This breathtaking latest novel from Sue Monk Kidd follows a young Jewish girl in ancient Israel caught between her father’s loyalties to the Roman Empire that rules them and her brother’s rebellion against it. The book’s bold premise is a dazzling “what if” about one of history’s most influential men – and to those of the Christian faith, the very son of God himself – Jesus. It wonders, what if he’d been married?
“The Book of Longings,” however, is less concerned with the “whether” and the “how” of marriage to Jesus, and instead focuses very little on Jesus himself. The book is narrated by Ana, a girl driven to find her voice through writing in a time when women had few options and less power. The story chronicles her life, her hopes and dreams, her longings, and ultimately, her erasure from the annals of history.
Kidd draws upon an enormous amount of research to shape her imaginings of what life in the shadow of the might of the Roman Empire may have been like, including a fragment of a real poem written more than 3,000 years ago by an anonymous woman that echoes thoughts and fears still resonant today.
And although this is truly the story of Ana, it cannot be separated that Kidd has imagined her as the wife of a man whom millions globally believe to be the son of God. In her author’s note, Kidd writes that she “wanted the story to be about Jesus the man and not God the Son, who he would become.” The story is thus set mainly in the years of his life not recorded by the New Testament, although readers will note Ana’s witness to and participation in many of the later parables about Jesus’ life, and the plot arc traces his calling to a larger mission with God.
The idea of whether Jesus was married has fascinated writers and scholars for centuries, and has seen a resurgence in American literature thanks to the global popularity of “The Da Vinci Code.” Kidd was inspired in part by a leading Harvard Divinity School professor’s announcement of a recently discovered ancient gospel mentioning Jesus’ wife.
Though the claim was later debunked, it left Kidd with a burning question – how might Christianity, and the world it shaped, be different today had Jesus been married?
Grand in scope and bringing ancient times alive for a new generation of readers, “The Book of Longings” is an epic novel that delivers a lush and satisfying story, echoing beyond its thought-provoking premise.
Related: This month’s discussion questions can be found here.