In her latest novel, The Book of Longings Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of Ana, an educated woman who feels a divine calling to be a writer. Although Ana is from a noble Roman family of a much higher social class than Jesus of Nazareth their chance meeting in a marketplace leads to a committed and loving marriage relationship between the two that serves to inspire and support the important work of both Ana and Jesus.
The gospels included in our current Bible are not eye-witness accounts and were written decades after Jesus died. Since very few women are mentioned in the Bible and their stories are usually brief, Monk Kidd believes it is quite possible that Jesus did have a wife but she is simply omitted from the Biblical accounts.
According to a review in The New York Times, Monk Kidd spent fourteen months immersing herself in the history of Palestine during Jesus’ time and reading books written about him. She also researched Jewish women philosophers and writers in Alexandria as she developed Ana’s character. This hard work is evident in the way Monk Kidd uses interesting and authentic historical details to set the stage for her story. She tries to remain as true to the narrative of Jesus as it recorded in the Bible as she can, but she augments it and reimagines it.
The novel is well-paced with a plot that twists and turns enough to keep any reader engaged. I found the relationship between Jesus and Ana heartwarming and stirring despite the many hardships they endured together.
In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Sue Monk Kidd allows herself to imagine how the history of the Christian Church might have been altered if Jesus would have had a female partner every bit his intellectual and spiritual equal. Would women have become active leaders in the church and made it a much better institution? If Jesus hadn’t been celibate would the church have decided priests needed to be? Would the avalanche of abusive sexual practices perpetrated by the clergy have happened if priests had been allowed to have healthy, normal sexual relationships?
I really enjoyed this book but you can read a rather scathing review in the Washington Post. The reviewer feels Ana, Jesus’ wife is definitely a woman who is way too far ahead of her time to be believable.