Title: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
Author: Christopher Moore
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: March 1st, 2002
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Humour, Fantasy
Page Count: 464 pages
I’m not going to make a frequent habit of reviewing books that are more than 10 years old, but occasionally one will come along that makes me sit up and sing its praises. This is one of them.
Lamb is a coming-of-age story like no other. It’s Jesus Christ: The Origin told through the eyes of Levi bar Alphaeus, who is called Biff, who just happens to be Jesus Christ’s best friend.
“Whoa–whoa, wait a minute,” you might say. “I may be an unapologetic heathen who’s never come within ten feet of a Bible, but even I know there’s no mention of anyone called BIFF.”
Well, my friend, that’s where you’re wrong. Because Biff has been unfairly redacted out of the Bible and Christopher Moore has kindly inserted him back and given him a chance to fill in the crucial missing years of Jesus (who is called “Joshua”) between the age of six and thirty. It’s not a biography. It’s not a fantasy (well, it’s mostly not fantasy–we do meet a singing yeti at one point). It’s a “what if.” What if Jesus had had a best friend named Biff? What dumb kid-things would they have done? What adventures would they have led? What pains would they have shared?
Joshua is, as you would imagine, a very sensitive, sweet-mannered kid. He also doesn’t have a deceitful bone in his body, which makes life just a tad difficult for Biff because he’s the one who has to cover up Josh’s various miracles and treasonous talk. Moore strips down all the reverence that surrounds Jesus Christ and shows him as a young boy. A very special boy, but a boy nonetheless. One dogged with all the uncertainties that come with the knowledge that he is to be the saviour of humanity. It didn’t take me long to completely fall in love with him.
But Biff is really the star of the show. He’s funny and irreverent and also the glue that holds the duo together. His early conflicting feelings toward Josh are wholly familiar and easy to empathize with; it’s the feeling of being overshadowed by the seeming perfection of your best friend, while also knowing that you would walk to hell and back for them–and Moore captures it perfectly. The friendship between these two is one of helpless, exasperated love and unquestionable loyalty. I loved every moment of it.
“What if I am not really the Messiah?”
“You mean you’re not sure? The angel didn’t give it away? You think that God might be playing a joke on you? I don’t think so. I don’t know the Torah as well as you, Joshua, but I don’t remember God having a sense of humor.”
Finally, a grin. “He gave me you as a best friend, didn’t he?”
I think the humour will be a hit or a miss for a lot of readers. For me, it’s the former. There are moments that sent me off into serious contemplation and then, a couple of lines later, had me breaking down into giggles. It’s absurd humour. It’s crude humour. It’s poignant humour. Sometimes it dips a little too far into the ridiculous, but I very much enjoyed it for the most part.
…Here’s the gist of almost every sermon I ever heard Joshua give.
You should be nice to people, even creeps.
And if you:
a) believed that Joshua was the Son of God (and)
b) he had come to save you from sin (and)
c) acknowledged the Holy Spirit within you (became as a little child, he would say) (and)
d) didn’t blaspheme the Holy Ghost (see c), then you would:
e) live forever
f) someplace nice
g) probably heaven
However, if you:
h) sinned (and/or)
i) were a hypocrite (and/or)
j) valued things over people (and)
k) didn’t do a, b, c, and d, then you were:
(If this kind of humour is your thing, then you’ll love Lamb)
But what I find most brilliant is that, in a story about the birth of Christianity, Moore decided to examine other religions as well. The idea that Christ had to explore and learn the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism to become the person he needed to become, is downright plausible, if somewhat anachronistic (Buddhism didn’t spread into China until many centuries after Christ). It facilitates the notion that love, kindness, generosity, and living a life free of ego and greed should be universal to all humans, regardless of faith or origin, and I love that.
Though some prior knowledge of the New Testaments would enrich the experience, you don’t need to have read them to enjoy the story. Part coming-of-age, part super-charged adventure, and 100% unexpectedly heartwarming, Lamb is a book I recommend to anyone, Christian, Catholic, atheist or otherwise.