Thursday, May 12, 2011
An only child, Christopher Moore spent much of his childhood in Ohio entertaining himself with books and his imagination; it paid off – big time. With titles like You Suck: A Love Story and Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, his books (and imagination) have been entertaining readers since the early ‘90s. When I saw Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (2002) at a local used bookstore, I had to pick it up.
Any book dealing with a fictional account of the life of Jesus (this is not an opportunity to bash the Bible as fiction) has to be careful. You don’t want to piss your readers off. You don’t want to alienate your publisher. And you certainly don’t want to anger the Big Guy. Moore tackles the subject matter with grace, wit, humility, and a chuckle that you just cannot resist.
The afterword opens with a Bible verse, John 21:25:
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written everyone, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
Moore then makes it very clear that the novel is a made-up story, born in his imagination, based on historical information and the gospels (both those found in the Bible and those the Catholics opted not to include) and passion plays, etc. – but it’s fiction and Moore hopes it doesn’t change anyone’s religious views. “This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.” Preach on, Moore. Preach on.
The story itself covers the “lost” years of Jesus. Those of you familiar with the New Testament know there is a serious gap in the life of Jesus. There is only one scene in the Bible after his birth and before he begins his ministries in his thirties. And that scene is only in Luke. This is a story that has been begging to have its day.
Lamb is told through the eyes and voice of Levi, who is called Biff. Biff has been resurrected to tell the story of Jesus. “By the way, his name was Joshua. Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua, which is Joshua. Christ is not a last name. It’s the Greek for messiah, a Hebrew word meaning anointed. I have no idea what the “H” in Jesus H. Christ stood for. It’s one of the many things I should have asked him.”
And so the reader falls in love with Biff, Christ’s childhood friend who is rude, mouthy, obnoxious, horny as hell, and the best friend a guy could have. Mary Magdalene makes an appearance as Maggie. Maggie loves both boys, but Joshua is very special. The boys leave when Maggie announces her pending nuptials. Unlike some portrayals, Maggie is not a whore.
The story takes Josh and Biff from killing and resurrecting lizards to the far East where they sought the three wise men that made an appearance at Christ’s birth. Biff constantly quotes from books of the Old Testament that do not exist – like Amphibians. Biff also “creates” sarcasm and gets a bit annoyed with Josh masters it. They learn kung fu and what Buddhism really means. Biff gets to tackle the Karma Sutra with quite a few women. There are great discussions about bacon where Josh determines that God doesn’t really care about what you eat. Whenever Josh says something that contradicts the Torah and Jewish ways, Biff calls him on. Josh replies “Bacon.” Biblical miracles appear and some of the most memorable sermons are shown at the “composing” stage. You have to own and respect a sense of humor to appreciate this book. Trust me, it’s a rollicking good read.
I’m a Christian so I knew how the story would have to end, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of emotion Moore was able to apply to this comedic book when it came to the crucifixion. The bond between Biff and Josh is great, so great that Biff tries to thwart Josh’s plan to sacrifice himself. Biff plots with the other disciples and the women who followed them. He’d been given a poison in China that makes one appear dead. He plotted a way to get Josh to drink the poison – he had the women soak the sponge in the poison and attempt to give it to Josh while on the cross. It doesn’t work and Moore captures serious emotion when Biff watches Christ die. Biff kills Judas. And then himself. So he missed the resurrection. (Luckily the hotel the angel sequestered him in had the Bible and he was able to hide in the bathroom and read the gospels.)
After Biff finishes his gospel, the angel tells him that he and Maggie can have a life in the present day. And Maggie reveals one great secret:
“By the way, it was Hallowed,” she said.
“What was Hallowed?”
“The H. His middle name. It was Hallowed. It’s a family name, remember, ‘Our father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
“Damn, I would have guessed Harvey,” Biff said.
And so the novel ends.