Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, by Christopher Moore

So, first off, I have to admit that I have read Moore's "A Dirty Job" and enjoyed it. I'm a fan of Terry Pratchett, as you can probably tell from my profile, and I was looking forward to an off-beat and irreverent view of the Bible.

Not that I was disappointed, exactly, but it wasn't what I expected. If you are offended by the concept of the thirty year old Messiah calling his disciples "dumb fucks," then this book isn't for you. If that breathes some fresh air into an ossified image, then you might enjoy this book. Moore, though, isn't much more iconoclastic than that.

Everything reported in the Bible happened, more or less exactly as reported, with a few swear words tossed in. Jesus (actually called "Joshua," the Hebrew name he actually had) did do all the miracles, did cast out demons and heal the sick, etc. etc. Sure, as a kid, he and his younger brother played "resurrect the lizard," but even that isn't really heretical.

Biff--or, as reported, "Levi who is called Biff" met Joshua when they were six, and the two were best friends their entire lives. It was Biff (his name is a Hebrew slang term meaning "slap upside the head") is Joshua's first disciple, and chronicles their lives together between the ages of 6 and 30, when Joshua returns to Galilee and begins his ministry.

The intervening years are spent performing minor miracles--Joshua puts his face on all the Passover bread one year--and as they approach manhood, they leave Israel to travel east to find the three wisemen. Joshua doesn't understand what he is supposed to do as the Son of God, and hopes to learn his mission from the three men who travelled to see him at his birth.

He finds Balthazar outside Kabul, where the man studies magic and has a powerful demon trapped in a warded room, which makes him immortal. Balthazaar is attended by eight beautiful and brilliant Chinese women, and Biff gets to live a sybaritic life for the years Joshua studies with the magus. This, incidentally, is where the Jewish tradition of celebrating Jesus' birthday with Chinese food starts.

After leaving Kabul, Joshua and Biff travel to Tibet, where Gaspar is the abbot of a Buddhist temple. Joshua masters Buddhist disciplines, and meets the last remaining yeti--a gentle creature that was hunted to extinction by the humans who could not understand its non-aggressive nature. Foreshadowing much? The monks of Gaspar's monastery make every one who seeks them wait outside their door for three days (significant much?) before letting them in. Joshua swears that anyone who knocks on his door to heaven will be let in.

After eight years or so in Tibet, they leave to seek Gaspar's brother Melchior, who lives in India. There they interrupt a bloody sacrifice to Kali, and Joshua swears there will be no more sacrifices. Well, okay, maybe ONE more.

Perhaps there is something to be gained in experiencing Jesus as a student of several world religions, and thus thinking of Christianity as yet another aspect of a universal search for relationship with the divine. This is as far from canonical Bible as Moore takes his book; leaving one to wonder what drove him to write this particular book. There is nothing very outrageous here: Jesus does not marry, he does not ever doubt his role as the Son of God. Culturally, this book is much less daring than "The Last Temptation of Christ" or even Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code."

In the end, this is a pleasant diversion, but very little that you wouldn't find in Sunday School.

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