Monday, January 2, 2012

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

One of my all-time favorite books, by one of my all-time favorite authors, has to be Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by the incomparable Christopher Moore.  I first heard about this book back in my early undergraduate days and it hit me at a time when I was questioning my faith and my religion.  Though I was raised Roman Catholic, I was beginning to study European history in depth, and engaging in the theories behind the reformation debates.  Anyone with a passing knowledge of European religious history knows what a mess it was, and anyone with any in-depth knowledge of the topic can appreciate the various nuances that colour our modern religious world as having spouted from the cluster-f*ck that was the era in question.  Lamb, then, hit me at a time when I was exploring the realities of religion and faith, and it hit me hard.

At its basic tenant, Lamb is a comedy; it has to be one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.  Telling the tale is Biff, Jesus’ best friend, who proposes to the reader a history of the saviour NOT found in the gospels.  What did happen from manger to age 33?  Moore’s book (completely fictional and, in the author’s own words, not intended to be held in the same vein as the Bible) proposes how it was that a kid from Nazareth learnt to be the messiah.  Along with his good friend Biff, Jesus leaves Israel in search of the three wise men to learn how to meet his destiny.  With stops in Afghanistan, China, and India, Biff and Joshua (his real name, not the bastardized Greek version we use now) are on a quest for knowledge.  But different types of knowledge.  While Josh is learning about the Divine Spark (later to become the Holy Spirit, but only after Sparky the Wonder Spirit was vetoed) and how to love his fellow man, Biff learns about high explosives and how to love the women in his life.  In the dirtiest ways imaginable. 

The balance, then, between the two main characters is what makes this tale so heartwarmingly relatable.  We all know who Josh turns out to be, but Biff’s presence gives us an understanding of who that man might actually have been – Biff adds humanity and humility to the man who was the Son of God.  That humanity is probably best captured in the line “Don’t ever let anyone tell you the Prince of Peace never struck anyone.”  Biff had it coming though – he was hitting on Josh’s mom.  Jesus/Joshua becomes touchingly real and human in this book.  And when you think of it, that is amazing.  Moore was able to take a character we all know, and all have pre-conceived notions about, and wipe away the party line and, instead, give us a completely new person.  The results are commendable. 

I don’t want to get too deep here – that is not the purpose of this book.  At its heart, it was designed to make you laugh, and it does just that.  Within its pages we find the root of the Jewish tradition of having Chinese food at Christmas (while living with the 8 Chinese concubines of Gaspar, the first wise man, it was a yearly event); we hear of Josh’s love of irony when in India he can’t stop poking Untouchables; and we learn that the Easter Bunny results from Josh’s over-indulging in the water-come-wine at the wedding in Cana, getting morose, and decreeing that every time he was sad, bunnies should be around since they made him happy (“So let it be written…” he told Biff, and it stuck.)

I had the great pleasure of meeting Christopher Moore at a book signing once, and we spoke briefly about who this book appealed to most.  In his experience it was always lapsed Catholics and Mormons.  I have to say, I fit the mold.  I was already pulling away from my religion when I found this book, and it was one of the (many) nails in the coffin.  Not to discount anyone else’s beliefs, but to me, the world needs more humour – too many people take the Bible (and other Holy Books) and turn it to their own purposes; many times with tragic results.  Lamb, on the other hand, seeks to make you smile and laugh.  I’m not saying Moore turned me atheist, but his work made me re-evaluate the energy I was putting into my internal debate, and I realized it wasn’t worth it.  I would rather laugh and live with a light heart than follow the proscribed rules and traditions of a book which, as a professional Historian, I can’t confirm the validity of.  I can read the King James version of the Sermon on the Mount, and feel preached at, or I can remember the drafting process between Biff and Josh in which dumbfucks were to inherit fruit baskets.  (Biff insisted that line get drawn, and it was.)  Give me Josh over Jesus any day.

Do I recommend this book?  Absolutely.  I have read it (almost) every Christmas for the last 7 years, and I never get tired of it.  I think it should be proscribed reading for everyone.  I get the impression that this is very much a cult classic amongst the literary set, but I wish it was more main-stream zeitgeist.  There were a couple of Christmases where I was giving Lamb away as gifts to all my friends; I even gave it to my very devout aunt.  (Who loved it by the way.  I did hear, however, that her Church friends think I’m evil for spreading it around.  Oh well).  I implore you to read this book, then read the rest of Moore’s works.  If you are looking for an introduction to classic Moore, you’ll find it in Lamb.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! This is my favorite book and you're right that Moore does a surprisingly good job of making Joshua human. And of course the best part is how hilarious it is. I'm thinking I'm going to need to re-read this again soon.