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Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Anne Rice


  T H E


  Out of Egypt

  A Novel



  New York • Toronto



  Copyright © 2005 by Anne O'Brien Rice

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by

  Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York,

  and in Canada by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of

  Random House of Canada Limited Toronto.


  Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks

  of Random House, Inc.

  Knopf Canada and colophon are trademarks.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Rice, Anne, [date]

  Christ the Lord : out of Egypt: a novel / by Anne Rice.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 0-375-41201-8 (alk. paper)

  1. Jesus Christ—Fiction. 2. Bible. N.T.—History of

  Biblical events—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3568.1265C48 2005

  813'.54—dc22 2005044077

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Rice, Anne

  Christ the Lord / Anne Rice.

  ISBN 0-676-97768-5

  I. Title.

  PS3568.122C47 2005 813'.54 C2005-901019-3

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the

  author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  First Edition

  F O R


  When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob

  from a people of strange language;

  Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.

  The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.

  The mountains skipped like rams,

  and the little hills like lambs.

  What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest?

  Thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

  Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams;

  and ye little hills, like lambs?

  Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord,

  at the presence of the God of Jacob;

  Which turned the rock into a standing water,

  the flint into a fountain of waters.

  —Psalm 114. King James Version


  T H E



  I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD. What do you know when you're seven years old? All my life, or so I thought, we'd been in the city of Alexandria, in the Street of the Carpenters, with the other Galileans, and sooner or later we were going home.

  Late afternoon. We were playing, my gang against his, and when he ran at me again, bully that he was, bigger than me, and catching me off balance, I felt the power go out of me as I shouted: "You'll never get where you're going."

  He fell down white in the sandy earth, and they all crowded around him. The sun was hot and my chest was heaving as I looked at him. He was so limp.

  In the snap of two fingers everyone drew back. It seemed the whole street went quiet except for the carpenters' hammers. I'd never heard such a quiet.

  "He's dead!" Little Joses said. And then they all took it up. "He's dead, he's dead, he's dead."

  I knew it was true. He was a bundle of arms and legs in the beaten dust.

  And I was empty. The power had taken everything with it, all gone.

  His mother came out of the house, and her scream went up the walls into a howl. From everywhere the women came running.

  My mother lifted me off my feet. She carried me down the street and through the courtyard and into the dark of our house. All my cousins crowded in with us, and James, my big brother, pulled the curtain shut. He turned his back on the light. He said:

  "Jesus did it. He killed him." He was afraid.

  "Don't you say such a thing!" said my mother. She clutched me so close to her, I could scarcely breathe.

  Big Joseph woke up.

  Now Big Joseph was my father, because he was married to my mother, but I'd never called him Father. I'd been taught to call him Joseph. I didn't know why.

  He'd been asleep on the mat. We'd worked all day on a job in Philo's house, and he and the rest of the men had lain down in the heat of the afternoon to sleep. He climbed to his feet.

  "What's that shouting outside?" he asked. "What's happened?"

  He looked to James. James was his eldest son. James was the son of a wife who had died before Joseph married my mother.

  James said it again.

  "Jesus killed Eleazer. Jesus cursed him and he fell down dead."

  Joseph stared at me, his face still blank from sleep. There was more and more shouting in the street. He rose to his feet, and ran his hands back through his thick curly hair.

  My little cousins were slipping through the door one by one and crowding around us.

  My mother was trembling. "He couldn't have done it," she said. "He wouldn't do such a thing."

  "I saw it," said James. "I saw it when he made the sparrows out of clay on the Sabbath. The teacher told him he shouldn't do such things on the Sabbath. Jesus looked at the birds and they turned into real birds. They flew away. You saw it too. He killed Eleazer, Mother, I saw it."

  My cousins made a ring of white faces in the shadows: Little Joses, Judas, and Little Symeon and Salome, watching anxiously, afraid of being sent out. Salome was my age, and my dearest and closest. Salome was like my sister.

  Then in came my mother's brother Cleopas, always the talker, who was the father of these cousins, except for Big Silas who came in now, a boy older than James. He went into the corner, and then came his brother, Levi, and both wanted to see what was going on.

  "Joseph, they're all out there," said Cleopas, "Jonathan bar Zakkai, and his brothers, they're saying Jesus killed their boy. They're envious that we got that job at Philo's house, they're envious that we got the other job before that, they're envious that we're getting more and more jobs, they're so sure they do things better than we do—."

  'Is the boy dead?" Joseph said. "Or is the boy alive?"

  Salome shot forward and whispered in my ear. "Just make him come alive, Jesus, the way you made the birds come alive!"

  Little Symeon was giggling. He was too little to know what was going on. Little Judas knew, but he was quiet.

  Stop," said James, the little boss of the children. "Salome, be quiet."

  I could hear them shouting in the street. I heard other noises. Stones were hitting the walls of the house. My mother started to cry.

  You dare do that!" shouted my uncle Cleopas and he rushed back out through the door. Joseph went after him.

  I wriggled out of my mother's grasp and darted out before she could catch me, and past my uncle and Joseph and right into the crowd as they were all waving and hollering and shaking their fists. I went so fast, they didn't even see me. I was like a fish in the river. I moved in and out through people who were shouting over my head until I got to Eleazer's house.

  The women all had their backs to the door, and they didn't see me as I went around the edge of the room.

  I went right into the dark room, where they'd laid him on the mat. His mother was there leaning on her sister and sobbing.

  There was only one lamp, very weak.

  Eleazer was pale with his arms at his sides, same soiled tunic, and the soles of his feet very black. He was dead. His mouth was
open and his white teeth showed over his lip.

  The Greek physician came in—he was really a Jew—and he knelt down, and he looked at Eleazer and he shook his head.

  Then he saw me and said:


  His mother turned and she saw it was me and she screamed.

  I bent over him:

  "Wake up, Eleazer," I said. "Wake up now."

  I reached out and laid my hand on his forehead.

  The power went out. My eyes closed. I was dizzy. But I heard him draw in his breath.

  His mother screamed over and over and it hurt my ears. Her sister screamed. All the women were screaming.

  I fell back on the floor. I was weak. The Greek physician was staring down at me. I was sick. The room was dim. Other people had rushed in.

  Eleazer came up, and he was up all knees and fists before anyone could get to him, and he set on me and punched me and hit me, and knocked my head back against the ground, and kicked me again and again:

  "Son of David, Son of David!" he shouted, mocking me, "Son of David, Son of David!" kicking me in the face, and in the ribs, until his father grabbed him around the waist and picked him up in the air.

  I ached all over, couldn't breathe.

  "Son of David!" Eleazer kept shouting.

  Someone lifted me and carried me out of the house and into the crowd in the street. I was still gasping. I hurt all over. It seemed the whole street was screaming, worse than before, and someone said the Teacher was coming, and my uncle Cleopas was yelling in Greek at Jonathan, Eleazer's father, and Jonathan was yelling back, and Eleazer was shouting, "Son of David, Son of David!"

  I was in Joseph's arms. He was trying to move, but the crowd wouldn't let him. Cleopas was pushing at Eleazer's father. Eleazer's father was trying to get at Cleopas, but other men took hold of his arms. I heard Eleazer shouting far away.

  There was the Teacher declaring: "That child's not dead, you hush up, Eleazer, who said he was dead? Eleazer, stop shouting! Whoever could think this child is dead?"

  "Brought him back to life, that's what he did," said one of theirs.

  We were in our courtyard, the entire crowd had pushed in with us, my uncle and Eleazer's people still screaming at each other, and the Teacher demanding order.

  Now my uncles, Alphaeus and Simon, had come. These were Joseph's brothers. And they'd just woken up. They put up their hands against the crowd. Their mouths were hard and their eyes were big.

  My aunts, Salome and Esther and Mary, were there, with all the cousins running and jumping as if this were a festival, except for Silas and Levi and James who stood with the men.

  Then I couldn't see anymore.

  I was in my mother's arms, and she had taken me into the front room. It was dark. Aunt Esther and Aunt Salome came in with her. I could hear stones hitting the house again. The Teacher raised his voice in Greek.

  "There's blood on your face!" my mother whispered. "Your eye, there's blood. Your face is cut!" She was crying. "Oh, look what's happened to you," she said. She spoke in Aramaic, our tongue which we didn't speak very much.

  "I'm not hurt," I said. I meant to say it didn't matter. Again my cousins pressed close, Salome smiling as if to say she knew I could bring him back to life, and I took her hand and squeezed it.

  But there was James with his hard look.

  The Teacher came into the room backwards with his hands up. Someone ripped the curtain away and the light was very bright. Joseph and his brothers came in. And so did Cleopas. All of us had to move to make room.

  "You're talking about Joseph and Cleopas and Alphaeus, what do you mean drive them out!" said the Teacher to the whole crowd. "They've been with us for seven years!"

  The angry family of Eleazer came almost into the room. The father himself did come into the room.

  "Yes, seven years and why don't they go back to Galilee, all of them!" Eleazer's father shouted. "Seven years is too long! That boy is possessed of a demon and I tell you my son was dead!"

  "Are you complaining that he's alive now! What's the matter with you!" demanded my uncle Cleopas.

  "You sound like a madman!" added my uncle Alphaeus.

  And thus and so it went, with them shouting back and forth, and making fists at each other, and the women nodding and throwing glances to one another, and far off others joining in.

  "Oh, that you say such things!" said the Teacher, saying every word as if we were in the House of Study. "Jesus and James are my finest pupils. And these men are your neighbors, what's happened to make you turn against them like this! Listen to your own words!"

  "Oh, your pupils, your pupils!" cried Eleazer's father. "But we have to live and work, and there's more to life than being a pupil!" More of them came into the room.

  My mother backed up against the wall, holding me close. I wanted to get away, but I couldn't. She was too afraid.

  "Yes, work, that's it," my uncle Cleopas said, "and who's to say we can't live here, what do you mean drive us out, just because more of the work goes to us, because we're better and better at giving people what they want—."

  Suddenly Joseph put up his hands and he roared out the word: "Quiet!"

  And they all went quiet.

  The whole mob of them fell quiet.

  Never had Joseph raised his voice before. The Lord made shame for an argument such as this!" Joseph said. "You break the walls of my house."

  No one said anything. Everyone looked at him. Even Eleazer was there and he looked up at him.

  Not even the Teacher spoke.

  Now Eleazer is alive," Joseph said. "And as it happens, we are going home to Galilee."

  Again no one spoke.

  "We will leave for the Holy Land as soon as our few jobs are finished here. We'll bid you farewell, and those jobs that

  come to us as we prepare to go we'll send to you by your leave."

  Eleazer's father stretched his neck, then nodded and opened his hands. He shrugged. He bowed his head, and then he turned. His men turned. Eleazer stared at me, and then all of them went out of the room.

  The crowd left the courtyard, and my aunt Mary, the Egyptian, who was Cleopas' wife, came in and closed the curtain partway.

  What was left now was all our people, and the Teacher. The Teacher was not happy. He looked at Joseph. He frowned.

  My mother wiped her eyes, and looked to my face, but then the Teacher began to talk. She held me close, her hands shaking violently.

  "Leaving to go home?" said the Teacher. "And taking my fine students with you? Taking my fine Jesus? And what will you go home to, may I ask? To the land of milk and honey?"

  "You mock our forefathers?" asked my uncle Cleopas.

  "Or you mock the Lord Himself?" asked my uncle Alphaeus, whose Greek was as good as the Teacher's Greek.

  "I don't mock anyone," said the Teacher, looking at me as he spoke, "but I marvel you can leave Egypt behind so easily over a little hubbub in the street."

  "That has nothing to do with it," said Joseph.

  "Then why go? Jesus is coming along wonderfully here. Why, Philo is so impressed with his learning and James here is a marvel, and ..."

  "Yes, and this isn't Israel, is it?" asked Cleopas. "And it isn't our home."

  "No, and it's Greek that you're teaching them, Scripture in Greek!" said Alphaeus. "And we teach them here at home in Hebrew because you don't even know Hebrew and you are

  the Teacher, and this is what the House of Study is here, Greek, and you call it the Torah, and Philo, yes, the great Philo, he gives us work to do, and so do his friends, and all this is very fine, and we've done well, and we're grateful, yes, but he too speaks Greek and reads the Scriptures in Greek, and marvels at what these boys know in Greek—."

  "All the world speaks Greek now," said the Teacher. "The Jews in every city of the Empire speak Greek and read the Scripture in Greek—."

  "Jerusalem does not speak Greek!" said Alphaeus.

  "In Galilee we read the Scripture in Hebrew," said Cleo
pas. "Do you even understand Hebrew, and you call yourself a Teacher!"

  "Oh, I'm weary of your attacks, why do I put up with you, where are you taking yourselves and these boys, back to some dirt village! You leave Alexandria for that."

  "Yes," said Uncle Cleopas, "and it's no dirt village, it's my father's house. Do you know one word of Hebrew?" He then sang out in Hebrew the psalm that he loved and had long taught to us. "The Lord shall preserve my going out and my coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore." Following it with "Now do you know what that means?"