Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is a novel by Christopher Moore.
Finished on: 31.12.2015
The angel Raziel gets a new mission: he is to resurrect Biff so that he can write a new gospel. Biff was Jesus’ – or actually Joshua’s as he was known back then – best friend and is supposed to fill in the gaps. Raziel locks himself into a hotel room with Biff who is given the gift of tongues and starts to write (after punching Raziel first though – he just doesn’t like that guy). But Biff’s Joshua is quite different from what we know and his childhood and youth may very well surprise you.
Moore (and/or his publisher) was apparently very worried that Lamb would offend (religious) people – there are several reassuring statements in that regard. Personally I think that they don’t have anything to worry about, but then I’m also a heathen atheist and basically a personified offense, so I’m probably not the best judge. Be that as it may, I would have liked it if they had taken less care with offending or not offending people and instead had focussed on whether or not the book actually works because for me, it didn’t really.
Moore follows the theory that Jesus spent his youth, or at least part of it, studying Buddhism. He’s not the only one to do so and there are certain parallels between what Jesus said and what Buddha said, so it’s not completely out there. But Buddha isn’t the only one Joshua studies with in the novel. In fact, he goes to find the Three Wise Men to study with them in turn and learns about magic, Buddhism and Hinduism, making those the foundations of his faith, apart from his native Judaism of course. And while I don’t have a problem with connecting the Christian faith to other religions like that, it does come with a healthy dose of orientalism, if not to say racism, in this book.
I realize that it is slightly absurd considering orientalism when the basis of the protagonists is the Middle East, but in this case I couldn’t help this impression. Not only because Biff is writing the Gospel in English (Moore makes it an explicit point that we are not reading a translation but that Biff has been given the gift of tongues precisely so that he can write the gospel in English. Apparently English is the best language for religious communications because it has the more words than Aramaic): the novel heads to the Far East for spiritual enlightenment. When they go to visit Balthazar in the West in Africa, it’s the only wise man who isn’t a spiritual leader but a magician with a harem of Asian [I think Chinese] concubines, casting the only black man in a role that is centered on his libido and doesn’t get a spritual edge like Gaspar and Melchior, but a magical one. Speaking of concubines: whenever we meet any women, they are absolutely sexualized, especially the Asian women [it also doesn’t help that all the concubines have jokes for names and Biff can’t be arsed to call them by their actual names]. Mary Magdalene gets to be a bit more than the most beautiful being in the world(!!!111!), but her beauty also smacks of racism as she’s described as red-haired and blue-eyed which isn’t impossible in the Middle East either, but in combination with the rest of the racial politics in the book, it does make my skin crawl a little.
It also didn’t help that most of what Moore finds funny, I don’t. There’s a Tom and Jerry-esque flavor to all the punching and hitting (consistently referred to as smiting) that we’re supposed to find entertaining, with added insults and sex jokes that just doesn’t work for me. Yes, there was the occasional chuckle but for a comedy novel that’s far from enough.
Despite all the research Moore obviously put into the novel, it remains superficial and childish and simply disappointing.
Summarizing: Really not my cup of tea.