My interest in Christian Apocrypha has lately encouraged me to start reading more recent lives of Jesus. My most recent conquest has been Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Without revealing too much, here is a brief review.
This book came out shortly before I entered seminary in 2003, and I now regret not having read it sooner. In the beginning of the book, Biff, Jesus’ childhood friend and later disciple, is resurrected by an angel in order to write a new gospel. The majority of the plot centers around Jesus (called Joshua) and Biff as they wander about in the first-century. Jesus is aware from a young age that he is in fact the messiah, but he is not sure exactly what being a messiah entails. At the advice of his mother, Jesus and Biff head out on the road when they’re 12 or so to find the three men (Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar) who came to visit Jesus at his birth. They make it all the way to China, and they spend several years learning various skills and arts from each magus. They return to Galilee when they’re about 30, and then Jesus begins his ministry.
Biff is really quite the character. Along with the rest of the disciples, he doesn’t really seem to “get” what sort of messiah Jesus is claiming to be. He provides much comic relief at various points in the book, and I suppose it is worth mentioning that those who offend easily may take issue with his occasional crude sexual comments and pursuits. He is in love with Jesus’ mother (as are others in the book), and at one point he claims to have invented the pencil. He spends a good part of the first half of the book tantalizing the angel that is watching over him. Consequently, the angel is also quite the character…he is stupid, watches soap operas, and refers to the Soap Opera Digest as “the prophecies.”
It is clear from this book that Moore has done his homework. He effectively weaves together material from the canonical gospels, fairly recent scholarship, other first century texts as well as his own imagination. There are certainly aspects of the plot that don’t fit with the first-century milieu, but Moore acknowledges as much in the Epilogue. Also, Moore does take up the whole “Jesus travelled to the East and learned everything he knew from Buddhists and Hindus” theme and runs with it. Some are persuaded by this thesis…I have always found it somewhat fishy…nevertheless, it provides for an excellent story in this case!
In my opinion, this book represents a nice balance between humor and reverence…often, it seems, authors feel as if they are forced to choose one over the other, especially when their topic is as sensitive as this. In Lamb, however, Moore is able to present a quite moving passion narrative, while at the same time allowing for his Jesus to say of his disciples, “Those are the dumbest sons of bitches on earth.”