History doesn't tell us a whole lot about the life of Jesus Christ. If you know anything about the Bible, you know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell of Jesus' birth and also of the few years preceding his crucifixion, but otherwise they leave a huge 30-year gap in the biography of one of the most important men to have ever walked the Earth. In Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal," Christopher Moore eschews the question, "What Would Jesus Do," in favor of the question "What Did Jesus Do," which as it turns out, yields a wickedly humorous tale.
Even if you aren't acquainted with Christopher Moore's hilariously irreverent brand of fiction, Lamb's subtitle is a good tip-off that the book is not one for historical scholars or devout Christians, at least not those who would find displeasure in treating the son of God with an iconoclastic bit of humor. Published first in 2000, Lamb was reprinted this year to resemble the gospel that it purports to be,with a gorgeous brown leather and gold leaf cover and a red silk bookmark.
Our story begins with the narrator, Levi bar Alphaeus, who is called Biff, meeting the Savior as a boy in the streets of Nazareth, where the son of God is resurrecting lizards, just for fun. Joshua (Moore reminds us that "Jesus" is a Greek translation of his name) and Biff become best pals, a dynamic duo of which Joshua is the earnest and good-hearted half, and Biff, the source of much mirth and more than a little mischief. They are like any other pair of good Nazarene boys - studying the Torah, arguing over who gets to play Moses and who Pharoah, and occasionally smiting one another in the eye. Their childhood is of course peppered with unique occurances as well - omens, prophecies, minor healing miracles, and the arrival in town of Mary from Magdala, who the boys simply call Maggie, and for whom they both develop a boyhood crush.
Lamb really picks up when Biff and Joshua leave Nazareth to seek out Balthasar, Gaspar, and Melchior, the three Magi who foretold the coming of the Messiah and were present at his birth. Along the way, the two boys have more than their fair share of adventures involving bandits, Yeti, and hundreds of blood-thirsty followers of Kali, the Hindu Goddess of destruction. Amidst all of this Joshua and Biff travel along the Silk Road to China and later to India and along the way learn the tenets of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism; Joshua also studies yoga, and Biff, the Kama Sutra.
But all good things must come to an end, and when Biff sees the image of Joshua's mother Mary in a water stain on the side of a temple wall, they know it's time to return to Nazareth. The storyline becomes familiar at this point - Joshua picks up an entourage of disciples, performs public miracles, is persecuted by the Pharisees, and is, well... you don't want me to spoil it for you, do you?
Needless to say, even when Christopher Moore is adhering his closest to the details of Christ's life, these details are told with story and humor as the guiding principles, rather than accuracy. I doubt however that any readers who would consider Lamb to be blasphemy will actually ever read this novel, much less this review. Lamb is a fantastic work of the imagination that, like Moore's other novels, will likely have you laughing the blood of Christ right through your nose.