"The book you've just read is a story. I made it up. It's not designed to change anyone's beliefs or worldview, unless after reading it you've decided to be kinder to your fellow humans (which is okay) or you decided you really would like to try to teach yoga to an elephant, in which case, please get videotape." — Christopher Moore
What readers get out of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal has much more to do with what they bring into it than what is actually there. As a story, it is malleable.
It's so malleable, in fact, many reviews warn away fundamentalists because they assume people with faith will find it blasphemous. I don't see it. It's not faith shaking. And, I didn't find much evidence to support that anyone really saw it as such. I did find ample evidence that many people expected others to find it blasphemous. And that's kind of weird.
In truth, Christopher Moore is surprisingly protective of Jesus (called by his Greek translation, Joshua, throughout the book) as he fills in the missing years of Joshua through the eyes of "Levi bar Alphaeus," who is called Biff. The book is satirical, but not so much a satire of Joshua as it is of the storyteller, his times, and everything around him. What else is this story?
The Gospel According to Biff Is A Raunchy, Ridiculous, And Sometimes Enlightening Farce.
Biff, a childhood friend of Joshua, is freshly resurrected after 2,000 years and is immediately sequestered in a hotel room and ordered by the angel Raziel to write a new Gospel. But unlike previous authors, Biff has been given the gift of tongues in order to tell his story with all the trappings of modern English. (One of Moore's favorite mechanisms.)
The first 100 pages or so introduce several supporting players, including Mary, Joseph, Mary of Magdalene (Maggie), Bartholomew (the village idiot), and John the Baptist. There are plenty of other bit players, but the jest helps us ponder how out of place it might be for a young boy to possess the power of the Messiah in a land where people are normally put to death for such a thing.
The real adventure begins as Joshua and Biff take off across the Middle East, Asia, and India in search of three wise men who visited the manger where Joshua was born. These include: Balthasar, an Asian magician; Gaspar, a Buddhist monk; and Melchior, an Indian yogi. All three of them have lessons to teach the dynamic duo, with Joshua pursuing a path of enlightenment and Biff preferring reckless abandon.
The contrast in how these two buddies react is the spark that satisfies. Both of them undergo transformations albeit in very unique ways. As a review, this might not sound satirical but quick retellings are seldom patiently penned like the originals. In this case, one example works better. It comes from one of my favorite passages, when Gaspar sets two small cups on the table and then proceeds to pour tea until they begin to overflow.
"Hey, doofus!" I yelled. "You're spilling the fucking tea!"
The monk smiled and set the bowl on the table.
"How can I give you tea if your cup is already full?"
"Huh?" I said eloquently. Parables were never my strong suit. If you want to say something, say it. So, of course, Joshua and Buddhists were the perfect people to hang out with, straight talkers that they were.
Joshua, of course, immediately understands the lesson. Biff, on the other hand, tosses his tea out the window with his delightful naivete and lovable crassness. He doesn't beat around the bush, not even the burning ones. It's expected. His first act upon being resurrected is punching an angel in the mouth.
Christopher Moore's Lamb Strikes 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Moore doesn't claim to present biblical history perfectly, but he does infuse a surprising amount of research in it to spin his story. Even so, some of the accuracy doesn't sit well with him either. As he explains in the afterward, boys had trades by ten, were betrothed by thirteen, and married by fourteen. Girls were betrothed by twelve and married by thirteen.
I suppose I could have any of Moore's later installments (and I still might after visiting his Facebook page), but Lamb just turned ten years old. You can find Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal on Amazon. Lamb is also on Kindle.
On iTunes, you can pick Lamb up on audio, but I am not convinced Fisher Stevens is the right voice. This might also be why Peter Douglas has kept the film under wraps. Casting would be tough.