Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
Author: Christopher Moore
Original Publication: 2002
Genre: Comedy, Fiction (Religious)
What a wonderful, creative, funny, and inventive story! The apostle Levi, better known as “Biff”, is resurrected in present times by the angel Raziel to write down his version of the gospels, having been unceremoniously left out of the Bible. Biff was Jesus’ best friend from the age of six up until the resurrection, and as the Bible has famously omitted Jesus’ life between the ages of 12 and 30 or so, Biff decides that he is going to tell the story of what they were up to during those years, since he was there.
Biff and Jesus (known by his friends as Josh) lead the lives of normal Jewish little boys, save for the fact that Josh can raise the dead (mostly lizards, to freak out his friends.) At the age of twelve, however, when most boys are beginning to learn trades under their fathers and train for their adulthoods, Josh is told by an angel that he is the son of God, and that his destiny is to become the savior of all mankind. That’s kind of heavy thing to lay on a twelve-year old, and Josh is understandably scared about what being the Messiah is going to mean for him. In talking with Biff and their friend Mary Magdalene (upon whom Biff has a terrible crush), Josh decides that not everyone has had three wise men attend his birth, and that the best way to learn how to become a savior will be to seek out those wise men, and ask them what they can teach him about fulfilling his destiny. As Josh’s lifelong friend, Biff decides that he will be coming along; if only to protect Josh on his journey and offer him moral support.
Their adventure takes them to many countries, some of which are the birthplaces of the largest world religions. Josh tracks down each wise man and spends years with each one, carefully gleaning their knowledge. The book playfully indicates that the miracles Jesus performed in the Bible were those taught to him by the wise men – he learns how to multiply food, how to heal the sick, invisibility, levitation, and immeasurable love and understanding for his fellow man – a miracle if ever there was one. Josh takes the best lessons from everyone he encounters in all religious traditions and combines them into the tenets of what will become Christianity. Biff is somewhat less natural at the training, but stays with Josh every step of the way as he learns what it means to love the world so much that you are not only willing to give your life but offer it as necessary, and what it means to fulfill your destiny and the wishes of a father you’ve never met. Years later in his early thirties, armed with years of training, experience, and knowledge, Josh returns to Israel to lead his people.
The journey is wonderful, and the book is intelligent and very thoughtful. Christopher Moore is primarily an absurdist writer, but this book (while silly in parts) doesn’t cross over into terribly irreverent or offensive, in my opinion. Since none of us knows what happened during the “lost” interim years of Jesus’ life, why couldn’t it be that he was on a quest learning how to become The Lord? I thought it was tremendous food for thought, and an awfully cute story. It’s also laugh-out-loud in a lot of places. I enjoyed it very much.
Fun Fact: For those who are fans of Moore, the angel Raziel later becomes the title character in Moore’s The Stupidest Angel, and the demon Catch (mentioned in this book) is the same demon mentioned in his debut novel, Practical Demonkeeping. I have read several by this author and have found them all to be very, very funny. One must probably be a fan of absurdism to enjoy them fully.
Bother if: You have a sense of humor and enjoy a good story. The characters familiar to us from the Bible come to life brilliantly, and seem relatable and real. I recommend it.
Don’t bother if: You’re offended by even slightly irreverent depictions of Jesus. This one doesn’t veer too far out into left field (Jesus is still celibate, for example), but it’s certainly not the Jesus we know from our traditional stories.