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

Christopher Moore
2003 reissue of 2002 release, Fiction
Harper, $13.95, 444 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380813815

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

My husband gave me the rare opportunity of picking out a book for him to read before we went on a recent trip. Naturally I chose a book I thought he'd like, but one that I'd not yet read myself, so I could borrow it from him. Just as naturally, I got to it before he did. He's now in the middle of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, and I can't wait for him to finish so we can talk about it. While it won't replace A Dirty Job as my favorite Chris Moore novel, it's way up there, sitting side by side with Bloodsucking Fiends.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm Jewish, and cannot know how blasphemous, if at all, Christian readers will find the book, but as a coming of age story that presents a fictional look at Jesus' life - mainly his formative years, which aren't detailed in the Gospels - it's interesting, damn funny, and for me, provided the most understandable explanation of the "Holy Spirit" that I've ever heard.

The book begins with a prologue in which the archangel Stephan visits the archangel Raziel with a mission sent directly from "the Son" to resurrect "the Levi who is called Biff" in order for him to write his Gospel. Raziel doesn't understand his orders - after all, Biff was "a bit of an asshole" - but "the Son is anxious that his whole story be told." Before Raziel departs, Stephan asks that he bring back some chocolate, "a dirt-dweller's snack" invented by Satan. When Raziel asks, "Devil's food?", Stephan responds, "You can only eat so much white cake, my friend," and so it is done. Biff arises out of a whirlwind of dust and the conversation between the two goes something like this:

"I'm alive," he said in a language he had never heard before.
"Yes," the angel said.
"What are these sounds, these words?"
"You have been given the gift of tongues."
"I've always had the gift of tongues, ask any girl I've known."

And when Biff learns that two thousand years have gone by, he punches the angel in the mouth and cusses him out:

The angel picked himself up and gingerly touched his lip. "Nice talk to a messenger of the Lord."
"It's a gift," Biff said.

And that's just the prologue; Chapter One begins when Biff recalls the first time he "saw the man who would save the world." Both were six, and Joshua (the Greek is Jesus) had a lizard hanging out of his mouth. He gave it to his younger brother, who killed it, then handed it back to his older brother, who put the lizard back in his mouth, handed it - very much alive - back to his younger brother, and the process repeated itself again and again. From that moment Joshua and Biff were best friends.

What Moore does in his book is to provide context, hilarious context, to New Testament stories. The book also details the invention of sarcasm, the pencil, and "Jewdo," but mostly it tells a sort of alternative history of Jesus' life from childhood as he learns how he, as the Son of God, will become the Messiah.

To do so he will go on a visionquest, Biff in tow, to the Three Wise Men, whose knowledge and mastery of other ancient religions melds with Judaism of the time to create Joshua's ministry. Among other things, I learned why it's okay to eat bacon, and the reasoning behind the Easter Bunny. Other important characters include Mary of Magdalene, not a harlot, but a beloved childhood friend of Joshua and Biff, and the concubines who attend the first Wise Man. As to why the New Testament is free of any reference to the sarcastic and loyal Biff, that too is explained.

Again, it's hard for me to know where sacrilege begins, but Moore's manner of juxtaposing the practical - and hormonal - Biff with Joshua's earnest human and super-human qualities result in a very engaging read. Until, that is, the time of The Passion is reached, and the story's tone, quite necessarily, I understand, changes. But the epilogue wraps things up sweetly, although not saccharine sweetly, and the result of my closing the book was wanting to read another from Moore's backlist. Still, I understand the patience of rationing his writing in order to better savor the delights found on nearly every page of Lamb.

-- Laurie Likes Books

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