reply: "Woman? . . . What has this to do with you and me?" Catholic saints, Christian biblical scholars, and homilists have attempted to explain this seemingly callous rejoinder, but their explications vary. How does THE ROAD TO CANA treat the mystery behind this dialogue between mother and son? Discuss whether Rice lends a mother's tenderness to the scene.

9. Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ (2004) focuses on the suffering and death of Jesus. In what ways does Rice's Jesus differ from Gibson’s? Specifically, when does Jesus, as depicted in THE ROAD TO CANA, show real human passion?

10. In an essay posted on her Web site, Rice says of her own writing career: "[My earlier novels] are not immoral works. They are not Satanic works. They are not demonic works. . . . The one thing which unites [my works] is the theme of the moral and spiritual quest. A second theme, key to most of them, is the quest of the outcast for a context of meaning." Is THE ROAD TO CANA Rice's attempt to show Jesus' spiritual quest?

11. Jesus, the narrator of THE ROAD TO CANA, begins by positing a solitary question: Who is Christ the Lord? Discuss whether this question has been answered by the end of the novel. If not, will this question ever be answered?



Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Review by Peter Kreeft

I have found it hard to persuade people to read Anne Rice’s two “Jesus novels” (this one is a sequel to her Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt), even though I think they are masterpieces. That’s because what they set out to do, most people would label impossible.

It’s like the movie “Life is Beautiful.” Try describing that movie to someone who has never seen it. “It’s a serious comedy about an Italian father and his little boy in a Nazi death camp. The father protects the boy by persuading him that it’s a game. He succeeds. It will make you laugh, and it will make you weep, and it will make you believe it.” They will narrow their eyes and look at you as if you had either a very perverted literary taste or a strange psychological disease.

Anne Rice’s “Jesus novels” are fictional biographies from the first-person viewpoint of Jesus Himself. Hard enough to write about Him in the third person, but in the first? Yet they are modern realistic historical novels, and their Jesus is the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible and the Church. There are no heresies and no Katzantzakis-style corrections or “revisionisms” of the Gospels.

The best thing about these books is that they bring Jesus up close and personal. Somehow, He is more divine for being more human. He is “like us in all things but sin,” and “all things” includes ignorance, social stumbles, normal human emotions, including exasperation, normal sexual desires, and real temptations. And it works so well that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is only fiction, and not an Emmerich-type mystical vision. You have to resist the temptation to pray and meditate on these books as if they were the Gospels.

These two books are to all other Jesus fiction what “The Passion of the Christ” is to all other Jesus movies. The only other fiction about Jesus I know of that arises above the level of embarrassing trash are those in which Jesus is not the central character: Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, The Robe. Dorothy Sayers proclaimed that it was impossible for anyone to ever write convincing fiction about Jesus, since the real character in the Gospels utterly dwarfs the best literary character we could ever possibly imagine. (For some reason, everyone admits that God’s wisdom and love vastly exceeds ours, but they forget that this must also be true of His imagination --- until they look an ostrich in the face.) I think Sayers is right. And this fact is a serious argument for the historical truth of the Gospels, to those who have a nose for narrative.

I would say that only twice before in literary history has Jesus ever been compellingly portrayed as the central character in pieces of fiction. Everyone knows what they pieces are. In one of them, He speaks not a single word and performs only one act: He Kisses the Grand Inquisitor. Anne Rice is not Dostoyevsky, or even C.S. Lewis, but this is the third time the magic has worked.

What is her secret of success? A small but necessary part of it is the fact that she had been an accomplished novelist, in both literary style and practical psychology, for many years. That is the “horizontal” component. A larger cause is the “vertical” component of her recent conversion, and her consequent Gibson-like dedication to this task.

She told her conversion story in the appendix to her first volume (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt). When she came in the Church, she came all the way in: she was not fooled, as perhaps only naïve Christians could be fooled, by Modernist theologians and scripture scholars who classified the Gospels as largely myths. Her commonsensical, tough-minded literary refutation of the Modernists’ incompetence in judging narrative and character is strikingly similar to that of C. S. Lewis (in “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”), Sheldon Vanauken (in A Severe Mercy), Richard Purtill ( in Thinking About Religion), Walker Percy (inLost in the Cosmos), and Flannery O’Conner ( in The Habit of Being). It is significant that no Modernist scripture scholar or theologian has ever written a single successful novel.

Some traditional theologians (though not all) will quarrels with Rice’s assumption that Jesus only gradually became conscious of His divine identity. But this is a “theologoumenon,” a legitimate theological opinion, and an apparent consequence of the Incarnation: if he had to learn to speak, like any other baby, He also had to learn to think, and to understand. But no one will quarrel with her ability to make the reader believe he or she is living in Jesus’ culture, in His Nazareth, His house, His (very) extended family, and in His very consciousness. It is a stunning achievement. Try it; you’ll like it. P.S. The narrative of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is almost as Unforgettable as Dostoyevski’s.

Peter Kreeft 
Professor Philosophy 
Boston College 

"Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, to be published this month by Knopf, is a remarkable engaging story told within the structure of biblical narrative and theological orthodoxy."

--Fr. Richard Neuhaus, Publisher: First Things  

In the New Testament, the miracle at the wedding at Cana--where Jesus turned water into wine--marks the commencement of his tumultuous three-year ministry. In Rice's beautifully observed novel (a sequel to 2005's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt), however, the wedding miracle is in fact the culmination of an intimate family saga of love, sorrow and misunderstanding. As the novel opens, Yeshua (Jesus) struggles with a sense of restlessness of purpose and a deep love for a comely kinswoman. Waves of isolation sweep over him as he comes to understand that serving the Lord's will takes precedence over the desires of his own heart. Whereas the first novel in this series hewed so closely to Scripture and to the author's meticulous research as to be somewhat arid as fiction, this book imagining the "lost" young adulthood of Jesus offers wise and haunting speculation where the Bible is silent. And the final chapters, which pick up the story with the New Testament's accounts of Jesus' baptism, temptation, and early miracles, manage to be soulfully insightful even while faithfully tracking the Gospels. Rice undertakes a delicate balance here: How can a writer make a believably sensitive and wounded protagonist out of someone who is believed to be sinless? If it is possible to create a character that is simultaneously fully human and fully divine, as ancient Christian creeds assert, then Rice succeeds.

Publishers Weekly

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SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains information about the characters and plot of CHRIST THE LORD: THE ROAD TO CANA.

Rice continues the story of Jesus, which she began with 2005-s stunning Out of Egypt. Silent Hannah, a deaf mute, claws the air. She-s just heard that her brother, the Orphan, and Yitra, another beautiful boy, have been stoned by a viciously self-righteous crowd. The murdered boys were doomed by rumors of their forbidden love. Comforting Hannah with his strange serenity, is Yeshua bar Joseph, or Yeshua the Sinless, another townsman about whom the Nazarenes whisper: Past 30 and still unmarried? Fitfully sure of his destiny--his spiritual intuitions come upon him like spasms--Jesus senses that ordinary life is divinely denied him. He is smitten with Avigail, Silent Hannah-s best friend and the town-s angelic beauty, but knows that his love must be chaste. So when marauding brigands attempt to kidnap her, his rescue of the girl is tender but irreproachable. Not so, however, believes her furiously possessive father. Sealing her into his house, he makes her a horrific example of shunning; with patriarchal perversity, he blames the almost-rape victim for “allowing” herself to be attacked. And Jesus becomes suspect, with Avigail's father making insinuations about the young people's connection. To find her shelter, Jesus journeys to Cana, there to petition the scribe Hananel to intercede. Its subplots detailing the machinations of Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas, the Essene struggle toward the purer faith and the flight of some of Jesus's comrades to Athens to study philosophy, this is painstakingly researched historical fiction. Rice's Christ is both convincing and compelling. Another winner.

Kirkus Review

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Anne Rice in following Christ the Lord from Egypt through Nazareth, from boyhood into adulthood, and accompanying him on the road to Cana and His emergence into public life, has continued with reverence, marvelous scholarship, and a faithful portrayal to present the mystery God's dwelling among humankind. The author has given us the mystery of the Incarnation in such a way that, while remaining a mystery, is accessible to all with a depth of scholarship and faith that easily merges into the joy of discovery.

Most Reverend Oscar H. Lipscomb 
Archbishop of Mobile

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SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains information about the characters and plot of CHRIST THE LORD: THE ROAD TO CANA.

Dear Anne,

Thank you for allowing me to be part of this wonderful journey with you, as you continue to bring Christ the Lord to (and beyond) the fan-base you've developed over these many years.

The Road to Cana touched me and moved me personally. You know me pretty well, and you know that I am orthodox in my theology and cautious in endorsing propositions regarding the faith. Having said that, you've once again opened a few stained-glass windows in this priest's literary soul.

Your description of a grieving mother whose young son has just been murdered was very powerful, very real. I've been with mothers who've lost sons and daughters both young and old. I had the painful and difficult privilege of being with my own mother when we buried my brother. You know the pain better than most; you've dug deep into the soul here, with sensitivity and skill.

I was struck by a conversation you place between Yeshua and an older Essene about John the Baptist. Your words about “those who go off into the wilderness to pray” brought back strong memories of my early Jesuit training, especially the God-filled silence of the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises. Anyone who has ever ventured “into the desert” to seek the Lord will find resonance in what you've done here.

In terms of capturing the historical and geographical setting, I think you've nailed it. Having traveled to the Holy Land with you last year I have vivid memories of Nazareth and Sepphoris (and many other places, of course), and your description reinspire the wonder that I experience when we walked through those cities.

I'm excited about what this book will do for the Kingdom, Anne, as I was with the first volume of Christ the Lord. You have created a beautiful gift for those who already know and love Jesus and an enticing portrait for those who have not yet had the privilege of doing so. May The Road to Cana lead and nourish many along the road to Heaven; may it foster and nurture knowledge and love of Christ the Lord Himself!

Sincerely, and with continued prayers and blessings,

Rev. Joseph MPR Cocucci
Rector, The Cathedral of St. Peter 
Director of Priestly and Religious Vocations 
Diocese of Wilmington

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The Road to Cana thoughtfully and imaginatively explores the cost of what it meant for Jesus to share our humanity, underlining His kind compassion, determination and sacrifice. In this exploration, however one may feel about this or that detail, most readers will feel drawn closer to the heart of the one who loved us so much.

Craig Keener
Professor of New Testament, Palmer Theological Seminary
Author of A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Dear Mrs. Rice,

The classical understanding of art is that art, true art, is the sensible manifestation of thought, the actualization/realization of freedom, the enfleshed articulation of the word, indeed, the transfiguration of reality.

Well, this you have done.

As an artist, a literary artist, of the written word, you have manifested, communicated, disclosed, realized, actualized, etc. the deeper reality of the Eternal Word:

The Word that took on flesh in Jesus Himself, the Word as articulated in the narrative of the Gospel, the Word embodied in the Sacraments, the Word present in the Persona Christi of the ordained, the Word present in all Hearers of the Word.

However, more than simply as an artist, of transfigurative value, also, as a “theologian” = God/theos + word/logos, of theological significance, your words are grounded in the Word. Perhaps not as a formally trained or schooled theologian, nonetheless, theological through and through. Your first, and now second novel, on the person of Jesus Christ are gems, like a fine Ruby or a fine Diamond. An artist and a “theologian” have written these works.

As Jesus commended himself into the hands of the Father from the Cross, as He breathed His last breath, I see your writing as a Rite of Commendation; where you have handed over into other hands your unsurpassable theological research, your personal investment of time, emotion and sincere loved, and your artistry.

You have done for man of today, of the millennium MM, what Emmanuel Kant in Philosophy, Albert Einstein in Physics, Carl Jung in Psychiatry, Karl Rahner in Theology, Augustine in Spirituality, Plato in Antiquity etc, have done for man in ages past.

Mainly, and simply said, your personal encounter of the person of Jesus has been artfully and theologically articulated in and through your novels, thus far written.

You have an audience far beyond the institutional structures of the present church. May many, both within and without those structures find meaning and fulfillment in Him, through your words.

Grace and Peace,

Fr. Dennis J. Hayes, III, B.S., M.Div., S.T.L.
Adjunct Professor, Notre Dame Seminary

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Not since Flannery O' Connor have we had a female Christian writer with such creative talent as Anne Rice. In her second novel about the life of Christ ("Christ the Lord. The Road to Cana"), Anne Rice turns her remarkable gifts to the story of the young adult Jesus and his life leading up to and climaxing with the baptism, the temptations in the wilderness and the wedding feast at Cana.

The narrative bristles with tension as we are led into the honor and shame culture of Jesus' Nazareth and watch a stoning, and we sense the tensions created by the oppressive presence of the Roman overlords and their minions such as Herod Antipas. Particularly telling is the way Anne is able to portray both the human and divine sides of who Jesus was without the characterization seeming unnatural or too stilted. We sense Jesus' passions, his power, his frustrations, his longings, and his deep sense of calling as God makes clear to him the path before him, one step at a time. If you only have time to read one book this Easter season, this is the book for you. There are books that entertain and are soon forgotten.

There are books that astonish, but the excitement soon passes. And then there are books that nourish and nurture and reward repeated readings. This book is not mere chicken soup or pablum for light eaters, it is a full course meal for the soul. Highly recommended!

Dr. Ben Witherington, III 
Professor of New Testament 
Asbury Theological Seminary 
Doctoral Faculty 
St. Andrews University, Scotland

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SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains information about the characters and plot of CHRIST THE LORD: THE ROAD TO CANA.

Dear Anne,

I finished reading The Road to Cana and liked the book so much I am already rereading it. Thanks again for such a beautiful gift!

The episodes from Jesus' hidden life had a profound effect on me. I always wanted to be like Jesus, but after reading this book, I realized Jesus was really a lot like me. Other books I read on Jesus never got inside of him the way this one did. Now I can see he was truly human (as well as divine); he had the same emotional struggles that I, and all of us, go through.

It might not be easy to accept this interpretation of Jesus. It is certain to provoke discussion. It would be more comfortable to think of Jesus as a concept, a spirit, a totally perfect being outside ourselves that we could turn to in need. The challenge is to see him as a man who was tempted in every way we are, and for that reason can understand us in our weakness.

The book began with a shocking incident, and I thought, No, not that! And then? What will the people do, what will Jesus do? (Between the lines, I was wondering what some today would do.) From that moment on, the movement of the book never let up. Each scene was so carefully worked out that I could see it developing and moving on to the next one just like in a movie.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius taught us to contemplate the Mysteries of Jesus' life by watching the characters, hearing what they are saying, imagining ourselves as a part of the scene. He would have loved your book!

The Gospels only give a few lines about Jesus' hidden life. Using the imagination to fill up these gaps helps me to know him better. This is crucial, because if I don't know him, then what is my life all about and what am I trying to teach others?

Through the words and actions of Jesus in this book I was able to form a more complete picture of him in my mind. It is a complex picture, but one I find very appealing. There is Jesus as a man surrounded day and night by his extended family, relatives and coworkers, yet always yearning to be alone to pray, to think and to dream. He knows the Scriptures and could have been a Scribe like Jason. But he chose to be a manual worker, a carpenter, and in many ways, a romanticist rather than a revolutionary.

It was this feature of Jesus' personality that I found most intriguing. Even as his grand destiny became clearer and more universal, he was always aware of the individual, the personal, the smallest, gentle gesture of kindness to one in need. In what seems to be crucial during the events leading up to the wedding at Cana, Jesus loved Avigail, and he sacrificed his love for her. And even if he was Jesus, this kind of sacrifice, which is always the greatest love, hurt.

In the book, Jesus had a highly developed sensitivity, which made him liable to misunderstanding and pain. He was a person who continually suffered because of his sensibilities. He thought and felt about things differently than others. This is an important feature for me to know, since sometimes I wondered if such sensitivities in myself could be wrong, or at least something to overcome. To realize that Jesus very likely felt the same way is reassuring. I can be like him because he became like me.

Before, I had thought of Jesus, especially in his hidden life, as someone totally peaceful, going through a blessed childhood and adolescence in the quiet company of his devoted parents. I had no idea Nazareth could at times be such a madhouse! (Yet, looking at village life, as I have experienced it these many years here, I know this to be true.)

One of my favorite parts in the book is the seamless transition from the almost unbearably dramatic moments leading up to Avigail's engagement to Reuben, to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. I could sense this emotional horde of people moving from a potential stoning to a baptismal immersion, all with the same uncontrollable religious passion.

I saw Jesus as part of this expectant group heading toward the river. Then there was that key transformation in him: the influx of the Holy Spirit that made him forever different, and recognized then as "The One." (Yet he could still dance and sing with the wedding party, even as he became aware of his new powers.)

I thoroughly enjoyed how Jesus in the desert was able to put the devil on the defensive. It was a philosophical interlude in the book that made clear what St Ignatius calls "the Two Standards." I was impressed by the tremendous sense of optimism that was shown here. The devil's temptations were to emptiness and despair. Jesus was filled with confidence and hope. And how intriguing their faces were the same, that they were reflections!

Finally, down to the last page, the last sentence, everything came together; the story was complete (for now). There was a both a spiritual and a literary sense of satisfaction in finishing the book. It was as beautifully written as it was, I think, inspired.

And those wonderful, original characters! My favorites were Hananel and Shemayah: old, disagreeable, opinionated men totally set in their ways. How could they possibly change? Only through Jesus' gentle patience and incredible understanding and forgiveness. His personal concern and kindness broke through all the defenses they had carefully set up. Hananel and Shemayah became so central to the story that without their change of heart, the wedding at Cana would have had more problems than lack of wine.

Mary and Joseph also became for me flesh and blood characters. Mary, a very human (and at times humorous) mother who knew her son so well she could chide him in his reluctance to follow her wishes, telling him to honor his father AND his mother. And Joseph, fading into old age and another world, yet still wanting to be a part of it all. So much like our real life parents...

Then there was that "cameo" appearance of Herod Antipas at the River Jordan. It was only a brief and subtle moment, but his personality came across so powerfully. I know he will appear later. He won't let it rest...

A few comparisons come to mind. Although the styles are different, the book reminds me of some of Khalil Gibran's stories, especially those translated from the Arabic, and his book of first person accounts called, Jesus. (Gibran was born in the same Lebanese village as my maternal grandmother, so I have always felt a kinship with him.) Many of Gibran's stories can be shocking (as yours can) because of their unconventional, but nevertheless quite plausible, ways of looking at God, religion and society.

Then there are the visionary works of Catherine Emmerick, so strong in their details about Jesus. (It was good you called your books novels rather than revelations! Yet God certainly works through your works and really does make them a "revelation" for countless people.) To help people to know God, to know Jesus, could any calling be more important? And you have that call!

To sum things up, I loved the book, all of it, every page every word. I felt a different person after reading it; it will help my prayer life, my relationship to Jesus and my ministry. The Road to Cana affected me even more than Out of Egypt, because Jesus is older now and easier for me to identify with at this stage. But both books are superb.

Congratulations, Anne!

Finally, I want to mention the cover painting of Jesus. It is a loving, welcoming, sensitive and intimate face that becomes deeper the more one looks at it. It is a beautiful painting. I have never seen it before.

All of us have different images of Jesus in our minds and hearts, and these portraits are very personal. I was wondering what my picture of Jesus was now, after reading the book.

I saw Jesus struggling interiorly and exteriorly throughout much of the book, in agony at times, but also maintaining a consistent kindness, patience and overriding peace. His human nature encompassed both strength and vulnerability, both masculine and feminine sensibilities. Not until the last chapters of the book did he have the full assurance of all that he was and what he could do. Up until then, there didn't seem to be that confidence; instead, there was restlessness; there were questions, voices...

Of course, no painting could possibly portray such a complex, emotional ambivalence. But I thought I would look around and see if I could find a picture that described the way I saw Jesus in your book.

The face of Jesus I found in one of my library's art books looks to me like a grown-up version of the portrait of the young Jesus on the cover of the paperback version of Out of Egypt.

I'm enclosing an attachment of this painting for you. It is by Gian Pietro Rizzi, Italian (Milanese), early 16th century, and is called, The Redeemer. The title of the art book is, His Face: Images of Christ in Art, by Marion Wheeler.

There is so much more I could say about The Road to Cana; though this email is long, it can't even begin to express what your book meant to me. Both volumes of Christ the Lord have become a part of my meditation now and will be given to others in whatever ways I transmit the knowledge and person of Jesus, which is my life's work.

Once again, thanks so much for giving me this preview of The Road to Cana. And now, back to the book again!

With prayers, and best wishes,

Fr Barry Martinson 
Author of Song of Orchid Island, and Celestial Dragon: The Life and Letters of Fr. Francis Rouleau

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Even if I weren't a Christian who is ever-eager to know Jesus better and deeper, I would love The Road to Cana as a beautiful, at times heart-breaking, and thoroughly engaging novel. I would appreciate the window it opens into daily life in the first century. I would be especially intrigued with the main character; he is masterfully rendered as both fully human and fully good, which is no easy task for any writer. As a Christian, I found even more to enjoy: I experienced the book as devotionally inspiring, theologically intelligent, and a kind of spiritual exercise in faithful imagination. Thanks to Anne Rice for this "Christ the Lord" series, which I believe will be the master-work of her literary career.

Brian McLaren, speaker
Author of The Secret Message of Jesus and A New Kind of Christian

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A Christian Review of Anne Rice’s The Road to Cana
Reviewed by Anthony Horvath

Book Description:
Anne Rice’s second book in her hugely ambitious and courageous life of Christ begins during his last winter before his baptism in the Jordan and concludes with the miracle at Cana.

It is a novel in which we see Jesus—he is called Yeshua bar Joseph—during a winter of no rain, endless dust, and talk of trouble in Judea.

Legends of a Virgin birth have long surrounded Yeshua, yet for decades he has lived as one among many who come to the synagogue on the Sabbath. All who know and love him find themselves waiting for some sign of the path he will eventually take.

I have been intrigued by Anne Rice ever since hearing that the atheist-turned-Christian author was going to write first person accounts of Jesus’ life. Think about that: first person accounts. That means writing from Jesus’ perspective. That’s a ton of courage right there. Hubris, almost.

When her first book, “Out of Egypt” was released, I was extremely impressed. She did a fantastic job. I wrote a review of that book which you can read here. I note that I was honored that she found the review and left a comment. You can read that, there, too.

So now we have book two. Titled “The Road to Cana” it picks up where “Out of Egypt” left off, more or less. I wondered to myself how she was going to get another book out of Jesus’ pre-ministry years, but sure enough, she did.One of the things that will catch people’s attention right from the start is Jesus’ attraction to a pretty young Jewish girl. What with that whole ‘Last Temptation of Jesus’ mess, I can see how Christian readers would recoil at the very thought. The attitude and approach makes all the difference. Anne Rice handles it with delicacy and reverence… and this is key… she handles it.There is no hint anywhere in any of the documents available to us that Jesus had any feelings towards women and even attempts to read into Gnostic literature is unsuccessful at raising that possibility. Why would anyone even dream of including such a plot line then, especially if they are devoutly Christian? The answer is orthodox Christianity essentially demands it. Either Jesus was fully human and fully God or he was not, and if he was fully human- that is, a man, then such feelings almost certainly would have occurred.

I feel that our reverence for Christ often looks the other way concerning his humanity. Do we not realize that he ate, slept, drank, cried, and yes, even urinated? A disturbing thought to some. The whole glory of the thing to others.

Let us consider what it might mean that Jesus did not encounter such feelings. It is written in Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.”

It is on account of this fact that the writer continues, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.” (vs 16).

Either Jesus was tempted in every way or he was not. Upon it appears to hinge how we approach the ‘throne of grace.’ If he was tempted in every way, we can be sure that sexual desire, which is built into the human being, was present in Jesus. We can also be sure that the Enemy tried to exploit it. For those who can’t imagine that it is possible to have sexual desire without sin I ask how you thought Adam and Eve were going to get along before the Fall of Man. If you don’t believe in that, well, I guess I got nothing to say. The point is that Jesus, being a real man, would have experienced such things, but unlike us, was the Master of them.

As I said, Rice handles the whole subject reverentially and I suspect that even if the above thoughts are ones that you as a Christian find uncomfortable, you will find that Rice resolves the issue admirably.

This leads into another area that I was wondering how Rice would handle. There is a lingering question as to how much Jesus knew of his own nature. As a one month old child did he recount to his parents how he had created the universe? Or did he sit there and kick his legs and feet and coo and cry? Rice already began laying out her answer in “Out of Egypt” and she continues in “The Road to Cana.” I think I might have a different answer then her, but not too different.

The great value consists in raising the question in the first place. Christians don’t tend to think all that deeply about that which they say they believe. Such thinking might seem to go beyond speculation and into heresy. How dare you question what Jesus, since he was God, could know? But then we have Jesus himself saying “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36).

These discussions center around Jesus’ ‘kenosis’ and involve also what Jesus’ relationship as a man is to divine attributes besides omniscience. See:

The point is that even though Jesus was God, as a man and bound to time the way Men are, there were things he didn’t know. Rice does a fantastic job of talking over such issues in a way that orthodox Christians can enjoy and respect, even if they might disagree in some ways.

As in “Out of Egypt” this book is thoroughly researched on the historical details. 1st century Palestine is the background to the New Testament but it is easy for believers and skeptics alike to forget that we know more about that century then just from what we read in the New Testament. Having this background can help us greatly in understanding what we read in the New Testament, unless of course we are in the camp that scoffs at the New Testament by virtue of the fact it mentions miracles. When you know that there no God you know there can’t be miracles. But if you don’t know if there is a God or not then if miracles really happened then that helps answer the question. The miracles in the New Testament apparently occurred in a real historical context, and so understanding that historical context can dramatically affect your investigation.

There is a tendency, for example, to dismiss Christian theism as just one more fantastic mythology out of dozens that existed. This forgets, however, the Jews. The Jews were fiercely monotheistic. Fiercely. Violently. They were not opposed to miracles, of course, but the notion that a man could be God is literally the last thing a God-fearing Jew would have ever conceived of. Such a thing was blasphemy, and they knew it. It is amazing, then, that out of the very last group that could be expected to believe God had become man- the Jews- that very doctrine emerged. Nearly all of the first Christians were Jews.

CS Lewis expands on this point in his essay “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ” found in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics:

“[One approach to explaining the rise of Christianity is to say] that His followers exaggerated the story, and so the legend grew up that He had said them. This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, the belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God- that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary, we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily.”

That is the historical reality to which skeptics tend to dismiss with hand waving as though it were not something that needs to be explained on other grounds if one rejects the explanation that Jesus really was God. The more you know the actual history of the Jews the more you realize just how significant this is and how much it demands an explanation. Those ignorant of that background can be dismissive. Those who know the background know they can’t dismiss it.

Now, I don’t know if Rice plans on making that argument or not, but she draws on some historical events and puts them in “The Road to Cana” that certainly paves the way for an appreciation of CS Lewis’s point.

For example, the arrival of Pontius Pilate and his move to put ‘ensigns’ in the Jewish temple caused a Palestine-wide riot. This is recounted by the Jewish historian Josephus. Rice drops bits and pieces of this famous story, including how it was resolved: thousands of Jews kneeling on the ground, deliberately exposing their necks to the Roman soldiers that Pilate had sent to ‘disperse’ the crowd. When Pilate saw that the Jews were willing to die by the thousands without even putting up a fight just because of some silly (from his perspective) banner hanging in Jerusalem, he relented.

It is from out of a people with this sort of fervor and passion for their monotheistic religion that Christianity emerged.

Rice also helps set the stage for how dangerous life was by pointing out how brigands roamed the hills and those who claimed to be Messiahs were about.

In my opinion, atheists, seekers, and Christians alike should read Anne Rice’s books just so that they can see historically how the whole narrative put together might have looked. When all we know about the context in which Jesus moved and breathed is the New Testament we rob ourselves of critical information that would help us understand what we are reading in the New Testament.

Now, just a few final notes.

One of the things I noticed in “Out of Egypt” was a robust understanding of how different languages would play out in this region, this crossroads of Empires. She continues to show insight into that subject in “The Road to Cana.”

The animosity that Jesus’ own relatives show to Jesus as seen in the New Testament is given a compellingly believable back story. It is my view that something very much as Anne Rice described is what it was like.

Rice is sensitive to the dispute about whether or not Jesus had any actual brothers, that is, through Mary, and not just Joseph. She comes down on the Roman Catholic side of things (ie, Mary had no other children, etc), which I can’t blame her for since she is, well, Catholic. I have no problem with her approach so long as she doesn’t conclude her series on the Christ the Lord with a final book with the Perpetually Virgin Mary as the Intercessor. I don’t expect her to do that.

As I sat back and thought about Rice’s series to this point, I contemplated how courageous it was to try to write something from Jesus’ perspective but upon reflection realized that in fact writing accounts of Jesus’ life where we don’t really have as much material is actually much easier than the task that is now set before her. With “The Road to Cana” completed, Jesus now enters his life of ministry and this is much more thoroughly documented and people are much more familiar with that documentation. I am deeply curious about how she will weave her narrative through well known and treasured stories of the New Testament.

If her first two books are any indication, she will continue to root her accounts on solid historical data. She will continue to be reverent and respectful to orthodox Christian teachings even as she creatively tries to imagine how those doctrines played out in real life. I plan on picking up each book just as soon as I can.

I suggest you do, too. I would even go so far as to say that the books to this point could be useful reading to children, since they often have questions about Jesus’ early life. While you will have to point out that some of it is impossible to prove, you will be able to provide a framework for understanding the context of what is going on. You will also have the opportunity to point to the historical nuggets that abound in the books and thus help them see that Christianity is no mere ‘ancient mythology’ but rather rooted in history. Either it happened, or it did not. And you can find out if it happened by examining the historical ‘fossils’ that are left behind. And if you conclude that it did happen, then we live in a world where God became man, lived, died, and rose from the dead. If true, that changes everything.

Review of the Anne Rice book,
Christ The Lord – The Road To Cana
by Michael K Mills

I am an avid reader. You’ll hardly ever find me not reading something. Much of what I read is Christian literature, generally non-fiction including stories about true-life experiences of missionaries, such as, End of the Spear, by Steve Saint or one of Don Richardson’s books documenting his experiences as a missionary. Currently I’m re-reading (for the 3rd or 4th time) C.S. Lewis’, The Problem of Pain, which is an incredible essay on how we as Christians should view the purpose of pain in our lives. That having been said, I dearly love a good fiction tale that touches my heart. Such stories often encourage us to seek to know our Lord more fully.

It saddens me, therefore, to say that I find many books in the Christian fiction genre disappointing. This appears to happen, in part, because the authors seem more transfixed on sharing the Good News of Christ or making a theological point rather than applying the necessary effort and work to the crafting of a good story. Now there’s certainly nothing wrong about wanting to share Spiritual Truth. But a story, by its very nature, needs to be constructed and conveyed in such a way as to draw the reader in, encouraging them to actually care about the characters of the story, not just the moral of the story.

In my opinion the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (though immensely popular) is an example of Christian story-telling that lacks good craftsmanship. As a former military pilot and FAA air traffic controller/supervisor, it was obvious to me from the very first book in the series that the authors didn’t even try to do an ounce of necessary homework in order to get the aviation portions of the story even remotely believable. Case in point: The pilots of Air Force One are NOT airline pilots…as was the central character of their story. Even the average non-aviation oriented person knows that Air Force One is flown by U. S. Military officers, not airline pilots. This glaring error, however, was not the worst that enlisted my displeasure in the reading; that being most of the principle players of their story lacked the realistic complexities that we all experience in our own lives. In short, it was just too “black and white” for my taste.

Considering this bit of background and how I view literature then, imagine my pleasant surprise when I read my first Anne Rice novel, Christ the Lord – The Road to Cana. I’ve never read any of her novels before, largely because she became popular due to her vampire stories and most of those never interested me. (I don’t object to the subject of horror and have been known to read a good Steven King yarn from time to time…) Vampire stories, however and like the Left Behind series, are just too “black and white” in their depiction of good versus evil to draw me into the tale—to make be believe…. True Evil is far more subtle.

The story of Christ The Lord, starts in the last winter before Christ is baptized and begins His ministry on Earth (ending at the point when He changed water into wine) and is told in the first-person, as though Christ had written it. The reader is given Jesus’ perspective and point-of-view regarding His family, associations, and hometown of Nazareth.

I began the read with a great deal of trepidation. Frankly, I expected the story to go off in some bizarre direction and was prepared to not finish it if my assumptions proved correct. But Ms Rice handled the subject tenderly and in a theologically sound way. Nothing in it alarmed me in a doctrinal sense. The greatest joy in having read it is that I came away with a deeper sense of Jesus’ humanity.

We speak of Jesus’ life on Earth as being fully God and yet fully man. We speak of the temptations He suffered. But, if you’re like me you have occasionally entertained the notion, when considering those temptations and sufferings He faced compared to our own, to think: Yeah, but He was God…how bad—or difficult—could it have been for Him? Of course, I immediately set those thoughts aside because I know, even when my feelings would take me elsewhere, it was difficult for Him. Scripture tells us He set aside His power and authority when He became man…that He lived as one of us. Yet, He did not sin.

Having finished the book, I considered more deeply the temptations Christ suffered and spent time meditating on that aspect of our Lord’s humanity. It occurred to me that at the moment in eternity when God conceived His plan of salvation, He knew it could not fail; not because He had, by way of His sovereign, omnipotent power, stacked-the-deck, so to speak. He knew it could not fail because His Love was that Perfect and Holy. Ah, but at what cost? In that Love resides a Power greater than any other. To have set aside that Power by becoming man, Jesus not only suffered as we, but far worse. For in His humanity, the assurance of what that eternal Love would eventually accomplish was denied Him. That is just part of the Power He relinquished by becoming man. The Father suffered, too, as He turned away from His Son on the cross. The moment was burned into the heart of the Father and of the Son…an agony of suffering that none of us have ever known, nor ever will. To meditate on the truth of this will bring one beyond tears, to a place of accurate horror. This is what He gave up on our behalf. This is the Power of His love. Compared to this suffering, I believe, death on the cross was nearly aninconvenience. (Hyperbole, to be sure, but it addresses the point!)

In the beginning of Anne Rice’s novel she quoted the following words of St. Augustine: “O Lord, the one God, God the Trinity, whatsoever I have said in these books is of you, may those that are yours acknowledge; whatsoever of myself alone, do you and yours forgive.”

As one who is His, I acknowledge the work she has done. It is a work of fiction, to be sure. None of us know the events that actually took place in the life of our Lord in the days prior to His public ministry. But in her well-crafted story of imagining what might have been, she encouraged me to care. She encouraged me to reflect back to Christ, the Love beyond price He has willfully given to me. May whatever we read, whether fiction or non-, be crafted with this care and evoke in us the same end.

New Oxford Review

Sr Julia's Best Catholic Books


The Fort Morgan Times

"A masterful book written by an extraordinary writer at the height of her powers." —David Kuo, All Things Considered

"Beautifully observed. . . . An intimate family saga of love, sorrow,
and misunderstanding." —Denver Post

"Rice can deliver hypnotic, incantatory prose. . . . Many readers will be lured by the promise of simply rendered holiness to The Road to Cana." —The New York Times

"Rice brings a liveliness and palpable joy to the material." —Los Angeles Times


Anne's Acknowledgements:

My deepest thanks to my assistants, Sue Tebbe, and Becket Ghioto for their support throughout the writing of this book; and to Fr. Joseph Cocucci, who traveled with us to the Holy Land at the end of 2005. I want also to thank my spiritual director, Fr. Dennis Hayes, for his continuing guidance. These friends were among the first to read this manuscript and they provided me with a wealth of response.

The guidance, advice and perspective of my friend, Amy Troxler influenced this book even more perhaps than my first novel about Our Lord. My thanks also to Victoria Wilson, my editor and guardian angel, who has guided my work for over thirty years. My thanks to all at Alfred A. Knopf who have helped to make this publisher my home throughout my career.

In the Author’s Note to Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, I described my personal conversion, and mentioned a great many historical and scholarly sources that have influenced my work. It would not do to try to condense or repeat those remarks here. My studies have continued.

Let me add that as the final draft of this work came together, I was particularly influenced once again by Craig S. Keener’s commentaries on Matthew and John, by the work of D. A. Carson, and the work of Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. and J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P. The theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., was a profound inspiration to me, and I was also deeply influenced by the writings of the historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, particularly his book, The Devil, Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Russell’s various works led me to examine the medieval mystery and miracle plays, which provided considerable stimulus as well.

The Unity Principle by Professor Ellis Rivkin requires special and grateful mention here. It has influenced me on every level.

I am also profoundly grateful for Jesus The Christ by Walter Kasper, a brilliant and beautiful theological work recommended to me at the very beginning of my studies of the life of Our Lord. It is a constant source of inspiration.

I am indebted to Becket Ghioto for reminding me at a crucial moment to return to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and to the series of books called Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture--books that were already on my shelves. I can never repay my readers for their countless emails in response to Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, for their generous comments, and for their many interesting and challenging questions about the book and its context. I wrote to some of these readers -- scholars, clergymen, believers and non believers, including Jewish readers -- asking my own specific questions and receiving many very thoughtful and helpful answers. This has been a magnificent experience for me. I have met, and worked with, many people on this journey. I do not mention these people by name because I realize they have to be completely free to accept or reject this book.

My son, Christopher, is my fellow writer, and my best friend. His example, his support, and his faith fill my life with immense light.