Sunday, November 13, 2005
PZ on Anne Rice:
I have been reading Anne Rice's new book on the childhood of Christ, which was given to me by some lovely friends from Jersey City last week. What is most interesting to me, initially at least, is the personal testimony of her return to the church, which she gives at length at the end of the book. She has returned to a conservative and orthodox form of Christianity, and from the pit of adversity. This is very touching and very striking – and even the photographs of her seem to be of a different person than the Anne Rice who wrote "The Vampire Lestat." I believe her story.
There is one important fact about her new search, however, that distresses me. She has become a serious student of earliest Christianity and has therefore read, with sincerity and dedication, all the latest views of Jesus, especially "conservative" views and not "Jesus-Seminar" views. This means that she has been thoroughly and one-sidedly influenced by the "Jewish Jesus" of contemporary scholarship. This is simply because just about all conservative books about the historical Jesus take the now standard line that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish not only in his background but also in his teaching; and that Christianity began really as a variant of Judaism for Gentiles. This is the contemporary teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and also of such scholars such as N.T. or Tom Wright. They are so busy being guilty over the Holocaust that they have become very reticent about those things that distinguish Christ's teaching from Judaism, those themes within his teaching that oppose or are in discontinuity with Judaism.
Thus we have a semi-Pelagian Jesus, who existed purely to take Jewish monotheism and present it in a form accessible to non-Jews. The current semi-Pelagian Jesus is a Second-Temple Jew who had a messianic self-consciousness. The idea that Jesus broke with Jewish teaching concerning the Law, and that this break with his inherited religion resulted in his death: such an idea is not allowed today.
I do understand why it is not allowed. I think we all recognize not only the self-evident fact that Jesus was Jewish, but also the fact that the Holocaust destroyed the credibility of all the Christian churches in many eyes. But it is a bad thing to water down or soften the real edge of the Christian Gospel in the interest of making the teachings of Jesus more Jewish than they were, and are.
Honestly, I wish that Anne Rice's tutors – because I feel certain she had a few tutors after her conversion, or re-conversion – had provided her with some alternative interpreters, and not just the very recent reigning voices. I see nothing, not a word or a phrase, of the Reformation sola gratia in her Jesus. So her picture of him is wanting…much as I recognize the power of what has happened to her!
Posted by John Zahl at 3:30 PM