Sunday, November 12, 2006

Feeling Bookish or Lamb: The Gopel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

It has been some time since I've talked books here. While I am always in the middle of reading something or other, my inner literary critic has been keeping a relatively low profile of late. Since I'm looking for something to write and am at a loss for a topic that won't take me more thought and preparation, now seems as good a time to share a book recommendation from the summer.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

I've been a fan of Christopher Moore's since a friend loaned me of one of his novels (it was either Practical Demon Keeping or Island of the Sequined Love Nun) a number of years ago. I hadn't read anything of Moore's since reading Fluke when it first came out, but stumbled across a copy of Lamb one day while browsing at Borders. The novel chronicles the early life of Jesus, following him and his friend Biff as they travel through the ancient East, studying and experiencing religious philosophies such as Buddhism and Hinduism before returning to his homeland to be crucified.

In telling this story, Moore adopts Voltaire's maxim that "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh". The tone is decidedly irreverent in parts, poking fun at many of our ideas of Jesus, the recording of Biblical stories, and spirituality in general. Thanks to this (some of my favorite parts are the scenes between Jesus' smartass friend, Biff and soap opera addicted angel, Raziel, who has resurrected him and is holding him hostage in a hotel room until he has completed penning his gospel), I spent a good part of July reading the book and laughing out loud at its abundance of funny passages. How many books actually make you laugh out loud? Think about it. I can't think of all that many. I know we're often told a volume is laugh out loud funny, but so few of them actually deliver on that claim. It is not only that, though, that makes the novel appealing. It is so obvious that Moore put a lot of research into writing his novel as he paints a very real, vibrant and lively pictures of the scenes in which the story unfolds.

I know there are probably many people who might be offended by Lamb(and probably not only Christians), but it bears mentioning that beneath the irreverent tone, there is a real respect for the teachings of Jesus the philosopher. As Christopher Moore put it in an interview "What I gained in researching the life and times of Jesus was an increased respect for his courage as well as his compassion. When you learn about the world of first-century Israel, the acts of Jesus and the things he said are, within his own time, incredibly radical, revolutionary, and dangerous."

Moore himself is clearly aware of the danger of his subject matter, for not only does he end the book with an afterword, clarifying his intent, but he begins the book with an author's blessing that I found utterly delightful, so much so that I can think of no better ending to this post than to share it:

If you have come to these pages for laughter,
may you find it.
If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise
and your blood boil.
If you seek an adventure, may this story sing you
away to blissful escape.
If you need to test or confirm your beliefs, may
you reach comfortable conclusions.
All books reveal perfection, by what they are or
what they are not.
May you find that which you seek, in these pages
or outside them.
May you find perfection, and know it
by name.

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