The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd was a delicious book, so good that I couldn’t stay away from it and I also didn’t want it to end. Of course, I pretty much knew at least part of the ending, as it was the story of Jesus’s wife, Ana.
I imagine that idea alone—that Jesus had a wife–offended plenty of potential readers. However, I’ve always found the claim that Jesus was a celibate bachelor hard to believe. Jesus was a Jew, and Jewish men got married.
Author Kidd invents Ana, a young girl passionate about writing and study. At the book’s outset, I was skeptical that such a person would have existed during Herod’s reign. The power of the story soon left my disbelief behind. By the time Ana meets Jesus, she is a learned scholar and chronicler of the lives of women.
In Kidd’s words:
I saw Ana not only as the wife of Jesus, but as a woman with her own quest—that of following her longings in pursuit of the largeness inside herself. I saw her, too, as a woman able to become not only Jesus’s wife, but his partner.
Kidd’s extensive research gives the book credibility. I was most interested in the Therapeutae. As Kidd explains, this was
a real monastic-like community, near Lake Mareotis in Egypt, where Jewish philosophers devoted themselves to prayer and study and a sophisticated allegorical interpretation of Scripture…However, the Therapeutae’s practice of asceticism and solitude was far more prevalent and intense than I describe.
Delving further, I found this information from Britannica:
Therapeutae, Greek Therapeutai (“Healers,” or “Attendants”), singular Therapeutes, Jewish sect of ascetics closely resembling the Essenes, believed to have settled on the shores of Lake Mareotis in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt, during the 1st century AD. The only original account of this community is given in De vita contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life), attributed to Philo of Alexandria. Their origin and fate are both unknown. The sect was unusually severe in discipline and mode of life. According to Philo, the members, both men and women, devoted their time to prayer and study. They prayed twice every day, at dawn and at evening, the interval between being spent entirely on spiritual exercise. They read the Holy Scriptures, from which they sought wisdom by treating them as allegorical, believing that the words of the literal text were symbols of something hidden. Attendance to bodily needs, such as food, was entirely relegated to the hours of darkness.
It intrigues me that there were Jewish monastic communities. With the Therpeutae, Ana finds support for her true self.
In The Book of Longings, Ana manages to protect the scrolls of her writing, and ultimately hides the copies she’s made for future seekers to discover.
I truly enjoyed being part of Kidd’s speculation about Ana and the vivid description of the times in which she lived.