Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff

7 February 2006
3:54 PM

If you’re retelling one of the best-known stories in the world, you need to have something special to make reading worthwhile. Fortunately, Christopher Moore does that in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Lamb is a funny and lively execution of a good idea. In the entire Bible, there is only one story about Jesus between his infancy and the beginning of his public ministry (Luke’s account of Jesus in the temple). This leaves a well-known gap of a couple decades in the story of one of history’s most famous people. In Lamb, Moore fills the gap through the titular mouthpiece of Biff, who devotedly follows Jesus from age six to the end. Though the novel is sure to offend some, its virtues are several: it’s full of clever humor and adventure; it’s an endearing story that brings out Jesus’ human side; above all, it’s enjoyable to read.

Inside jokes and unexpected humor are abound in Lamb. As children, Jesus (called Joshua in Lamb) and Biff play typical Jewish games like Moses and Pharoah. In the preaching years, Biff complains that Jesus insists on comparing things incomprehensibly to mustard seeds (“Doesn’t seem at all like a mustard seed, does it? Now you see how we all feel when you liken things unto a mustard seed?”). And in early version of the Sermon on the Mount, we learn that the persecuted for righteousness’s sake originally got a fruit basket. The more familiar you are with traditional biblical stories, the funnier this book will be. If you didn’t know the books of the Bible, you might not think Biff’s quotations from the Book of Amphibians was funny.

Of course, you won’t get to a good book with humor alone. Lamb succeeds more powerfully as a humanizing story of Christ. The adventures detailed here about Jesus’ missing years are driven by the fact that he knows at a young age that he is God’s son, but isn’t sure how to go about saving the world. He and Biff set off to learn more. The result is a portrait of Jesus as sometimes confused and unsure—two very human emotions when it comes to faith. Along the way, Moore crafts an enjoyable, if sometimes incredible, explanation of how Jesus developed the philosophies imortalized in the Gospels. At one point, after seeing a ritualistic pagan sacrifice, Biff recounts watching a traumatized Jesus repeating to himself, “No more blood. No more blood.” All in all, the fiction of Lamb dovetails nicely with the known story.

As far as I can tell, people might not like Lamb for three reasons. First, it plays with facts that people don’t like to see changed. For example, Mary in this book has other children. Second, and along the same lines, Lamb often treads irreverently on what is generally reverent material (though it’s by no means Monty Python’s Life of Brian). Jesus is often less eloquent in Lamb that his King James self. If you’re looking for more reverent Biblical fiction, you might be more interested in Par Lagerkvist’s Barabbas. Third, and probably a historic reason as well, Jesus’ friends in Lamb are a bunch of sinners. His best bud Biff is no exception, which means Moore’s story is filled with plenty of sin, much of the MPAA R-rated variety. But, hey, it’s for a good cause: Biff’s trying to help Jesus understand sin without having to do it himself.

For me, none of these prevented me from enjoying Lamb. Rather, I tried to pace myself so I didn’t reach the end too soon. Sure, the book is a little irreverent, but that’s the way life should be. Otherwise, it’s just no fun. If you agree, reading Lamb is worth your time.