Christ the Lord Out of Egypt Anne Rice Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 322 pp.
In his classic work Mimesis, Erich Auerbach observed that the narrative of the Bible is all foreground; it is left to the human imagination to fill in the background. This is certainly true of the gospel portrait of Jesus.
For two thousand years people have imagined how Jesus might have looked, what his childhood was like, whether he ever laughed, what he did for work, and how he prayed in those periods when, the evangelists tell us, he went off by himself to out-of-the-way places. This impulse to “fill in” produced a spate of noncanonical gospels, and gave birth to a whole tradition of poetry, fiction, and drama as well as a rich treasure of visual arts.
The modern imagination has not resisted the temptation to “fill in,” as the recent success of Mel Gibson’s (truly awful) The Passion of the Christ attests. Fictional works about Jesus are usually not very good. Think of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, where Jesus sounds suspiciously like Zorba the Greek, or the cloyingly sentimental Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar. A number of novelists have more artfully recast Jesus as a social critic. In Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, the...