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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lamb (The Gospel According to Biff…)

Lamb (The Gospel According to Biff…)

By Christopher Moore

(3/5 stars)

It must have been something about the end of the century that made people interested in looking beyond the Bible to understand the life of Jesus Christ. First we had "The Last Temptation of Christ" in the late '80s, which I've never seen more than five minutes of, that tried to make Jesus seem like a real, flawed person. About fifteen years later came Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" that poured existing conspiracy theories about Christ's life into the mold of a standard thriller and subsequently set the literary world on fire—and ensured Brown will never be hurting for money. We also had Mel Gibson's bloody, gruesome "Passion of the Christ" which I've never seen and never want to see. In between all this came Christopher Moore's "Lamb," which like Brown's novel takes existing material and this case pours it into the mold of a comic book superhero, only without the POW! and BAM! sound effects.

Most people, even if they aren't Christians, already should have an idea about the basics of this story. The birth in the stable and all that isn't covered in Moore's book. Instead it starts out in Nazareth when Joshua (his real Hebrew name) is six years old. His best friend is Levi who is called Biff (so at least we get one of those comic book sound effects) who is the Son of God's constant companion throughout most of the novel. At this point Joshua can already bring lizards back to life, but soon his powers grow so he can bring people back to life—almost.

At the age of thirteen, Josh decides it's time to go find his destiny so he and Biff travel to the East in search of the wise men present at Josh's birth. First they go to what is now Afghanistan, where Josh begins to study Confucius while Biff studies the carnal arts with six Chinese servant girls. Eventually they go off to find Wise Man #2, who is a Buddhist monk in China. There Josh and Biff master kung fu while also meditating on the secrets of the universe. Finally they have to go to India to meet Wise Man #3, who is an aesthetic hermit, who teaches Josh yoga while Biff learns the Kama Sutra from a prostitute.

Finally it's time for Josh and Biff to return home and begin the ministry by enlisting disciples and all that. I suppose I'm only spoiling the end for non-believers when I say Joshua is crucified, dies, and rises from the dead on the third day. As for Biff's fate, you'll have to read the book yourself.

I suppose people would (if anyone reads it) disagree with my remarks about this being like a comic book. Actually the first hundred pages is more like a Biblical "Little Rascals" with young Joshua, Biff, and Mary of Magdala getting into mischief in ancient Israel. But it still follows that pattern of first the superhero gains his power, then he has to learn how to control his abilities, then he has to figure out how to battle evil, and then he finally battles the villain. (Alternatively you could also think of Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" movies, who realizes he has the Force in the first movie, then goes off to learn from Yoda, and finally uses it to destroy Vader and the Emperor in the last movie. If that works any better for you.) Then there's the snappy one-liner banter, Biff in the role of sidekick, and of course the love interest who in the tradition of Lois Lane and Vicki Vale even has the same letter in both names. All we need are some tights and a secret identity. But then I'm the same one who calls "Fight Club" a Marxist fairy tale, so feel free to disagree with me on this point.

At any rate, probably the most you can get out of this book is a reminder that most religions at their base all teach very similar things about love and forgiveness and being good to fellow man and so forth. Some are a little more strict and have different dietary rules, but the core beliefs are very similar. If we focused on these deeper similarities than the more surface-level differences we'd have a lot fewer problems in the world. But really you could probably figure that out without this book.

Overall the book is entertaining in a blasphemous way. It's as sharp and witty as a "Simpsons" parody, so if that's your thing you aren't likely to get bored reading it. Though as an official reviewer on Amazon noted it can be hard to tell Biff and Josh apart because they sound the same. Also, they sound pretty much the same from age six right on up to age thirty-three with the same sarcastic quips and one-liners. In a way that's all right because if you grow up close to someone for all those years you do develop your own sort of language style with your own in-jokes.

My main complaint is we spend 100 pages on the Biblical Little Rascals, then 200 pages on the gratuitous training montage, and then only a little more than 100 pages on the actual events recounted in the Bible. The crucifixion especially seems rushed and the ending a little abrupt. It'd be like paying to see the latest "Spider-Man" movie and then the final epic battle between Spidey and the latest villains is over in three minutes. You'd feel a little cheated. But at least it saves us from an unpleasant Mel Gibson-style bloodbath. Definitely a bonus.

Should you read this book? Probably not if you're a Republican. If you're a "liberal" and can tolerate a mildly offensive satire then knock yourself out—POW!

That is all.

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