The Book of Longings (A Book Review)

The Book of Longings by novelist Sue Monk Kidd is a new book that was released only months ago.

The book takes a look at the life of Ana, the girl who would grow up to become the wife of Jesus.

I initially decided against buying the book for a couple of reasons. First, I am very much not a historical fiction person. Nothing against those who are, its just that the genre has never really appealed much to me. Second, the idea of Jesus having a wife? My evangelical roots bristled against that. But, in the end, it was that bristling that convinced me to pull the trigger and buy the book. If my inner Evangelical was offended by the idea, then, I imagined, it would only be a matter of time before its on the hit list of all good apologists who are ready and waiting to denounce whatever doesn’t pass their sniff test.

So I bought it. I still dreaded reading it. The book is about 400+ pages, and I was sure it would drag on and take me forever to get through it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I got sucked into Ana’s world immediately. I was hooked by this young girl whose greatest love in life was to write – a forbidden passion for women in that day and age. She was meant to marry whoever her father chose for her and to bear children who could carry on her husband’s legacy. That was her purpose in life. But Ana was a good rebel and had zero interest in conforming to what was expected of her. Ana is emboldened by Yaltha, her beloved aunt, who encourages Ana to pursue her love of writing and to develop her own personal relationship with The Divine outside of the eyes and authority of the men in her life.

Her adopted brother, Judas, is often seen running around in the background coming up with schemes to topple the government he detests so much. Judas adores Ana and shows up as her guardian angel, watching over her wherever life takes her.

Ana’s path winds to the very footsteps of Jesus early on in the book during a very chance encounter. It was at the exact moment her parents were arranging her betrothal to Nathaniel, a man Ana detests on sight. Something about this Jesus captures her soul immediately, and she finds herself strangely drawn to him.

She keeps running into him, and she is fascinated by his every move. Initially she keeps her feelings to herself, but later reveals them to Yaltha.

As one would expect, Ana’s story eventually leads her to standing side by side with Jesus as his wife.

Ana, never conforming to the role expected of her, decides early in the marriage that she has no interest in being a mother to human children. Instead, she will be a mother to the words inside of her bursting to come out. She will write her narratives and thoughts, and they will be her legacy. When she reveals this wish to Jesus, he is supportive of her decision. They have a uniquely egalitarian relationship, it seems, in which Jesus regards Ana as his equal in every way. Her wishes and desires had value in his eyes.

As Ana’s story continues, we see the beginning of Jesus’s ministry through her eyes. She doesn’t fully understand what he is being called to, but she supports his need to go and preach the message inside of him. Her only disappointment is that she may not travel by his side. Initially, she is barred from joining Jesus because he chose to travel with John’s cohort, in which women were barred entry. Later, as Jesus strikes out on his own with his own mixed-gender group of disciples, Ana finds herself in a bind with the law and must flee with her aunt to Alexandria for safety.

We hear nothing of Jesus’s ministry for most of her stay in Alexandria, the one letter meant to update her as to what was happening with Jesus and whether it was safe for her to return to Galilee having been lost in transit.

I won’t give anything away about the ending, but suffice to say it was beautiful and exactly the ending Ana deserved.

I had to ask myself why the idea of Jesus having been married felt like an offence to me. I couldn’t put it into words at first, and then I sat with and explored the feelings as I read the book. The words formed themselves.

There’s something about the idea of Jesus having been sexually active with a woman that rubbed me the wrong way, and I realized this is tied directly to the impact purity culture had on me. If sex is somehow inherently “dirty”, as purity culture would have us believe, then of course the idea of Jesus having been married would “feel” wrong.

However, Sue Monk Kidd outlines in her book perfectly valid reasons why one might assume that Jesus had, indeed, been married. Not a single one of them robbed Christ of His status as the sin-free Son of God.

The character of Ana knew nothing of Jesus being God. In her eyes, Jesus was a man and her husband. She only knew the human side of Jesus. She was a girl who fell in love with a boy and shared a life with him. That’s all.

I can imagine that many Christians will balk at the idea of Jesus having been a husband. I can imagine others will feel offended by the idea of this book focusing solely on Jesus’s humanity as if it somehow denies His divinity. It feels sacreligious on the surface, and it is just the kind of book that will trigger knee-jerk reactions. But I think that’s the genius of this book. It makes people feel big feelings and it makes us think.

I believe that if people really give this book a chance, they will see that there really isn’t anything to be offended by. It really is just an enjoyable story about a woman who refused to live by any rules that weren’t her own.

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