Book Club Review: “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”

This review is by our Book Club Blogger Cindy Bushey–good one, Cindy!

Since Zion’s Readers first began blogging about the books they read, there has probably never been a column that began with a warning!  This review will begin with two.  First, if you view the Scriptures and Jesus as sacrosanct and devoid of humor, DO NOT read this month’s selected book!  Your sensibilities will be offended.  Second, if, on the other hand, you are able to view religion and Christ through a humorous lens and decide to read this month’s choice, you WILL LAUGH – out loud, wherever you are reading – which could cause you some embarrassment.  So be warned!

Having walked a fairly serious path through the previous selection, Cutting For Stone, Zion’s readers threw caution to the winds this time and tumbled head over heels into the world of Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.  Biff has been brought back to life in the present by a soap opera-addicted angel in order to recount his version of Joshua’s childhood (Joshua is the Hebrew version of the Greek Jesus) and formative years which were omitted from the Bible. Moore has obviously done a great deal of historical and Biblical research and it was agreed by our readers that a working knowledge of the Bible added to our appreciation of the author’s vivid descriptions and humorous nuances.  Although it is curious how none of us ever read from the books of the Bible quoted by Biff.  Anyone ever stumble across the book of Imbeciles?

Mr. Moore struck just the right note on a number of occasions throughout the book, linking times past to the present through common emotions and feelings.  Could we not all imagine compelling our younger siblings to portray the bad guys in childhood games as Joshua and Biff do?  Granted, we probably never played Stone the Adulteress or forced our brother to act the role of Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt, but you get the drift.  Despite the frat boy humor, Moore also eloquently depicts the everyday dangers and challenges of an oppressed people at that time and place in history.

As Joshua’s unique abilities reveal themselves and he struggles to understand the path he is to follow, Biff is a loyal friend ever agreeable and eager to vicariously educate Joshua concerning all the worldly pleasures he cannot experience.  Their relationship had strained points such as Biff’s crush on Joshua’s mother, Mary, and his plan to offer himself as a stepfather when the older Joseph conveniently shuffles off this mortal coil. This childhood crush pales and adolescent hormones run amok as Maggie (Mary of Magdala) enters the pictures.  However, childhood is fleeting in ancient Israel, and the early betrothal and wedding of Maggie has the boys fleeing this reality in an effort to discover another – the three Magi who visited Joshua at his birth and might be able to direct him on his life’s path.

At this point, Moore’s creative imagination knows no bounds and readers accustomed to angels popping in and out of the story are now introduced to various other religious ideologies and belief systems as Joshua and Biff journey afar and even meet a yeti!  While tongue in cheek and full of incredible, not to say unbelievable, characters and adventures, it is still obvious that Joshua is drawing closer and closer to his destiny as Messiah.  The author manages to treat that destiny with utmost respect while keeping the reader amused.  Some of Zion’s readers found this part of the book slow and grew tired of Biff’s sexual adventures, but there are hidden gems even here such as “All fear comes from trying to see the future” – nuggets of truth for our later contemplation.

All things come to an end, and the young men return to Israel to find Joseph has died and Joshua’s cousin John is drawing the interest of the authorities as he baptizes and preaches.  Joshua finds his voice and attracts followers of his own into whom Mr. Moore breathes life as only he can.  Buried beneath the jokes and chuckles, the reader is aware of the pace picking up as Joshua divines the sacrifice he must make and urges his friends down the road to Jerusalem and Holy Week.  Our readers followed the path as well, sensitive to the tensions, noticing the humor winding down, wondering how the author would bring this to an end.  As one reader remarked, reading this story lands you square on the human side of Jesus, and it was interesting to see how Jesus’ interactions with his friends not only shaped them but him.  Readers can appreciate these friends’ frantic planning as they to try to change the unavoidable outcome of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and Rome.  Of course, the conclusion has a twist that no reader saw coming, and an explanation concerning Jesus’ name that had us all stumped!

Christopher Moore is the first to point out that Lamb is just a story, albeit set in Biblical times and filled with Biblical characters.  He emphasizes it should not be read as scripture but simply as an entertaining story.  Some of the language is a little salty, the humor sophomoric at times, but the book is definitely an entertaining read.  Zion’s readers gave it seven one-thumb up votes and one neutral vote and sincerely hope those who read it enjoy a good laugh.