Friday, September 7, 2012

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


The title pretty much tells you everything you need to know--that this is a 're-telling' of Christ's life on earth from the perspective of, well, Biff, who knew Jesus (here called 'Joshua') when he was still in short pants (or the first century Hebrew equivalent). Biff sticks with his pal through thick and thin, through childhood, into young adulthood and a time of self-discovery (the boys track down the three magi who made an appearance at (or around) the first Christmas, in the hope that they can teach Jesus how to be a better Messiah), and culminating in Christ's earthly ministry and death. Biff narration stops shortly after the crucifixion; he is not around for the aftermath, but learns of the resurrection later on, when he himself is 'resurrected' to write his version of events (that is, this book).

Not the best book ever, but much better than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Moore addressed Jesus' claims directly and assumed that He was in fact who He said He was. (It can be tempting for modern writers to argue that Jesus was not in fact the Son of God, and that He never claimed to be. Tempting, but clearly contrary to His explicit statements in the Bible.)

Of course, the real world ramifications of this reality are difficult to depict. Moore casts Jesus as a slightly confused Messiah--most definitely the Son of God, but not always sure how to fill that role. But that issue is not unique to Moore--the question of how much Jesus knew and when is one that has plagued serious theologians for centuries. (Did Christ the infant have a complete understanding of the atonement? If not, when did He acquire it? And so on.)

Although the tone of the book is humorous and irreverent, it helps that Biff is so clearly devoted to Jesus. He may be frustrated by Jesus' disinterest in self-preservation, but he always believes that Jesus is God's Son and he loves Him unswervingly. By choosing to tell the story in such an affectionate voice, Moore ameliorates the effects of his sometimes disrespectful treatment of the Bible.

The visits to the magi are, as Moore himself states, unsupported by history, but do make an excellent skeletal structure for the body of the story (since we have almost no information about the first 30 or so years of Christ's life).

Moore demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel message, but that's hardly surprising. His tendency, like so many others', is to conflate all major religions together--in this case, Christianity and the Eastern religions are combined in a vague, love-thy-neighbor sort of way. He accepts (for purposes of the story) that Jesus was the Son of God and that He had to die, but it is not at all clear why, or what His death was supposed to accomplish. (There are hints that by dying He will abolish 'sacrifice,' but Moore implies that Jesus persuaded God to go along with this. In reality, this sacrificial death was the whole point of Christ's incarnation in the first place.) Biff has no firsthand knowledge of the resurrection or of its significance.

The book is, of course, coarse and irreverent, and at times quite crude (Biff seems to feel the need to make up for Jesus' celibacy by engaging in enough sexual escapades for the both of them), but that shouldn't come as a surprise. If you are easily offended, this might not be the book for you. Overall, though, Moore was much more respectful of Christ and Christianity than I thought he would be.

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