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21 April 2010

Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore 


My initial reaction to this book was shock that a satirical look at the life of Christ could succeed if the author assumed that Christ was who the Gospels say he was; the Messiah. And Moore never questions that; he questions a lot of other things but there is never any doubt that Joshua is the Son of God.

The satire comes out of imagining the Son of God as a child and teenager; the 6 year old who keeps resurrecting a lizard just for his little brother to kill it again with a rock; the pre-teen who ventures into the Roman city to use his stone-cutting skills to circumcise a statue of Apollo, etc.

Then, as a teen, Joshua and Biff venture out to find out how Joshua should "be" the Messiah. They learn what they can at home then follow the Silk Road to find the three magi, who happen to be devotees of different religions/philosophies; I enjoyed this part immensely because I am always interested to find overlap between all the varied ways to worship a creator and, though this is a comedic look at the life of Christ, traveling with his friend Biff, a sex-obssessed ruffian who invented the concept of sarcasm, Moore throws in a bit of thoughtful philosophy here and there;

A rabbi tells Joshua "Whether you are the Messiah, or you become a rabbi, or even if you are nothing more than a farmer, here is the sum of all I can teach you, and all that I know: treat others as you would like to be treated."

At the lair of Balthasar, Joshua and Biff explore temptation. Biff soliliquizes, "Mankind, I suppose, is designed to run on - to be motivated by - temptation. If progress is a virtue then this is our greatest gift. (For what is curiosity if not intellectual temptation? And what progress is there without curiosity?) On the other hand, can you call such profound weakness a gift, or is it a design flaw? Is temptation itself at fault for man's woes, or is it simply the lack of judgment in response to temptation? In other words, who is to blame? Mankind, or a bad designer? Because I can't help but think that if God had never told Adam and Eve to avoid the fruit of the tree of knowledge, that the human race would still be running around naked, dancing in wonderment and blissfully naming stuff between snacks, naps, and shags."

After Joshua spends time with the last surviving Yeti in the mountains of China (Moore has no problem being ridiculously outlandish, obviously) he confronts Gaspar, the second magi and a Buddhist monk, with this, "You drill us every day in the same movements, we practice the same brush strokes over and over, we chant the same mantras, why? So that these actions will become natural, spontaneous, without being diluted by thought, right? Compassion is the same way. That's what the yeti knew. He loved constantly, instantly, spontaneously, without thought or words. That's what he taught me. Love is not something you think about, it is a state in which you dwell."

Moore also imagines the disciples as a motley crew ranging from idiots to the insane. Biff accuses Nathanial of being "dumb as a stick" but Joshua replies, "He's not dumb, Biff, he just has a talent for belief." Later, when Joshua is trying to explain that the kingdom of heaven is open to all and has exhausted all possible parables, he and Biff despair at the stupidity of his followers. Maggie (Mary Magdalene) retorts, "You two are the ninnies here. You both rail on them about their intelligence, when that doesn't have anything to do with why they're here. Faith isn't an act of intelligence, it's an act of imagination. Every time you give them a new metaphor for the kingdom they see the metaphor, a mustard seed, a field, a garden, a vineyard, it's like pointing something out to a cat - the cat looks at your finger, not what you're pointing at. They don't need to understand it, they only need to believe, and they do. They imagine the kingdom as they need it to be, they don't need to grasp it, it's there already, they can let it be. Imagination, not intellect."

Later, one guffaws when Peter tries to walk on water and Joshua calls him "dumb as a box of rocks" but then says that he will build his church on that box of rocks.

Entertaining read, peppered throughout with things that make you go hmmm and things that make you go ha. Not a masterpiece but certainly a nice collection of words.