Clever plot, profound insight, and breezy writing make Lamb a delightful read
Christopher Moore channels the light-hearted spirit of Douglas Adams and the soul of a philosopher in “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend.” The combination is a profoundly moving and yet breezy read that manages to lift your spirits and lighten your soul, no matter what your religious beliefs.
Story: The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years — except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work “reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Jesus goes by the Hebrew name Joshua–Jesus is the Greek translation. Growing up, Joshua and Biff’s early spiritual growth is informed by Cynics (a school of Greek philosophy whose goal is to live a life of virtue in harmony with nature, which includes being free of all possessions). They also learn life lessons from Josh’s father the carpenter and Biff’s stonemason father.
As teens, they journey across the Middle East, China, Tibet, and India to study with the Three Wise Men who attended his birth. Josh studies Confucius, Lao-tsu, the Tao, the Bhagavad Gita, and Buddha. Yoga teaches him perfect control of the body and mind, and control over manifestation and the physical world. He studies each region/religion’s holy books while life experiences help him separate the wheat from the chaff. We watch Joshua develop his philosophy and parables slowly during the course of his journey, accumulating the wisdom of scholarship and experience that becomes the basis of his teachings. For example, he learns the hard way that you should treat others as you would like to be treated. As Joshua perfects his mind and body during their travels, Biff learns the Kama Sutra and Tantric disciplines in addition to studying alchemy, explosives, Sun-tsu and The Art of War, and kung fu–ideal assets for a faithful sidekick and bodyguard.
Our spiritual understanding progresses with theirs. The final, bloody learning takes place in India, where Josh learns from the god Kali that all people deserve to be touched by God (even gentiles, which he has trouble convincing his Jewish disciples of), and that he must sacrifice himself in order to finally end the practice of blood sacrifice.
My take: The Son of God is an odd child. He plays games with the other kids by bringing animals back to life after they are killed. Joseph asks Biff to be Josh’s friend to “teach him how to be human. Then I can teach him to be a man.” Biff is wise to the world in all the ways in which Josh is innocent: how to manage money, how to bargain for goods, and most importantly, how to be a good friend. Biff looks out for Josh and helps him bear the burden of being the Messiah. Although Biff’s wisecracks and antics are the main source of the book’s humor, Josh gets in on the fun occasionally. When the apostles marvel as he walks on water, Josh replies that he just ate and can’t swim for an hour. “I might get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?” Biff makes life enjoyable, which the Son of God desperately needs as he knowingly and willingly progresses toward his destiny.
Moore shows how many of Christ’s teachings may have originated from his study of other holy texts and explains the familiar tenets of Christianity in a way that makes me see the religion in a new light. For instance, while they’re still in Jerusalem Moore describes, in graphic detail, the lambs and other animals being slaughtered as temple sacrifices and why Joshua realizes how inhumane and unnecessary all the bloodshed is. This is the first time that I truly understood, at a visceral level rather than an intellectual level, that Jesus offered a final sacrifice of his own life as a way to end the senseless blood sacrifice and usher in a new era. And even though I grew up Catholic, Moore manages to explain the Holy Ghost in a way that finally makes sense to me.
Despite the novels inevitable tragic climax (which begins with a quote from Anonymous: “Nobody’s perfect. . . . Well, there was this one guy, but we killed him”), Moore manages to wrench a happy ending out of the story, in keeping with the overall tone of the book. Moore’s clever plot and breezy writing make this spiritual fiction novel a delight to read in addition to a revelatory experience.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore
Harper Perennial, 2003
Paperback, 440 pages
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