The funniest masterpiece I have ever read
I occasionally snicker when reading, often smile. But rarely do I bust out laughing. I did it once reading the drill sergeant scene in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.
But I almost got thrown off the plane for laughing so much the first time I read Lamb by Christopher Moore. I read it many years ago, but re-read it again just now since my wife got me a signed gift book edition (that, appropriately, looks like a Bible).
The subtitle tries to give a clue about the storyline: “The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”. Lamb covers the first 30 years of Christ’s life, which are not covered in the Gospels. And, though there is no doubt this is a comedy, Moore obviously did his research (read the original afterword and the new one for this special edition to get a glimpse of Moore’s writing process), and recreates the atmosphere of the places and times. This book is truly a masterpiece of craftsmanship, with Mr. Moore skillfully weaving in comedy (including sarcasm AND it’s creation), history and a playful reverence of the boy who will be the Messiah…once he figures out how.
The story follows Jesus (Joshua to his friends) through childhood, through his search for the three wise men in Asia, China and India, and into his beginning to preach about “the Divine Spark” (later called the Holy Ghost, of course). Always present is Levi, also known as Biff, his childhood friend, inventor of sarcasm, experiencer of sin (so that he can describe it to Josh) and all around lightening rod for those who would teach the future Messiah. Under the tutelage of the three wise men, Joshua (and to some extent Biff) studies and learns the Tao and Chi (with Balthasar), Buddhism and enlightenment (with Gaspar) and yoga and the Divine Spark (with Melchior), learning and feeling his way toward how to become the Messiah.
The book is at once hilarious and profound. The hilarious parts include Biff inventing many things, especially sarcasm (not to be confused with irony) and the pencil; and the monks inventing a fighting system for Joshua called “the way of the Jew”, or Jew-do. Biff continuing to investigate all manner of sin (especially sex) while trying to help Joshua understand sin offers some of the funniest scenes in modern writing.
But, again, Moore offers some very insightful and profound scenes. The last two sections of the book (called Lamb and Passion) still offer humor, but handle the fact that Joshua knows he is to be crucified, and his friends Biff and Maggie want to talk him out of it:
“When we were in India, we saw a festival in the city of their goddess Kali. She’s a goddess of destruction, Maggie. It was the bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen, thousands of animals slaughtered, hundreds of men beheaded. The whole world seemed slick with blood. Joshua and I saved some children from being flayed alive, but when it was over Joshua kept saying, no more sacrifices. No more.”
Maggie looked at me as if she expected more. “So? It was horrible, what did you expect him to say?”
“He wasn’t talking to me, Maggie. He was talking to God. And I don’t think he was making a request.”
“Are you saying that he thinks his father wants to kill him for trying to change things, so he can’t avoid it because it is the will of God?”
“No. I’m saying that he’s going to allow himself to be killed to show his father that things need to be changed. He’s not going to try to avoid it at all.”(pg361).
If you haven’t read, I highly recommend you read it, then give a copy as a gift to a friend.