Imagining the life of Jesus’ wife

Sue Monk Kidd’s novel brings to life a spirited young woman who must come to terms with her own heartfelt desires and ambitions.  

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
“The Book of Longings” by Sue Monk Kidd, Viking, 418 pp.

The Gospels never mention that Jesus had a wife. As Sue Monk Kidd points out in her author’s note to “The Book of Longings,” the Bible is silent on his life from age 12 to 30. It seems reasonable, from a cultural and religious standpoint, to at least entertain the idea that Jesus, like most other Jewish men of the time, was married by age 20.

Who knows, Kidd asks, whether Jesus' wife, if he had one, was written out of the story because she didn't fit the Gospel narrative? And if he had a wife, who was she and where did she go?

From this premise, Kidd imagines Ana, the young woman who becomes Jesus’ wife in the novel. Raised in a wealthy family, she grows up learning to read and write, skills that were strongly discouraged in women. She possesses a fierce determination to understand her gift – her interior life – and raise up the voices of women by writing histories of their lives. 

Ana falls in love with Jesus’ quiet intensity and warm laughter. After they marry, she moves in with his family, sharing their poverty. Their union is happy, but Ana must endure long absences, first when Jesus goes out to look for work, and later when he begins preaching.

Kidd pulls off the challenging feat of keeping Ana’s story uppermost. Other novelists have imagined the human side of Jesus, and some have envisioned him as married. But no other writer has fleshed out a partner who can stand on her own, who is intellectually and spiritually compatible with Jesus. Ana understands how torn he is between providing for his family and answering a call to preach. She, too, has ambitions.

Many readers may wonder why Kidd skipped over the marvelous acts that Jesus is recorded as having performed. By emphasizing a Jesus who was, as yet, unsure of his path, Kidd gives Ana space to discover her own. Both of them have “longings” that give the book its title. His involve improving humanity’s lot, and hers include fulfilling a desire to study and write. 

Kidd’s research into first-century Jewish life, along with her vivid descriptions of the villages and terrain, make Ana’s story come alive.

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