Before I get into this, I just want to say: Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is the 200th book I have reviewed for this site. This is what I’ve been planning on since about oh, this time last year. One night, I got curious as to how many books I’ve read since the inception of That’s What She Read, and spent about an hour counting and going through my records (because yes, I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again before the year’s out, I have records), and then figured out how many I had to go until I hit an important-sounding number, and then planned the books I was going to read (allowing for some flexibility) until I hit the big 200, because I wanted that review to be for a very special book.
But before I get into that very special book, let me just say this: when I started this thing about five years ago, I never – never – thought I’d stick with it this long. I get distracted very easily, and the idea of keeping myself to some sort of schedule is kind of panic-inducing (and clearly I’ve done so well with that aspect of it, seeing as how I finished reading this in March), but ANYWAY (drink!) –
I just wanted to say thank you. I don’t know who you are, dear readers – I’m sure I know some of you; I’m sure one of you is probably my mom. But even to those who come to this site by Googling rare search terms like, “bill bryson williamsburg admission“, “russell edgington vs emperor palpatine,” or “picasso enjoying the fine weather in the south of france“, I really appreciate your visits.
(Sidenote: Quite a few of you want to know if Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was fiction or non-fiction, which worries me, to be honest. But not as much as the large multitude of people who are trying to read Decadent online for free. GUYS. YOU DON’T WANT TO READ DECADENT, I PROMISE YOU THAT. (Unless you’ve been dared by one of your best friends because she thinks it’s funny when you read/watch bad things, which yes, it is, BUT STILL IF YOU HAVEN’T READ DECADENT PLEASE DO NOT START NOW) I guess what I’m saying is, guys: vampires don’t really exist. Even I know that, and I can recite “Bad Blood.”)
So thank you. Thank you for being here since the beginning, or by finding me randomly on the internet. And if you’ve returned a couple of times, thanks for that too.
One more thing before I get into the book. With the addendum of “Christ’s Childhood Pal,” I would hope one would realize this book is probably going to tell a story about Jesus Christ. One would be right if one assumes that. Now look, I am not religious whatsoever. In fact, all of my biblical knowledge comes from this book, my own personal Rifftrax editions of The Ten Commandments, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. If it’s not in those three movies, chances are I don’t know anything about it. So just my loving this book doesn’t mean I’m going to become all religious all of a sudden. Also, I’m going to refer to Jesus Christ as Biff does in the book – as Joshua.
And now – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.
Basically, what Lamb does, is take the missing section of Joshua’s life and gives it substance. The Bible discusses the birth of Christ, and then skips ahead to the teachings of and persecution of Christ. But from birth to thirty is completely glossed over. Stuff had to happen! Even Christ had to go through an awkward teenage-dom; everyone does.
So Christopher Moore gave Joshua a best pal – Levi who is called Biff, which
… comes from our slang word for a smack upside the head, something that my mother said I required at least daily from an early age. [p. 9]
The book is written in a sort of framed way; Raziel, the Stupidest Angel (which I will read eventually), resurrects Biff to get him to write his own gospel.
“A Gospel, after all this time? Who?”
“Levi who is called Biff.”
Raziel dropped his rag and stood. “This has to be a mistake.”
“It comes directly from the Son.”
“There’s a reason Biff isn’t mentioned in the other books, you know? He’s a total –”
“Don’t say it.”
“But he’s such an asshole.” [p. 2]
Biff’s Gospel tells us how the two of them grew up together in Nazareth. Biff and Josh apprenticed together with Biff’s father, and Josh experimented with his powers. Josh grew up knowing he was the Son of God, because his mother Mary would tell him so. Josh’s specialty was bringing lizards back to life after his little brother would squish them. One day, Josh is feeling particularly despondent about not knowing exactly what his purpose in life is, when Raziel the angel visits them – thirteen years too late. Raziel tells Josh to seek out the Three Wise Men, for they will guide him on his journey to enlightenment.
Biff tells Josh he’s going with him, basically because Josh is unable to lie to keep himself safe:
“If a stranger comes up to you on the road to Antioch and asks you how much money you are carrying, what do you tell him?”
“That will depend on how much I am carrying.”
“No it won’t. You haven’t enough for a crust of bread. You are a poor beggar.”
“But that’s not true.”
“Exactly.” [p. 100]
So Josh and Biff go to meet Balthasar, the first wise man. Balthasar teaches Josh tenets of Buddhism and also what happens when you keep a demon tied to your soul in exchange for immortality. After a few years, they then travel to Mongolia and learn about Taoism from Gaspar and a yeti. Finally, they travel to India to learn about the Divine Spark — or, as Biff calls it at one point, “Sparky the Wonder Spirit” — from Melchior, who also teaches them about Hinduism.
Basically, Lamb shows how the religion of Christianity can be traced to have roots in three older Eastern religions while building on some tenets of Judaism. As someone who doesn’t even pretend to be a scholar (No, Indy, I never did in fact go to Sunday School), I appreciated the journey.
But the best part about this book? It’s fucking hilarious.
I mean, there are all the parts where Biff misquotes the Bible:
“Well, it is written, two out of three ain’t bad.”
“Where is that written?”
“Dalmatians 9:7, I think.” [p. 36]
“Yes, Josh, for it is written: ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to be a fish and his friends eat for a week.'”
“That is not written. Where is that written?”
“There’s no friggin’ Amphibians in the Bible.”
“Plague of frogs. Ha! Gotcha!” [p. 293]
There’s the fact that Biff is my hero in that he invented sarcasm:
“It’s from the Greek, sarkasmos. To bite the lips. It means that you aren’t really saying what you mean, but people will get your point. I invented it, Bartholomew named it.”
“Well, if the village idiot named it, I’m sure it’s a good thing.”
“There you go, you got it.”
“No, I meant it.”
“Sure you did.”
“Is that sarcasm?”
“Irony, I think.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
“So you’re being ironic now, right?”
“No, I really don’t know.”
“Maybe you should ask the idiot.”
“Now you’ve got it.” [p. 50-51]
That leads directly into a scene in Kabul where Josh, Biff, and their concubine friend Joy are searching for a blinded guard:
Once in Kabul, Joy led the search for the blinded guard by asking every blind beggar that we passed in the marketplace. “Have you seen a blind bowman who arrived by camel caravan a little more than a week ago?”
[…] Joshua had wanted to point out the flaw in Joy’s method, while I, on the other hand, wanted to savor her doofuscosity as passive revenge for having been poisoned. […]
“You see,” I explained to Joshua, “what Joy is doing is ironic, yet that’s not her intent. That’s the difference between irony and sarcasm. Irony can be spontaneous, while sarcasm requires volition. You have to create sarcasm.” [p. 163-164]
As adolescents for the majority of the novel, the boys are in turns infatuated and astounded by the fairer sex. As Josh must abstain from knowing a woman’s touch, he lives vicariously through Biff’s … misadventures.
“[Sex isn’t] an abomination if it’s with a woman,” Josh added.
“Nope. Sheep, goats, pretty much any animal – it’s an abomination. But with a woman, it’s something totally different.”
“What about a woman and a goat, what’s that?” asked John.
“That’s five shekels in Damascus,” I said. “Six if you want to help.” [p. 91]
Josh’s curiousity is so strong, he … well, forces is entirely too strong a word … not even encourages … basically, he gives Biff permission to have sex with prostitutes before going to see the wise men, just so Josh can observe through a curtain the goings-on to try and understand human nature.
The other harlots let loose with an exaltation of ululation as we led my harlot away. (You know ululation as the sound an ambulance makes. That I get an erection every time one passes the hotel would seem morbid if you didn’t know this story of how Biff Hires a Harlot.) [p. 114]
And when Josh and Biff meet the Yeti:
“It’s a yeti,” said Gaspar from behind me, obviously having been roused from his trance. “An abominable snowman.”
“This is what happens when you fuck a sheep?!” I exclaimed. [p. 242]
While Josh is learning about the Divine Spark in India, Biff takes up with a prostitute and learns about the Kama Sutra. The friends spend their evenings reading from the Bhagavad Gita and Kama Sutra, respectively.
Here’s my favorite passage from the Kama Sutra, as told by Biff:
The Kama Sutra sayeth:
When a man applies wax from the carnuba bean to a woman’s yoni and buffs it with a lint-free cloth or a papyrus towel until a mirror shine is achieved, then it is called “Readying the Mongoose for a Trade-in.” [p. 294]
Josh has his moments as well. Are you having a bad day? Imagine a young Jesus, experiencing his first caffeine high following his first cappuccino, practically slapping the sickness out of poor in Jerusalem:
“Healed that guy. Healed her. Stopped her suffering. Healed him. Comforted him. Ooo, that guy was just stinky. Healed her. Whoops, missed. Healed. Healed. Comforted. Calmed.” [p. 127]
And let’s not forget Josh’s protest of the Hindu caste system:
And a hundred scrawny Untouchables stood there, eyes as big as saucers, just staring at me while Joshua moved among them, healing their wounds, sicknesses, and insanities, without any of them suspecting what was happening. […] He’d also taken to poking one of them in the arm with his finger anytime anyone said the word “Untouchable.” Later he told me that he just hated passing up the opportunity for palpable irony. [p. 271]
And even when Josh returns home to Nazareth, the fun doesn’t stop there. I mean, the fun will stop there, but eventually. He has to find his apostles first. And some of the apostles, boy … they are dumb.
“Master, you’re walking on the water,” said Peter.
“I just ate,” Joshua said. “You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?” [p. 390]
Josh tells Peter it’s not a miracle, that anyone can do it, and convinces Peter to attempt to walk on water.
“Trust your faith, Peter,” I yelled. “If you doubt you won’t be able to do it.”
Then Peter stepped with both feet onto the surface of the water, and for a split second he stood there. And we were all amazed. “Hey, I’m –” Then he sank like a stone. He came up sputtering. We were all doubled over giggling, and even Joshua had sunk up to his ankles, he was laughing so hard.
“I can’t believe you fell for that,” said Joshua. He ran across the water and helped us pull Peter into the boat. “Peter, you’re as dumb as a box of rocks. But what amazing faith you have. I’m going to build my church on this box of rocks.” [p. 391]
My most favoritest part in this entire book — look, I could quote it for you, but I’d be here all night, and I want you to experience it for yourself. Go find a copy of Lamb, and flip to around page 372 (I’m not sure if the page numbers translate between editions), and you have to read the first draft of the Sermon on the Mount. You have to. It is required reading. Look, you probably have a Books-A-Million or a Barnes and Noble somewhere near you; bring a friend to distract the clerks so they won’t hassle you for reading a book in the bookstore without paying for it first. It will be worth it. If I die, I want two people to act out the Sermon on the Mount speech at my funeral, because I want to go out like the weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit – laughing.
In his deepest crises of faith, Joshua turns to his father. And while we never hear the words of God except through Josh’s mouth, I’d like to think that this god also has a sense of humor:
“All men are evil, that’s what I was talking to my father about.”
“What did he say?”
“At least he answered you.”
“I got the feeling that he thinks it’s my problem now.”
“Makes you wonder why he didn’t burn that on one of the tablets. “HERE, MOSES, HERE’S THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AND HERE’S AN EXTRA ONE THAT SAYS FUCK ‘EM.”
“He doesn’t sound like that.”
“FOR EMERGENCIES.” [p. 254-255]
Look, you guys, I could read this book aloud to anyone who wanted to listen to me. It is my absolute favoritest book, and in my opinion, you do not have to be religious or anything to enjoy this story. It’s the story of two bros – AND YOU ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT BROS – who go on an epic journey, and one turns out to be the Son of God.
Oh, spoiler alert – don’t go into this hoping for a different outcome. Crucifixion and betrayal still happens in the end, and after getting to know the human side of Christ, it makes it all the more heartwrenching. But there is a happy ending (of sorts) for Biff, at least.
OH SHIT I FORGOT TO TALK ABOUT MARY MAGDELENE Oh well.
Read the book if you want to find out, what do I look like, a library?
Grade for Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal: 6 stars