I think I snorted coffee out my nose at least twice while reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Levi, who is called Biff, is raised from the dead in the year 2000 and locked in a hotel room with the angel Raziel and forced to write his version of the Christ story. (Angels, we discover, do not have free will. Raziel in particular does not possess the brightest halo in the firmament, watches too much tv, and wants to become Spiderman. You could read the book for Raziel moments alone, really.)
Biff was a sinner during his short life on earth and has retained, even in the face of being re-created out of his dusty parts, his libido, his outrage, and his sense of humor. It falls to him to narrate the events of Jesus’ (called Joshua in this tale, as that is closer to the Aramaic Yeshua) life from childhood on. Biff discovers a Gideon’s Bible as he is writing his tale and tells us we should thank him for filling in all the good stuff (17 years’ worth) that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John leave out by skipping over the period of Christ’s life from age 13 to age 30. He wonders what on earth he did to piss the others off, that they would have written him out of their accounts altogether.
Gentle readers, I must not give too much away. You need to read this book for yourself. It qualifies as true summer beach reading. It is amazingly funny. It is also amazingly warm and good. Though often–well mostly–blasphemous, you might be able to see in it at moments an alternate textual universe in which readers of Christ’s life learn about how he came to see himself as the Messiah, how he came to view himself as an acceptable sacrifice, and what made him both the Son of Man and the Son of God. For people who think that Jesus’ life is nothing to speculate on, nothing to write fiction about, nothing to laugh at. . . and those who think Jesus surely would never have said the “f”-word: either quickly acquire a sense of humor, or don’t bother picking it up.
Some high points to lure you to your local library: Biff and Joshua travel. They leave Galillee to escape witnessing Mary Magdalene marry a total creep. Joshua is in search of the Three Wise Men, the Magi, who came to witness his birth. He figures they can tell him what they saw in him that made them so sure he was the Son of God. Joshua hopes that they will help him figure out what he needs to know to be the Messiah to his people. They go to what is now Afghanistan, China, and India. They are exposed to Buddhism, Hinduism, and magic. Biff has a lot of sex (some of it in order that Joshua will learn what this particular sin is about. He, of course, abstains) and learns how to kick ass in several arcane ways (though they both learn a non-violent form of marital arts their teacher monks name “jew-do”. . . I tell you, this is funny, funny stuff.). Joshua heals people and discovers the limits of his power. He learns how to fold his body into a “standard wine amphora” during his yoga training. Biff has to break him out with a hammer.
The reader, if at all familiar with the Bible, sees that the author is making a point that many core Christian beliefs have their parallels in other world religions. The Holy Ghost is the Divine Spark–it is that bit of God in us all, the spirit that unites us as humanity. Joshua’s encounters with other religions and cultures also . . . precipitate things we read in the New Testament. After knocking on the door of a monastery in China and being told (reminiscent of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz) to “go away” each day for three days, Joshua tells Biff: my kingdom will be open to anyone who knocks. (And the Sunday School student goes: aha, Knock and the door shall be opened unto you. Seek and ye shall find.)
It is, of course, not all fun and games and exotic travel. Joshua, after all, must die. On a cross. It is gruesome, sad business. He does not utter “it is finished,” but the sky over Jerusalem grows dark and stormy. Real, profound, soul-wrenching grief takes over not only the characters in the book. It’s a . . . happy ending.