Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal Christopher Moore Humor HarperCollins May 25, 2004 Paperback 444
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).
Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior's pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there's no one who loves Josh more - except maybe "Maggie," Mary of Magdala - and Biff isn't about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.
Comedies are pretty hard to do in book form. Writers cannot rely on visual aids, character expressions, and a few other elements that are common in comedy movies and television shows. Furthermore, comedy is very hard to retain since the things people tend to find funny are pretty quick to change over time (compared to other genres). This book gets around that by having two things going for it. Firstly, it is not that old of a book; the comedy is still what we would consider to be modern. Secondly, the story itself is based on the Bible so it is not like “modern” books that tend to roughly take place in the same time period they are published in. That being said, this book is based on the Bible. If you are a Christian and do not like a bit of blasphemy mixed in with your humor, this book may be a quick turnoff for you. Speculative fiction does not lie within everyone’s comfort zone.
Lamb focuses on the untold story of Joshua bar Joseph’s training, which would lead to his becoming Jesus Christ, as told by his best friend, Biff. The story is told by Biff and takes place from his perspective. From someone who is essentially the Robin the Jesus’ Batman, Biff is not exactly what you would expect from just thinking “Jesus’ best friend”. He is a sarcastic troublemaker, but his loyalty as a best friend knows no bounds. While his smart-aleck attitude never truly fades, Biff does mature throughout the book as he travels and develops his own skillset while Joshua learns how to become Jesus. A key element that makes this adventure great is the level of research Christopher Moore put into the book. It is not perfect, as this is a work of fiction, but Moore made Israel and other parts of the world as accurate as he could for this time period. Not every author would have bothered to do that.
Despite this book being a comedy, and Biff being the center for most of that comedy, he does play a key role in Joseph’s training. As Joseph trains and draws closer to becoming Jesus Christ, he needs a way to stay connected to the everyday people that he is trying to save. Biff is the anchor that allows him to maintain that connection. This depiction serves to make Jesus much more human and less divine. The Bible does not depict Jesus drinking coffee or losing his temper the way Lamb does. He has his powers (the miracles), but he very much feels like he is a regular guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and Biff is essential for getting him through that.
While the comedic aspect of Lamb may offend some people, Moore does know how to characterize the people of his story. Jesus and other figures from the Bible act the way you would expect them to, with a bit of embellishment for the sake of the comedy. The humor does actually drop off a bit towards the end of the book as the story reaches the end of Jesus’ training years and enters the events of the New Testament. It becomes predictable (how could it not, we know how this story has to end) and even feels a little rushed. This may be due to Moore now being forced to follow a set of events instead of getting to make up adventures from the lost years. Overall this book was hilarious and did an excellent job of portraying a normally solemn subject in a comedic fashion.
Editor's note: This review was written by Nicholas Watkins, originally published in Literature is Life, and has been reposted with permission. It is available under Creative Commons and the original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.