Ana is 14-years-old in 16 CE (Common Era). She lives in Sepphoris, a region of Israel. The closest village is Nazareth. At age 15, she married Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.
Ana is the daughter of Matthias, an important counselor to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee for the Roman Empire. Her mother, Hadar, is a beautiful woman and proud of her status in the community. Hadar barely tolerates her strong-willed, articulate, literate daughter who defies convention.
Ana’s cousin and protector is Judas, a Zealot, rebel, and enemy of Herod, whom Judas despises because of his collusion with Rome. He eventually joins with Jesus in what he thinks will be a revolt of the masses designed to oust Herod, whose goal is to be named King of the Jews.
Ana has been tutored in languages, writing, and reading, thanks to her father’s position as a scribe for Herod. Her burning goal is to record the stories of women from the Old Testament. In time, she records those and the stories of the women with whom she is closely affiliated during her long lifetime. She must hide her work, as women are punished for voicing opinions, demonstrating intellect, or showing interest in politics or government.
Ana meets Jesus when she is looking for a cave to hide her writings. She encounters him praying on the hillside. He engages her with talk about his work and his family.
Later, when Ana meets with the disapproval of Herod and is sentenced with a false crime of thievery and prostitution, she is given up to a crowd in the marketplace who prepare to kill her. Jesus rescues her by announcing to the angry masses that she is his betrothed, and that they are soon to be married. Ana is surprised, but pleased.
In her newest book, author Sue Monk Kidd stays historically true to the setting of the times in Galilee between 16 CE and 60 CE. Her novel is almost solely focuses on Ana’s life as a daughter, a wife, and friend, and finally, a leader in a community. Ana is presented as a strong, godly, woman seeking to express herself and give voice to women of the past and present.
Although Ana is imagined, the basic biblical stories that are recounted in the novel are not. The times of Jesus, the strength of Ana, the cruelty of Herod and Pilate, the gentleness of Mary become real. I found myself referring often to stories I recognized from the Bible.
Kidd makes no pretense that Jesus actually had a wife since there are no references to such in the Bible. She does point out that Jewish men in the first century were expected to marry as part of their civic duty and as a sign that they had become an adult male. It would have been unusual for Jesus not to have married. According to the author, claims that Jesus never married didn’t surface until the second century.
I found this book to be a beautiful retelling of events surrounding extraordinary times. The author acknowledges that women have been silenced through the years, and their work unrecognized or hidden. If Jesus did have a wife, Ana would be the perfect symbol of women’s struggle to be heard even to this day.
Kidd is the author of bestsellers including “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Mermaid’s Tale,” and “The Invention of Wings.” I predict “The Book of Longings” will be featured on many literary award lists.