I just finished this novel by the amazing Christopher Moore. The full title is: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. I really like Moore. He is one of the funniest writers around and has the best titles of all time, my favorites being Island of the Sequined Love Nun, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and The Stupidest Angel (The last is a heart-warming Christmas story with zombies).
Lamb is not a terribly orthodox (big surprise) retelling of the Gospel stories, nor is it strictly accurate from a historical point of view (another big surprise). Moore is well-known for his absurdism and goody sense of humor, and both are on full display here.
Levi, the son of Alpheus, aka 'Biff', Joshua (the name used for Jesus throughout the story) and Mary Magdalene aka "Maggie" are inseparable childhood friends. Biff is a natural con man with a heart of gold, Maggie is the smart, brave, pretty girl who both boys adore, and Joshua is the Son of God. It makes for an eventful childhood that is by turns touching, funny, and sad.
Childhood ends when Joshua and Biff decide they need to leave Judea to find the three wise men and learn what Josh needs to know about being the Messiah. It's a bizarre journey that takes them as far as the Shaolin Monastery in China, where Joshua learns kung fu and creates his own non-violent martial are of Jew-do. Finally the friends return to their home where they gather disciples, are reunited with Maggie, and run through the familiar events of the passion.
I put off reading this one because it's so hard to do a Jesus story well. People either tend to do pious rehashings of things that have been done a million times already, or else harsh debunkings that reveal shocking secrets.
Moore doesn't go in for either of those paths. He writes with a healthy disdain for conventional piety, but also with real affection. His Joshua is wise, loving and fearless, but far from omniscient. He makes mistakes, generally because he cares too much, but learns from them without ever becoming cynical. It's also refreshing to see someone having so much fun filling in the lost years of Jesus. Moore recognizes the absurdity of this kind of endeavor and uses it playfully.
It's not theologically earth-shaking (nor was it meant to be) but it's a good read, funny and fast moving with the occasional nice insight of affecting scene. I liked it better than any Jesus fiction I've seen in a long time.
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6 days ago