Wednesday, February 12, 2014

read: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (4 stars)

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book fooled me (in a good way). Having not previously read anything by Christopher Moore, my expectations were entirely set by the title, the blurb, and the recommendation of a friend. I thought for sure that it would be nothing but throw-away zingers on the order of Monty Python or Douglas Adams (or even Harvard Lampoon), that any historical and religious reality would be right out the window, and that any resemblance to the life of the Biblical Jesus Christ would be entirely coincidental. I was (mostly) wrong on all counts.

There are plenty of zingers. But usually not in the set 'em up and knock 'em down one-liner style of Python or Lampoon. The humor here is usually more subtle, between the lines. I'm sure (as evidenced by other reviewers) that one can enjoy the stories and jokes at face value. But readers that can bring a deeper understanding of history and culture will catch and enjoy oh so many more twisted references to both ancient and modern culture.

Don't get me wrong. This is not a history book. The author confesses as much in a much appreciated Afterward. This is a story. But the author did do his research and tries to keep things real, even as he's stretching the truth and warping time to make things funny. It's also not a religious book. Nope, it's pretty profane. And also vulgar. The former is probably necessary for the humor. You don't get laughs without breaking a few rules and knocking down some icons. The latter is just for style.

To say this is an irreverent portrayal of the life of Christ would be an understatement. But the undocumented years of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (or Joshua bar Joseph, as portrayed here) give the author a vast playground in which to play. Looking back over two thousand years, who can say what the boy was really like? The teen? Probably not the contemporary kid portrayed here. But just as unlikely is the sanitized, homogenized version that many Christians and popular culture have in their head.

To those who say that this goes too far in skewering cherished doctrine, as well as those who don't think it goes far enough in knocking down religious mythology, I say, in the words of Foghorn Leghorn, "It's a joke. I say, It's a joke, son." This is a funny story loosely based on the life of the Messiah, the Son of God. But it is a story. And it is funny. And if you choose to believe the Jesus would have never had a friend named Biff nor an almost girlfriend named Maggie, that's your choice. But I found it fun to make believe for a few for hours that they did exist and that they did enrich the life of that young man.

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