Anne Rice isn’t your typical Shabbat evening speaker, and her latest book, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” might not seem to be a normal discussion topic at a synagogue.
That is, until one hears of Rice’s work in researching first-century Judaism to provide an authentic backdrop to the book.
Rice will speak at Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El on Nov. 11 at the 5:45 p.m. service. She acknowledged that on her current book signing tour, this is the only synagogue scheduled, but said she would be “delighted” to speak at others.
The visit came about as a result of Rice’s Nov. 12 panel discussion at Southside Baptist Church. Rabbi Jonathan Miller will be speaking as part of the 6 p.m. presentation. While the program was being organized, Miller asked Rice if she would be interested in speaking at Emanu-El.
She will also have a book signing at the Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham on Nov. 10 at 6 p.m.
Known for her “Vampire Chronicles,” in this book Rice set out to show “how rich and varied life was, and what it was like for a family of carpenters in Nazareth” in the time of Jesus.
In 1998, Rice returned to the Catholic Church, and this book is part of her spiritual journey. She said her previous works prepared her to tackle this subject, portraying Jesus as a 7-year-old growing up in the Land of Israel.
When writing her vampire novels, she would get into the mind of the vampire “to examine the whole metaphor from the inside out.”
“I like to take the character people usually work around and get into that person’s mind.” Taking the first-person point of view “is what interests me the most.”
She researched the time period, studying archaeology and historical accounts. She noted that she does not write anything that contradicts the gospels, but takes “the Jesus of faith and put him against a historically accurate background.” Among the topics she explored was the effect of Herod’s death on the region, and what the mood was when Rome had to come in and quell riots.
She said most people have a very simplistic view of that time period, which was formative to both Christianity and Judaism. Many people see the story of Jesus’ life as “Jesus against the Jews.”
While she enjoyed the film “Passion of the Christ,” she “felt it was completely reasonable” for Jewish leaders to be disturbed by it. She said the film “didn’t go the extra mile” to highlight the tensions of Jewish life at the time, and that all of Jesus’ followers were Jews.
“I really tried to get it right, to portray the scribes and rabbis as the way they saw themselves,” she said. That is important because “the impact of Judaism on Christianity is pervasive.”
In learning about the Judaism of the first century, she was struck by “how totally religious the view of every aspect of life was,” and how that affected the development of Christianity.
Rice acknowledges that her research wasn’t perfect — she noted that critics on Amazon have already called her out for referring to the “Tribe of David” instead of the “House of David.”
Her appearance during Shabbat services at Emanu-El will be more of a discussion with Miller than a lecture, she said.
The First Friday program previously scheduled for that night, where Miller was to speak with Rev. Ed Hurley of South Highlands Presbyterian Church and Rev. Stephen Jones of Southside Baptist Church about their interfaith trip to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, has been rescheduled for Dec. 2.