I’m in the process of editing my “Papers” project that I am planning to publish here in a few weeks, and I keep stumbling across book reviews and other pieces that I think will also make interesting blog posts. This morning, I came across this reader response I wrote for one of my favorite books that I have ever read for school and thought I would share it with you. Here’s a throw-back Thursday review of a book that I read in the spring of 2011.
Response to “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”
After thousands of years, the mystery of Christ’s whereabouts from the time he was 12 until the age of 30 has been solved. Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, is Biff’s often hysterical account of the life of Christ during this oft-debated period. Throughout this novel, Moore explores such deep theological questions as the divinity of Christ and free will, using modern language sometimes reminiscent of a contemporary television sitcom. Moore manages to integrate a high level of intellectual humor throughout most of the novel. For me, Lamb has earned the cliché, “laugh out loud.” In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Biff himself had coined the phrase to begin with.
I’m not normally one to cry or laugh out loud when reading any book, but the sarcasm and irreverence used to create humor throughout Lamb definitely had me going. For example, when Joseph asks Biff if he wants to become a stonecutter, Biff replies,
“I was thinking about becoming the village idiot, if my father will allow it.”
“He has a God-given talent,” Joshua said.
“I’ve been talking to Bartholomew the idiot,” I said. “He’s going to teach me to fling my own dung and run headlong into walls” (27).
When taken out of context, I’m not sure why I even found this particular passage so funny. I think it has something to do with the specific sentiment Moore develops using Joseph’s seriousness and Joshua’s presumed divinity suddenly being trivialized by Biff’s smart-ass remarks. That and the fact that “Jesus Christ” so easily plays along.
The constant humanization of Jesus, aka Joshua, through the use of humor is an ongoing theme in Lamb. This purposeful humanization is counteracted by the innate divinity with which Joshua struggles throughout his life.
When the two friends are still quite young, Joseph tells Biff, “You go with Joshua. He needs a friend to teach him to be human. Then I can teach him to be a man” (17).
Although Joseph isn’t technically Joshua’s father, he takes his role seriously and realizes the necessity for Josh to be in touch with his human side to grow into the man he is meant to be.
While Biff writes of Joshua’s human side, the angel Raziel wants Biff “to convey more of Joshua’s grace” (18).
No matter what Jesus supposedly did as an adult, he probably was just a regular kid at one time (anyway, as regular as any kid could be given the fact that his mother insists he is the Son of God.) This is the Joshua who Biff remembers and loves. Sure, Joshua has a certain “otherness” to him. He wants to grow up and do the work of his Father. He doesn’t want to lie and say it’s Moses’ face on the unleavened bread: Not because he wants it known that it’s him but because it’s simply not the truth. And while Joshua is in no way perfect, he feels a constant compulsion to always do the right thing despite the fact that he doesn’t always know what that is.
These themes are constant from the very first passage of the book, when Biff describes his first meeting with Joshua. Josh’s little brother is bashing a lizard to death, and the Son of God resurrects the lizard time after time. As a child, it likely wouldn’t occur to Josh that it may be more compassionate to just let the lizard stay dead than to continue bringing it back to life so it can be tortured repeatedly. If the Council of Nicaea had perceived Jesus in the way Moore portrays him as a child, there would likely have been little argument as to the combined humanity and divinity of Christ.
I love that Levi, aka Biff, which translates roughly as “smack upside the head” (p. 9), is, according to the angel Raziel, “an asshole” (2). Out of the many Disciples of Christ, it is statistically probable that at least one would be a total asshole. As such, Biff takes his role seriously. The passages between Biff and Raziel are great. Moore uses this relationship to explore the idea of free will, comparing angels to humans and sometimes even including banter between Biff and Raziel where the two debate the merits of humanity. For example, Raziel is addicted to soap operas, then professional wrestling, and then back to soaps again. He believes what he watches on television to be true to life and can’t seem to decide whether he’d prefer to be Spiderman or a professional wrestler (44). Biff enjoys baiting Raziel, lording his superiority over the angel who has no free will.
Yet, Raziel seems to have caught Biff when he defends his time spent watching daytime television, saying, “Really? Then tell me, Levi who is called Biff, if by watching this I am abusing the little freedom I’ve been given while carrying out this task, then what would you say of your people” (159)?
The dialog throughout Lamb is highly modernized, creating incongruence between the language used by Joshua, Biff and others characters and the language one would expect to hear from Christ and his followers during the time of Christ. The witty banter between Biff and Josh, as well as Biff and just about everyone else he comes into contact with in the earlier chapters reminds me of an old episode of M*A*S*H, the way Hawkeye would banter with first Trapper and then later BJ. Passages such as the following contain a high level of intelligent humor and a sense of timing not found in many of the other books we’ve read this semester.
“Bartholomew says that he knows you are the Messiah.”
“The idiot? Did you ask him how he knows?”
“He says the village dogs told him.”
“I never thought to ask the dogs.”
“He says that we should live simply, like dogs, carry nothing, no affectations – whatever that means.”
“Bartholomew said that? Sounds like an Essene. He’s much smarter than he looks.”
“He’s trying to learn to lick his own balls.”
“I’m sure there’s something in the Law that forbids that. I’ll ask the Rabbi.”
“I’m not sure you want to bring that up to the Pharisee” (41).
While Lamb often left me laughing out loud, Biff’s claims that he invented sarcasm get to be a bit much after a while, and there are quite a few times when Moore goes overboard. For example, the passage where Biff claims to have invented the latté is just downright silly. It reminds me of Ayla in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series. According to Auel’s novels, Ayla invented the bow and arrow, the needle and a plethora of other everyday items. While reading that particular series, I eventually found myself waiting for Ayla to quit dragging stuff around behind her horses long enough to invent the wheel. (Did I mention she also invented riding horses?)
In Lamb, Moore walks a fine line between believable and ludicrous, and he does occasionally cross that line. After a while, the reader is left thinking, “Oh come on. Now you’re just being ridiculous.” By the time I reached the part where Biff was fooling around with Balthazar’s concubines, my own inner voice was saying, “Uh-huh, yeah. Sure you did, Biff.”
Overall, Moore’s version of Christ’s lost years is as believable as any other I’ve read, and infinitely more entertaining.
Moore, Christopher. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. New York: Perennial, 2003. Print.
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