Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
© 2002 Christopher Moore
“What?” [Joshua] said. “What? What? What?”
“Master, you’re walking on the water,” said Peter.
“I just ate,” Joshua said. “You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp.What, none of you guys have mothers?” – 357
As soon as I heard of Lamb‘s premise, I knew that I wanted to read it, and so I was indeed pleased to learn that my local library held a copy for me. Levi, Jesus of Nazareth’s lifelong best friend, has been called forth from the grave to render an account of Jesus’ life for the edification (and entertainment) of humanity. Cloistered in a hotel room and guarded by a not-too-bright ex-Angel of Death with a weakness for soap operas, Levi — or as he prefers to be called, “Biff” — tells us of how he and his friend Joshua — rendered from Yeshua — met, grew up together, and pursued his divine destiny.
Although the book begins with childhood, their journey together starts on the eve of their 13th birthdays, when the angel appears and tells Joshua that he must seek out his divinity. Joshua and Biff seek out the wisest rabbi they know, only to be turned away by the curmudgeon* and directed to seek out the three wisemen who visited him at his birth. Although their journey begins in the small town of Nazareth, it will take them to Kabul to learn alchemy, to a remote Buddhist monastery in the mountains of China , and to the coast of India before Josh is ready to return home and take up the mantle of Messiah. Although the book’s reputation for humor initially drew me to it — and one well deserved, for this is one of the funniest books I’ve read in over a year — I was quickly drawn in by the story of Joshua’s and Biff’s maturation as characters. Joshua matures here more believably than he did in Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son or in Deepak Chopra’s Jesus, which is somewhat strange given that this book is primarily humor.
Part of the humor comes from Moore treating Biff and Joshua as ordinary young boys and teenagers, who are apt to do, say, and think things that adults find entertaining. Given that Jesus is such as Serious Historical Figure, it’s humorous to see him acting like a real person with idiosyncrasies. Moore also inserts gobs of in-jokes for his readers — Mary summoning Joshua by having her image appear on the walls of buildings, for instance, or giving us an explanation for the Easter bunny (namely, Joshua getting a bit tipsy and declaring that whenever something really bad happens to him, bunnies should be around to make it better). Moore also has a strong penchant for absurd and surreal humor in the vein of Monty Python and sometimes offers reinterpretations of biblical events. In the “walking on water” miracle, for instance, Peter traditionally has the faith to join Jesus on the water — when he loses that faith for a second, he begins sliding underneath the ocean. In Lamb, Joshua invites Peter out on the ocean only to play a practical joke on him.
This is a very strong book, I think — easily accessible to nonbelievers, while not insulting to believers, unless they object to Joshua acting in human ways, including trying to figure out the mechanics of sex and shooting his mouth off. Although the book is intended as a humorous take on Jesus’ life, the story is compelling by itself: midway into the book, I was completely engrossed in it and its lead characters — Joshua, Biff, Maggie (Mary Magdalene) and even a few of the supporting characters like the Roman centurion who befriends the leads as children. Further, this is a book I’d like to own myself, just so I could re-read in the future and lend it to friends. If you like to laugh — give this a try.
“What is your name, Demon?” Joshua asked.
“What would you like it to be?” said the demon.
“You know, I’ve always been partial to the name Harvey,” Joshua said.
* Rabbi Hillel, who grumpily informs them that all they need to know about the Torah is to love thy neighbor as thyself.