The Book of Longings and Surprises

I can’t remember the last book I read that left me completely speechless, but Sue Monk Kidd’s newest book The Book of Longings certainly did. I finished last night well past midnight, and I’m still blown away this afternoon. It’s an incredible novel of Ana, a first century Jewish girl who is Jesus of Nazareth’s wife. You read that correctly. It’s Ana’s story, not a recounting of the Gospels with a wife inserted into the narrative. It’s her story and her life, and it is brilliantly told. This novel would be incredible if Ana was married to some Joe Blow, but having Jesus as her husband grounds it historically. It is very well researched, one truly feels she is walking the dirt roads of Galilee, Jerusalem and Egypt.

Several things particularly delighted me. One is that Kidd made Judas Ana’s adopted brother. Yes, that Judas is her brother. The story of this young man and his inner wounds make a credible story of why he would betray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it’s not greed.

Secondly, Ana is a writer or as they called it, a scribe and is very highly educated in the classics and speaks several languages. Ana comes from a wealthy established family whose father is the right hand man of Herod. So much expertly woven together to make this story soar. Ana very much relates to Sophia, wisdom, the sacred feminine of the Trinity. Today, we usually refer to the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of God as a he, but some ancient texts refer to wisdom as a she. Kidd has Ana as one of the writers of the Nag Hammadi Library which was discovered in 1945 in Egypt, specifically The Thunder, Perfect Mind. The real author is unknown, but Kidd states in her notes, that some experts think the author is a woman. The Thunder, Perfect Mind is a poem of warning or caution written in a common Greek form that was popular in the Mediterranean region. Other examples are Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

The Nag Hammadi Library is not a physical structure, but a collection of Gnostic and early Christian manuscripts found in 1945 as I mentioned above. There are over 1000 pages bound in 13 papyrus texts that were found buried in a sealed jar. The most famous of these texts is the Gospel of Thomas. In 1977, the Nag Hammadi Library was first published in English. Gnosticism differs from traditional Christianity in many ways. It started in the first century AD among Jewish and early Christian groups and was considered heretical by many. Gnosticism emphasized personal spiritual knowledge over mainstream orthodox teachings of the early church. There were other groups who deviated from orthodoxy as well. The early church recognized the importance of establishing once and for all the absolute truth of the person of Jesus, how human, how divine, hence the Nicene Creed, etc. It’s all fascinating. Google Gnosticism and read away.

There are lots of characters to love in this story besides Ana and Jesus. There is Mary, mother of Jesus who reveals such goodness and compassion as she tends goats and the garden. Yaltha, Ana’s feisty elderly aunt is a lioness in first century clothes. We all need a Yaltha in our lives. My favorite, Mary of Magdala is described as having copper colored hair and flashing eyes. What you will love most about Jesus is his huge heart for his fellow human beings. He is so kind, gracious and understanding and encourages those around him to be the same. Good lesson for today.

Kidd has written such a book after many years of thinking about and then researching this time in history. It is a brave book and is written so respectfully. Her story line is brilliant in how she weaves the life of such a renown historical figure such as Jesus around the story of a young woman so ahead of her time.