Friday, February 22, 2008

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (2003)

Let’s just say that if God does not have a keen sense of humor, Christopher Moore is in a lot of trouble because “the Gospel according to Biff” is filled with the kind of irreverent, often slapstick, humor for which Moore has become well known. Without a doubt, some readers will consider the book to be blasphemy and will not get far with it; most, I think will enjoy Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal as the humorous and rather tenderly told coming-of-age story that it is.

Levi bar Alphaeus, a stonemason’s son known as Biff, has been Joshua’s (the Greek equivalent of the name Jesus) best friend as long as he can remember. Although Biff and Joshua were best friends, they gladly accepted Maggie, more formally known as Mary of Magdala, into their lives when her family came to live near them. No one knew Joshua better than Biff and Maggie, and that is why the angel Raziel has been assigned to keep the resurrected Biff locked in a modern-day St. Louis hotel room until he completes his writing assignment: a new text filling in the 30-year gap that exists in the known Gospels.

Biff was happy to be alive again but really did not feel like writing down his experiences of a lifetime as Joshua’s best friend until he stumbled upon a copy of the Bible in his hotel room (a copy that the angel tried to hide from him) and saw that none of the Gospels so much as mentioned his name or existence. That is when he decided it was time to set the record straight by telling his story…and what a story it was.

As the boys grew older, Biff realized just how special his friend was and he became protective of Joshua, trying to keep his true nature a secret from anyone other than Joshua’s closest friends and family, especially the Romans. Joshua understood that as the Son of God he was placed on Earth with certain responsibilities and obligations to his people. But the details were fuzzy and Joshua could think of no one better to answer his questions than the three wise men who visited him upon his birth. Thus began a twenty-year adventure in which Biff and Joshua spent a period of several years with each of the wise men learning everything that could be taught to them (well, Biff did not learn a whole lot other than some super martial arts skills that would later serve him well), a journey that took them as far as India and China.

This twenty-year period, constituting the bulk of Lamb, is narrated with great humor and candor by Biff as the reader watches the evolution of Christian thought as Joshua is exposed to the other major religions of the world. Moore uses humor to emphasize the human aspects of Joshua in much the way that he used it in describing the antics of the two boys from ages five to ten (my favorite portion of the book). As Joshua approaches thirty years of age, though, Moore does not stray far from what is recorded in the New Testament and Lamb becomes a dark tale in which humor does not work nearly so well, though Moore continues to use it.

Lamb is a thought provoking book for those willing to read it rather than condemn it for its very subject matter. There is a huge difference between blasphemy and irreverence and Christopher Moore never crosses the line. His portrayal of Joshua/Jesus as a human being, a man with all of the usual strengths and weaknesses, has a remarkable impact. After all, at the core of Christianity is the belief that Jesus became human in order to redeem the world. Moore’s portrayal of Joshua makes exactly that point, and makes it very well.

Rated at: 4.0

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